If you didn’t have the time to read Michael Pollan’s weekend piece for the New York Times Magazine, you missed out on a fantastic overview of the emerging science of the human microbiome. Each time you eat or drink, you are not just feeding yourself, you are also feeding hundreds or thousands of varieties of germs that line your intestines.
Scientists are just beginning to understand some of the inter-dependencies between what we eat, how the bacteria break that down, and various health outcomes. Could diabetes, obesity, and allergies be tied to the bugs in our colon?
The answer is that potentially yes. The American Gut Project is mapping the biome of people’s guts across the country in order to assess the different species of bacteria that exist. You can donate $99 and get your gut mapped too. When comparing the standard American gut to that of indigenous populations in remote locations that have yet to be westernized, we have a much smaller diversity in bacteria than people living closer to nature. Could the diversity in their gut be the reason they rarely get sick, have allergies or get diabetes?
One of the interesting parts of the article talks about how the sterilized fortified food we eat in America is killing the diversity in our gut:
“Fiber is not a single nutrient…which is why fiber supplements are no magic bullet. There are hundreds of different polysaccharides — complex carbohydrates, including fiber — in plants, and different microbes like to chomp on different ones. To boost fiber, the food industry added lots of a polysaccharide called inulin to hundreds of products, but that’s just one kind (often derived from the chicory-plant root) and so may only favor a limited number of microbes. I was hearing instead an argument for a variety of whole grains and a diverse diet of plants and vegetables as well as fruits. The safest way to increase your microbial biodiversity is to eat a variety of polysaccharides…”
What other nutrients are we starving our friendly neighborhood gut bacteria out of by eating the uber processed American diet? If you want you gut to take care of you, you need to take care of it. More whole foods. More vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Add fermented foods too. Eat less processed foods with ingredients that may cause damage to the gut lining.
If you or your children had a Tamaguchi pet in the 90′s, or Neopets online, or the mobile phone equivalent these days, think of your gut as the pet you never had, and treat it right.
Read the article, it’s fascinating.