Hello . . . ? Hello . . . ? Is anybody here?
If no one answers, are we alone?
And if we’re NOT alone, who else is here?
Microbes — VERY TINY BEINGS! We can’t see them — but they are here. Our bodies are full of them, inside and out. In fact, it is estimated that microbes outnumber our human cells 10 to 1! They are mostly bacteria, but also include viruses, fungi, and protozoa. They’ve definitely got us outnumbered!
What’s a person to think about all this ? ? ?
It turns out that we are, indeed, a huge ecosystem where the microbes outnumber us by a huge amount. There are about 100 trillion microbes living in us and on us, (our microbiome) and they are mostly all good guys. In fact, they are so good that they are actually necessary for our survival!
The majority of these trillions of microbes live in our digestive system — mostly in our large intestine. They provide essential services that keep us healthy, including digesting our food, protecting us from harmful bacteria that cause disease, regulating our immune system, and producing some vitamins.
These tiny little guys need to eat, and they depend upon US to feed them!When we eat healthy food, we support a large population of beneficial gut bacteria. When we eat junk, the good guys starve, and the balance shifts to the bad guys. This contributes to all sorts of problems, from minor discomfort like bloating to asthma, allergies, eczema, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, MS, and fibromyalgia. Even cancer is affected by our microbiome!
Since WE are the ones who choose what we eat, we need to know what our good guys need. And guess what! They need lots of plant fiber and resistant starch. And where does this come from? Lots and lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds, and some whole grains.
Our tiny friends don’t live long — only about 20 minutes! So we need to have this healthy, high-fiber food in our colons at all times, so that they can eat and reproduce.
When we eat the Standard American Diet, which is very high in processed foods and animal products — which means it is low in fiber and high in sugar and unhealthy fats — we can’t support a healthy microbiome. But since these microbes reproduce quickly and have such short lives, when we change our diet, our microbiome changes very quickly, as well.
A very interesting experiment showed us just how quickly we can change our microbial ecosystem. A group of people were put on an Atkins type diet for 5 days, and then switched to a healthy, high-fiber plant-based diet for 5 days. The researchers took samples of their gut bacteria before and during each 5 day period.
Guess how long it took for the bacteria to respond to their new diet? Only 30 hours! Wow! Now I know why my students tell me that they start feeling better within a few days of changing their diet.
And then what do we do? We take probiotics! We do this to replace the good guys that we killed off. And of course, that can be a very good idea! But since they only live for about 20 minutes, we’re not doing much good in repopulating our healthy gut bacteria unless we have a good supply of plant fiber in our colon when they get there so they can live and reproduce.
Dr. Robynne Chutkan, who wrote The Microbiome Solution, says it well: “Live dirty and eat clean.”
According to Dr. Chutkan, things we can we do to encourage the bacteria that will support our health and discourage the ones that will make us sick include:
I’m very excited that Dr. Chutkan will be one of our speakers at our next Alaska VegFest on Sept. 10! Stay tuned for announcements when registration opens.
In the meantime, you can sharpen your knowledge and skills regarding a healthy plant-based diet by enrolling in my Yes To Life Nutrition & Cooking Classes. The next one starts the last week of February. Click here for more info.
Delisa is a plant-based nutrition and cooking instructor in Alaska. She believes that we are designed to be slim and healthy.