One of the hot topics at the Annual Nutrition and Health Conference held in Dallas in May 2014 was about something so small, yet so powerful: gut microbes. These micoorganisms form a population in your intestines called the gut microbiota. Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, professor at Stanford School of Medicine and one of the leading experts in the field, reported, “There is no aspect of human biology that doesn’t get touched in some way by the microbiota. Most of the microbiota are located in the gut, where they have an incredible impact on the body; the immune system is one of the greatest. But it’s not just limited to the gut; the microbiota impact the immunity of the whole body. We have gut microbes con-trolling so many aspects of biology to prevent disease.”
According to Sonnenburg, diet is one of the most powerful impacts on gut microbiota. And what do these microbes feed on? Complex, fiber-rich carbohydrates found in whole plant foods. “Many of us aren’t eating much dietary fiber. Increased fiber leads to increased microbiota diversity, output, and numbers, and vice versa; lower fiber intake leads to lower diversity, output and numbers,” said Sonnenburg. In fact, our ancient ancestors had a much more diverse microbiota, thanks to a high intake of whole plant foods and fermented foods, which introduce live bacteria to the gut. So, treat those amazing gut bacteria right by increasing your consumption of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fermented foods.
—Sharon Palmer, RDN, Editor, EN