As you know so well, the standard American diet consists of processed, devitalized foods that have been completely stripped of all bacteria. A large percentage of the standard American diet (SAD) consists of fiber-less, monochrome foods such as bread, pasta, baked goods, refined grains, and potatoes made largely of gummy starches and sugars.
The adaptability of your gut bacteria matters when it comes to diet. Right now, 35 percent of Americans are obese. This can be blamed on a number of factors, including sedentary lifestyle and diet, but the obesity epidemic has also been linked to gut bacteria.
Researchers conducted a fascinating study on obesity, recently published in Science. Starting with genetically identical baby mice raised in a germ-free and bacteria-free environment, scientists populated the infant mice's guts with gut bacteria from obese women and their lean twin sisters. The mice ate the same food in the same portions, yet those with obese bacteria gained weight and had higher body fat. Obese mice also had noticeably less diverse gut bacteria.
In the first study of its kind to report on hunter-gatherer gut bacteria, the effects of the standard American diet were obvious: Gut bacteria respond to the modern diet, and those living in rural areas who consume a diet low in processed foods have more diverse gut bacteria. When researchers analyzed bacteria in the feces of the Hadza people of Tanzania, one of the last hunter-gatherer communities in the world, the Hadza had a more diverse inner ecosystem than Italians eating a modern diet.
This gut bacteria diversity is critically important. Even though the Hadza had high levels of a pathogenic bacterium known to cause disease in Western populations, the people had few cases of diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders, all associated with gut bacteria imbalances.
The Only Hope for the American Gut
Incorporating fermented foods and probiotic beverages is essential to preserve a healthy gut microbiome.
Our bodies are very much like landscapes, and the direction our health takes is not solely dependent on our own genome.
Because our own cells are outnumbered 10 to one by bacteria, it is important to remember the constant dialogue that takes place. This dialogue occurs between cells and, we are now finding, even between the DNA of every cell—whether human or not, beneficial or pathogenic. A daily practice that includes fermented foods and probiotic beverages is the best way to help your gut evolve to support your health.