The Microbiome Project

Microbiome 12-13

Have you ever taken time to consider the amazing diversity of bacteria that live inside of you? The Human Food Project and the American Gut Project are trying to map our inner ecosystem or microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that we carry in and on our bodies, out numbering our cells by a factor of 10 to 1).  Jeff Leach, brilliant researcher and founder, has made it his goal to explode our understanding of the human microbiome.

Leach set out to map out the gut bacterial contents of as diverse a group of people as he could. The tipping point in his research came when he decided to crowd source the research. For $99 anyone can get a full sequence and list of the bacteria in their stool (so far the project has raised over $354,000). While interesting to the individual, when we begin to look at large numbers of people in various cultures and countries, the data really comes to life.

Leach’s goal is to begin to understand and hopefully unwind the unprecedented shifts that are taking place in our inner ecosystem. Similar to how rain forests are being decimated, increasing numbers of wild species becoming extinct, and coral reefs dying off, our internal balance is increasingly at risk. There are many reasons why a dramatic shift is occurring including separation from the land and other animals, modern sanitation, use and overuse of antibiotics in ourselves and our livestock, and exposure to chemicals, pesticides, toxins, to name but a few.

While the data is sobering and it can lead to fear and a feeling of helplessness, expanding our understanding also leads to new avenues for change. Did you know that a primal/paleo diet that markedly increases plant variety and quantity can serve to rebalance and restore the ecology of your gut? As part of his research and a “60 day challenge” to see how diet change effects the gut, these are the dietary recommendations that Leach put on his website:

Eat 30+ species of plants a week (the more the better). We will ask that you eat the “whole” whole plant. For example, no more cutting of the fibrous bottom of the asparagus shoots or broccoli. Eat the whole thing! Same goes for every other plant. We will also ask that you lots of onions, leeks, garlic and explore cooking/eating lots of new plants (there is more out there than just leafy greens). We also want you to drop 100% of anything made with a grain of any kind – that includes rice. Beans and lentils OK (sorry Paleo friendos). We will also ask that you not steam, boil, or otherwise cook your vegetables for too long. Cook a little less, so your body works a little harder. Eat all the meat you like – but we ask that you avoid any meat, poultry, fish etc. that has been raised on growth hormones or antibiotics as this “may” impact your gut microbiota. We will also ask that you not drink your tap water, as the chlorine (and fluoride where added) “may” be having an impact on your gut microbiota. Rule of Thumb: If you have to ask if it’s human food, then it’s probably not.

See you in the produce aisle!