Take care of your bacteria & they'll take care of you
June 9, 2022 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Rethinking healthy eating in light of the gut microbiome was just published yesterday in the open access journal "Cell, Host, and Microbe". It's is a long and enlightening review article about what we know about the human microbiome and nutrition. It's increasingly looking like we can't understand nutrition science at all without understanding the bacteria who help us digest our food.

Here are some quotes (which include source citations in the actual article):
Virtually all diet-related chronic diseases have also been linked to the microbiome, supporting its role as a mediator by which diet influences disease risk.
---
[T]here is little consistency in the definition of ultra-processed foods or examples of foods in this category ... Nevertheless, the functional characteristics of processed foods are fundamentally different from whole-plant foods. Processed foods often have a higher energy density and lack the three-dimensional structures present in plant cells. ... [E]asily fermentable nutrients may promote bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and an unfavorable microbial compositional and metabolic profile, which negatively influence immune and endocrine functions
---
The realization that health is not primarily influenced by individual foods but by their interconnectedness and synergistic effects led to a shift in focus on dietary patterns in several recently updated dietary guidelines ... By recommending vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil as dietary staples, moderate intake of fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, and limiting intake of red and processed meats and processed foods, the Mediterranean diet combines many of the food groups discussed above that have favorable effects on host-microbe interactions.
---
[T]he toxicity of microbial metabolites produced from red and processed meats in the gut are relevant in interpreting their health effects ... microbial metabolites derived solely from processed meats ... are of higher toxicity and carcinogenic
---
[M]echanistic animal models highlight the potentially detrimental effects of milk-derived saturated fats on microbiome homeostasis, supporting dietary guidelines that suggest limiting consumption of high-fat dairy products
---
The debate on low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets remains highly relevant due to widespread popularity of the diets among the lay public. ... However, scientists remain torn as to which diet, if either, is “superior” ... the long-term effects of these diets on weight loss do not seem to differ ... Low-fat diets are often rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant-based proteins and therefore provide beneficial dietary components that alter microbiome metabolism, as discussed above. In contrast, low-carbohydrate diets are often high in fat and/or protein and, consequently, lower in fiber, which results in production of metabolites detrimental to colonic health. ... herefore, there is rationale to improve low-carbohydrate diets through microbiome-targeted approaches
---
Although HMOs are the third largest component of breast milk, they provide no direct energetic support to infants. They do, however, enrich for beneficial gut microbes
---
Instead of relying on individuals to change their eating behaviors to improve their health, which has a limited success rate, a greater availability of reformulated processed foods may enable individuals to improve their diet quality without significantly changing dietary habits.
---
The gut microbiome may constitute the “black box” of nutrition research, and diet-microbiome interactions likely contribute to the mechanistic foundation of the physiological effects of diet.
posted by OnceUponATime (79 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was talking with an expert on this matter recently and was surprised how little it's been studied. It's so variable, and so important! As you get older, take antibiotics, change diet etc, it totally changes how nutrients are taken into your body, what can be easily digested, eliminated and so on, which of course has a huge effect on daily life and long term health.

Her team had done tons of testing (of poop, from old and young, healthy and ill folks) and found such a huge variety of critters, and some of them are like... superhero bacteria that do incredibly helpful things. But they're mega rare because how would they spread? So they're planning a "live cultures" pill with a bunch of these incredible critters in it that's way different from the usual culture pills you can get, which tend to not have human-derived microfauna in them.

I'm waiting on publishing the story by her request but it sounds like it could be wildly helpful to a huge number of people.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:10 PM on June 9 [30 favorites]


MetaFilter: The Toxicity of Microbial MetaBolites
posted by stevil at 4:19 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


I like thinking of myself as a spaceship with a bunch of happy inhabitants.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:04 PM on June 9 [33 favorites]


Reading this reminds me that I really wish that affordability and availability of food options were not such major factors that prevent certain choices for huge numbers of people.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 5:08 PM on June 9 [21 favorites]


My anecdata is: A nasty infection was running around the office. Doc gave me antibiotics. They didn't work => gave me heavy duty antibiotics that they don't give out first.

~8-9 months later my first symptoms of Crohn's Disease (autoimmune gut disease) showed up.
posted by aleph at 5:09 PM on June 9 [6 favorites]


@aleph, what were your options besides heavy antibiotics? Would the infection have been fatal?

We routinely run into decisions similar to this with young children where we know the meds are dangerous, but it seems like picking lesser evils (with scant help from medical professionals).

(Also, so sorry to hear about this happening to you)
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:40 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Authors of this review are linked to companies that manufacture prebiotic supplements and more research into the relationship between prebiotics and health is needed, but it seems pretty clear now that providing your gut microbes with a variety of foods that stimulate and support their growth is a good thing.

While some people may benefit from taking prebiotic supplements, for most it just means eating more food that has nondigestible stuff such as fermentable dietary fiber and resistant starches. Compounds like omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols seem to have prebiotic effects too.

Of course, availability and affordability of such foods is a limiting factor for too many people.
posted by theory at 5:44 PM on June 9 [8 favorites]


They rated the infection as "serious". And weren't offering anything else. Didn't know about the other problems with antibiotics (other than making superbugs).

"...sorry to hear"

Thanks. It got much worse. :(
posted by aleph at 6:06 PM on June 9 [5 favorites]


@aleph: years ago I had a root canal and the endodontist prescribed antibiotics and warned me that if I thought the root canal was an unpleasant experience, dental surgery would be much worse. So I took the antibiotics and my digestion has been ... not great ever since. Correlation? Sure. Causation? I feel like it was, but I couldn't swear to it in court.

More to the point of the article, after some preliminary research I was surprised to learn that one particular strain of bacteria (L-reuteri) has been shown to help with a huge range of bodily functions, from immune response to decreasing depression to lowering cholesterol to helping metabolize Vitamin D....

The microbiome is fascinating, and I'd love to see more money thrown at the research. I'd also love it if there were basically a Consumer Reports of probiotics and supplements, since the U.S. has taken a caveat emptor approach to that general area. I would love to know that I could just walk down to the nearest drugstore and pick up some probiotics which were absolutely what they said they were, and not just some Joe Schmoe putting stuff together in his garage.
posted by johnofjack at 6:16 PM on June 9 [11 favorites]


Damn, that's a well done presentation.

I am surprised to see how many of the results are quoted as preliminary though. I thought we were a little further down the microbiome route than that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:31 PM on June 9


I've a folder full of anecdotes about this, but I do want to make one quick recommendation: I found a yeast probiotic, entirely different from what you get from most probiotics which are usually bacteria based, and if it didn't really do a turn-around for me (not 100% but at least 50% better, after literally decades).

The yeast is Saccharomayces boulardii lyo, might be specific to the brand name Floristor.

Anyway, a quick recommendation about something that helped my gut biome pretty amazingly.
posted by hippybear at 7:34 PM on June 9 [20 favorites]


This podcast episode may be of interest.

a greater availability of reformulated processed foods may enable individuals to improve their diet quality without significantly changing dietary habits.

I'll admit I'm a bit skeptical that the solution to the problem of processed foods is better processed foods. I honestly think we need to bring back "home ec" classes to public schools, except this time make everyone take them. Cooking healthy needn't be hard or expensive, but it does take a few tricks that anyone can learn.
posted by coffeecat at 7:43 PM on June 9 [9 favorites]


Cooking healthy needn't be hard or expensive

For many the expense of cooking is time. And the whole "30 minute dinner" thing is a nice idea, if you have those 30 minutes to spend making dinner.

Eating healthy should be something available through processed foods, and probably could be if it weren't all about quarterly earnings for shareholders.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 PM on June 9 [41 favorites]


The cooking part can be really easy for sure. Pan frying broccoli in a bit of butter is easy and tasty. But having fresh broccoli on hand is the hard part for me.
posted by VTX at 8:02 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


Cooking quick and easy (and potentially more healthy) is A Thing for able-bodied people, and may not be such A Thing for those who are not able-bodied. So, yeah, i vote for availability of a higher quality of processed foods, for this reason as well as the temporal and economic reasons mentioned above. I’d love to do a lot more with fresh vegetables than i usually can, but not being able hold a knife or operate the buttons on a food processor is a significant roadblock, and i have it way better than many.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:17 PM on June 9 [39 favorites]


One simple dish that required zero chopping but still included fairly good vegetables was some sort of instant ramen supplemented with a handful of frozen stir-fry medley vegetables, and all that boiled together or veggies added later if that's what you like, and then an egg stirred in at the end for protein and that sort of egg drop soup effect.

It's not that bad for you. Frozen veggies are really high quality these days, and adding the egg keeps the ramen from unbalancing your nutrition.

But that is honestly the fastest "home prep" meal that I can think of, and that still starts with prepared ramen...
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on June 9 [8 favorites]


Thanks for posting this fascinating article. It's a topic I find a bit overwhelming as each time I try to research it, I come across so much contradictory advice.

I hope this is not considered a derail, but for those of you commenting here on how easy it is to cook if you're willing, what is it that's motivating that comment?

If the alternative is better processed food, in other words, a systemic change, rather than putting the responsibility on the individual?

Is it that you don't believe such change is possible or practical?

Because while I get the urge to be helpful and share knowledge and skills, this whole thing about eating and cooking is so fraught with privilege. And it's easy to miss that because we're well meaning.

From buying ingredients, storing them somewhere, keeping things fresh, preparing food (where? How? With what equipment? Who's doing all this? When?) it's a process that's really challenging if you don't have resources like mental energy because you're exhausted, money, time, skill, and so on.

For anyone who is poor in money, health, mental energy or time, cooking is a significant burden. And added to that the often hidden moral judgment that comes with "just eat healthy, it's easy!" where we often judge people who don't, as being moral failures (no willpower!) and all the class prejudice built into this topic.

Given that, wouldn't better processed food be way better for more people?
posted by Zumbador at 8:54 PM on June 9 [64 favorites]


I have read a bit in the past few years that depression and mental illness can be caused--and alleviated--by the gut flora. But IIRC it's not well researched but if it proves fruitful (pardon the pun), that could be a game changer: say goodbye to antidepressants, say hello to...yoghurt?
posted by zardoz at 9:15 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


What I mean is, I'm skeptical that better processed foods are actually possible - what's to say that they won't later find some new flaw with the new "better" processed foods. It seems like solving the problem with another version of the problem. If it was that simple, excellent! But given that, as someone pointed out upthread, this study was done by people who "are linked to companies that manufacture prebiotic supplements" I am skeptical - at least, they clearly aren't neutral. Like, this sounds like the older idea of nutrient laden cereals, which later turned out to be not actually that healthy. There are cheap healthy foods (say, sweet potatoes), and there are lots of ways to cook healthy foods that take very little effort. You can microwave a sweet potato. I'm not blaming individuals here, as I think was clear in my original comment's urging that such things should be part of public education. I've also lived in a so-called "third world" country, and people there ate healthier than the average American, and it definitely had nothing do with privilege or wealth.

Anyway, I find the topic interesting, the podcast episode I linked to is more layperson friendly.
posted by coffeecat at 9:41 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]


I am surprised to see how many of the results are quoted as preliminary though. I thought we were a little further down the microbiome route than that.

About 10 years ago it felt like every other paper was a study of some observation that added in gut biome data and found a correlation. Weight loss, variability in animal studies, recovery from surgery time, you name it. We tracked geographical, familial and seasonal variations. It *is* a hugely influential factor, it had been generally ignored in the research up to that point, and sequencing made it really easy to get the top level data.

The problem is that science is slow and hard, and it's not easy to follow up on the initial studies. Finding a different mix of gut flora doesn't make for an obvious next study, really. We can't actually control a human's gut biome, and even if we could the effects would be noisy and need large trials because humans are complicated. After the initial burst and some actionable findings (like avoid 'prophylactic' antibodies during surgery) we probably are moving more at the speed of nutritional science for a lot of stuff, so expect decades and big studies and conflicting results.

how would they spread?

More easily than you think! Though I've found sharing the details over a dinner conversation to be a bit off-putting to most people.
posted by mark k at 9:50 PM on June 9 [8 favorites]


I have read a bit in the past few years that depression and mental illness can be caused--and alleviated--by the gut flora. But IIRC it's not well researched but if it proves fruitful (pardon the pun), that could be a game changer

I know somebody who researches this! Her book is called Brain Changer and she also wrote a kids’ book called There’s a Zoo in my Poo to teach kids about their gut.
posted by andraste at 10:04 PM on June 9 [9 favorites]


The yeast is Saccharomayces boulardii lyo, might be specific to the brand name Floristor.

Anyway, a quick recommendation about something that helped my gut biome pretty amazingly.


First isolated from the peels of lychee fruit and mangosteen. The Wikipedia article has expanded a lot since I last looked at it a few years ago, and is far more positive about a much wider range of potential benefits.

And it mentions an aspect of probiotics I think deserves far more attention than it gets, as far as I know, to the effect that it grows and thrives at 37 °C (98.6 °F), normal human body temperature. We all talk about the probiotic benefits of yoghurt, but all the yoghurt I’ve ever heard of is cultured at 110 °F, and does not apparently thrive at human body temps. I've tried several times to make yogurt at ~100 °F with various national and locally produced live yoghurts, and the results were uniformly wretched.

How probiotic can organisms that won’t grow at the temperatures in your gut possibly be?

If I were trying to break into the very crowded field of live culture yoghurts, that’s the hook I’d use: brand and market a live culture yoghurt cultured at 100 °F.

A 'cool' new yoghurt, if you will.

Perhaps, simply: CoolTM.
posted by jamjam at 10:10 PM on June 9 [5 favorites]


I've also lived in a so-called "third world" country, and people there ate healthier than the average American, and it definitely had nothing do with privilege or wealth.

So I don't know if South Africa is a third world country, and I don't know whether it's helpful to use the average American as a benchmark (unless this solution is only going to be applied in the US?)

But over here where I am in South Africa , access to healthy food is *incredibly* tied to class and poverty. The food most people can access (access at all, not just easily) are processed, high carb staples. Clean water is an issue as well, so people drink lots of high sugar drinks.

Some people still manage to grow their own veggies and keep a few chickens and goats etc, but that's being eroded, and it's also a burden that falls heavily on women.

I'm also suspicious of the idea of better processed foods. Would they really be better? And affordable, and available.

But it's important to acknowledge that eating healthily, at the moment, is really difficult and expensive in ways that might not be obvious if you're not disabled, poor, overworked, living far from places to buy ingredients, and so on and on.
posted by Zumbador at 10:16 PM on June 9 [11 favorites]


Or maybe 'Cool 100TM'.
posted by jamjam at 10:19 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


The optimistic vision for 'better processed foods' might be something following the models of iodized table salt, enriched wheat flour, and adding vitamin D to retail milk.
Make up for some known and common nutrient issue by putting a cure into something just as common.
Of course the 'known' and 'cure' do a lot of heavy lifting there.

So little is currently known that a lot of claims are going to be either sales pitch or woo-woo. And even when more is known, I imagine that what we'll learn is that gut biology is so complex and variant that there will be few if any 'one size fits all' remedies. We'll see.

But still, you could save a lot of lives if one could run to the market and get a stick of the anti-diarrheal butter with the special pink label. Or 'the good news is we found your eczema to be a gut-related type; the bad news is you better get used to Vegemite Plus on your toast'.
posted by bartleby at 10:59 PM on June 9 [8 favorites]


I think the biggest problem may be that this kind of information ultimately doesn't help much because it tends to promote the idea of food as medicine. Which ends up promoting unhealthy ideas and practices about eating, diet, consumption, that kind of screw up health, public attitudes, and actual public policy in the long term. All with the best of intentions and even authoritative citations to boot. All it takes is a look at how health, diet and policy have been approached to this very day to see that these are issues that people tend to not do very well.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:01 PM on June 9 [12 favorites]


Someone pointed out today that there needs to be a veggie butcher at grocery stores. That seems very obvious.

If you can get cuts of meat and fish, why not vegetable prep? That is how restaurants work, that should be a grocery store service
posted by eustatic at 11:04 PM on June 9 [31 favorites]


Someone pointed out today that there needs to be a veggie butcher at grocery stores. That seems very obvious.

A supermarket I used to go to, had this. It was basically a hole in the wall counter where you could hand in your veggies and stand back in awe as the incredibly capable women with very sharp knives handily peeled, cored, and diced everything for you. It was *awesome*.
posted by Zumbador at 11:15 PM on June 9 [53 favorites]


Thanks, OP, this is fascinating stuff.

Cooking healthy needn't be hard or expensive, but it does take a few tricks that anyone can learn. ... I'm not blaming individuals here, as I think was clear in my original comment's urging that such things should be part of public education.

If you did not mean to blame individuals, you need to reconsider the notion that cooking can be easy for anyone if they know the right tricks. Blanket statements do not serve us well. Many folks do not have access to the healthy foods that I can buy, even in prosperous nations. Lots of other folks, like me, do not have the spoons to cook. Some individuals face both challenges. I live off of frozen foods and sardines mostly because cooking is too hard for me.

coffeecat, I share your skepticism about our collective ability to create healthful processed foods. I hope such a thing is possible but, again, super dubious because we just don't know how to define that. As highlighted above, we have plenty of examples of processed foods created to solve various nutritional issues (diet soda, anyone?) that utterly failed to improve the health of those who consume them.

There are now a ton of processed vegan and vegetarian food products out these days that I avoid because shifting from processed stuff with meat to processed stuff without meat (but a long list of stuff I don't even recognise) doesn't seem like an improvement for me or the planet.

eustatic, thanks for raising the concept of veggie butchers. That would be wonderful.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:18 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


I very much agree a systemic approach is key. Like Zumbador, even access to good fresh food is also tied to class and as such access issues here. Yet, coffeecat is also right that it's easier to eat 'healthier' where i am compared to when I'm in the anglophone west. It's not much squaring the two in my mind however, since to me the key difference seems to be snacking culture and street food culture.

Absolutely economics results in freshly cooked food that are now caloric bombs in that i mean, street food now has a lot of umami mass-processed ingredients like cheese sauce everywhere (i wish I'm kidding) or instant mud cakes that's basically chocolate biscuits in a batter that's basically sugar and condensed milk. But that very same food culture IS how i can get better daily options: cut fruits is very common, snacks and meals are basically freshly made (I would rather eat our local sloppy burgers for example - yes the patty comes from a factory, but the egg and slaw is done on the spot - many nutrionists now would consider that an acceptable compromise). The ability for the less well-off to get fresh convenience foods seems to be missing now in the US. For this reason knowing the infra in place where I am, I'm very much in support of better-made mass-processed food ingredients as they'll cycle back into the hawker and roadside sellers ecosystem.

In addition, there's also regional preferences: for what it's worth, the east asian market is the spot to go for freeze-dried and powdered versions of whole foods. Having a soup cube that's basically freeze-dried egg drop soup that i can add a cup of frozen vegetables have been invaluable for me. Oh and that also reminds me: i wish more people would feel comfortable 'hacking' their instant food options. Like, the whole ramen thing is super standard where I'm from. First thing i learned as a kid is a dropping an egg to an almost done pot of noodles.
posted by cendawanita at 11:41 PM on June 9 [8 favorites]


I know they have a troublesome history worldwide, but I often find myself wishing we had community canteens for every few blocks of housing, depending on population density. Spaces that served as third places for neighborhoods, provided jobs and volunteer opportunities that were walkable, and were publicly funded. If we could somehow shift the stigma off of not being able to cook our own food to the bad thing being not being willing to share meals with our neighbors, it would be so revolutionary.

I am certainly not advocating for like, ripping kitchens out of homes and making everyone eat all their meals together. But some kind of space that could be a default choice, the easy choice, and not an oppressive one, for overworked people, disabled people, lonely people, forgetful people, elderly people, people who want to make sure they are visibly considered members of the community, new people who want to make friends, people with exhausting toddlers… Like a local pub minus the drunkenness plus taco tuesdays and grab-and-go fruit cups.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted by my impossible utopian vision, but places like that would be amazing for encouraging nutritional knowledge and utilizing whatever forms of “improved” processed foods come of this microbiome enthusiasm. I’m remembering how a bunch of fast food places rolled out plant based proteins around the same time, and I still hadn’t tried any of them because I cook so much for myself. I actually made a special trip to qdoba to try the impossible bowl. There is such a huge range of eating and cooking styles, and a similarly enormous range of abilities to cook and eat that food, that no matter what kind of hyperprocessed ultramegamightyvitamin that food scientists come up with, there will be vast swathes of people who can’t or won’t take advantage of it, or to whom it won’t apply. If we had a more communal commitment to feeding our neighbors, we could have so much more data, and such a better idea of what we actually need. On a personal level, I would fucking love if I could cure my depression with the right colonies of bacteria buddies.
posted by Mizu at 11:47 PM on June 9 [24 favorites]


I make my own fermented (gluten free) sauerkraut Its most excellent for the gut
posted by robbyrobs at 12:12 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


Sigh. I work in an academic lab that does a fair amount of microbiome research. It's fascinating stuff, but the story is always, always much more complicated and less definitive than science reporting makes it sound. Illustrating this in the context of two examples brought up in this post (and no offense intended to the posters - microbiome hype is widespread, and the caveats are often poorly communicated!):

> I was talking with an expert on this matter recently and was surprised how little it's been studied. Her team had done tons of testing (of poop, from old and young, healthy and ill folks) and found such a huge variety of critters, and some of them are like... superhero bacteria that do incredibly helpful things. But they're mega rare because how would they spread? So they're planning a "live cultures" pill with a bunch of these incredible critters in it that's way different from the usual culture pills you can get, which tend to not have human-derived microfauna in them.

It's a hot topic and has been for at least the past decade (which isn't to say that we understand a lot, but it's not for lack of trying.) The explosion of research has been fueled by technical developments in DNA sequencing that allowed us to more or less take a census of what bacteria are in the gut microbiome, in a way that was just not feasible twenty years ago. There are some other developments that are allowing us to better understand what exactly microbes are doing in the gut environment, but they're much more challenging to execute and the data from these experiments are for a number of technical reasons often going to be less complete. But ultimately, human microbiome studies are rather challenging (experiments still often fail in mice, where you can colonize germ-free mice with specific mixes of microbes and subject them to very specific behavior and dietary constraints; in humans, that level of control is utterly impossible), often turn out to replicate poorly if at all in other populations, and often provide us with surprisingly little actionable data - we can see that there is a pattern, but we don't yet understand why it's a pattern or what we can do to replicate it.

So yes, there are bacteria that can do some pretty amazing biochemistry! But getting from there to making them do that chemistry in a useful way in the gut on demand is... not trivial. A few of the complicating factors:
- What do they rely on to do their job? If they need a complex balance of nutrients and terminal electron donors and oxygen levels and metals and even specific partner microbe strains and so on and so forth, just seeding them into an already-populated gut may be useless. If we don't understand what they're doing at a biochemical level, understanding how these factors might affect their success or failure to colonize the gut (or to perform the desired biochemistry) is going to be hard, and all too often, we understand very little about species that aren't well-known pathogens (because those have generally been studied in greater detail for longer.)
- How can you encourage them to actually do the job you want them to do? Many bacteria have lots of different metabolic pathways they can turn on or off depending on the environment. Just because the bacteria can do some really useful stuff doesn't mean they'll actually do it in the gut when you want them to do it. (I run into this sort of thing a lot in my work.)
- How many of them should there actually be in a healthy environment? Plenty of things become problematic when overabundant - perhaps as a direct effect (something else they produce turns out to be unhealthy in larger quantities), perhaps as a side effect (resources taken away from some other beneficial bacteria, or something they produce also happens to be something pathogens can benefit from.) The microbiome is a very complex community, and you can think of it sort of like a city - public transit employees (to choose a class of workers utterly arbitrarily) are very important in making the average large city function, but a city made up entirely of public transit employees wouldn't function well, because there are a lot of different jobs that need to be done (people need to eat, buildings need to be maintained, people need entertainment and education, etc.) Complex microbial communities generally have a range of strains that are superabundant and rarer strains that have found some niche to exploit, and both are evolutionarily valid long-term strategies.
- How would they spread? Like literally any other microbes that maintain populations in the gut microbiome: they reproduce, their daughter cells compete for resources against host cells and other microbes and if they do a good enough job, they might live to divide as well, and maybe eventually hitch a ride to a new host. But that's a big "if", and success for them (in microbe terms) may or may not look much like the conditions we'd be putting them in if we tried to use them as a probiotic treatment.

> I have read a bit in the past few years that depression and mental illness can be caused--and alleviated--by the gut flora. But IIRC it's not well researched but if it proves fruitful (pardon the pun), that could be a game changer: say goodbye to antidepressants, say hello to...yoghurt?

I mean... yes and no? For example, there are bacteria that can metabolize L-dopa, one of the first and best-known Parkinson's treatments - and they do so in the gut, so it never reaches the intended treatment site in the brain. Drugs that target the enzymes that these bacteria use to metabolize L-dopa might allow more L-dopa to make it to the brain, where dopamine gets released, improving the efficacy of L-dopa as a treatment, which would be great! But it's also not the whole story - there are also human enzymes that can also process L-dopa in the wrong location, there's a different set of enzymes in a different bacterial species that can metabolize L-dopa is a side reaction to their main job, there are potential drugs targeting various combinations of those enzymes, etc. etc. What initially sounds like a super cool and surprisingly straightforward story of gut involvement in a brain disorder nevertheless gets more complicated, fast.

And that's for a disorder where we understand some aspects pretty well on the biochemical level, and where we actually have a pretty good understanding of how the treatment works (and now how and why some of it is pilfered by microbes.) But most types of mental illness are much more poorly understood on a biochemical level, and that frankly applies to their treatments too.

There are indeed studies that suggest connections between various microbiota and mental illness, although they suffer from the same challenges that most microbiome studies suffer from, compounded by the poorly defined nature of so many of our mental illnesses. (Just like "cancer" really describes a zillion different diseases of cell proliferation with many different causes and treatments, anxiety and depression may really be umbrella terms for a bunch of different disorders.) But does this mean that in most people, gut microbiota are the primary cause of depression and mental illness (or even a major factor)? Nope, there's not much solid evidence for that at this point, and there are a lot of complicating factors for these studies (not least that depression and anxiety themselves can have effects on appetite and on diet diversity, as well as other health measures that themselves can affect the microbiome!). I'd personally suspect that microbiome composition will turn out to play a contributing role (albeit one whose size varies significantly person to person) in complex multifactorial mental disorders, but that the effect on treatments will rarely be as simple as swapping your antidepressants for yoghurt. (The L-dopa example is actually relevant here too - maybe you'd supplement your antidepressants with a probiotic, and with another medication that limits the activity of some microbial enzyme family that metabolizes your antidepressant or that produces some compound that exacerbates depression, and and and...).

This isn't to say that the microbiome isn't worth studying (it is!) or that there aren't microbes we might one day be able to use in treatments, possibly with some modifications or in tandem with medications (there almost certainly are!). But there are a lot of people doing a lot of microbiome research, and the reason all that work hasn't resulted in blockbuster probiotic drugs to cure all our woes isn't for lack of effort or even lack of funding - it's because the research is, frankly, really damn hard.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 12:31 AM on June 10 [141 favorites]


When an individual goes to space, you take a lot of life with you.
posted by filtergik at 4:15 AM on June 10


Thanks, ASF Tod und Schwerkraft, that's the kind of comment I keep coming back to MeFi for.
posted by signal at 4:30 AM on June 10 [10 favorites]


Flagged as fantastic, ASF Tod und Schwerkraft. I was recently at a Parkinson's research investigators meeting where microbiome data was a hot topic. You just explained all that waaaay better than the (already quite good for a scientist) slides we saw at the meeting.
posted by basalganglia at 5:22 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


But there are a lot of people doing a lot of microbiome research, and the reason all that work hasn't resulted in blockbuster probiotic drugs to cure all our woes isn't for lack of effort or even lack of funding - it's because the research is, frankly, really damn hard.

Thank you for taking the time to write that up.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:23 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


When an individual goes to space, you take a lot of life with you.

Occasionally I hike out into the middle of the salt flats in Death Valley specifically to get as far away from anything living as possible. Among other things it always makes me aware of my role as a walking microbiome support chamber.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:35 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting post, and thread, thanks to all.

My personal anecdata is that I shifted to a gut-friendly diet on the 11th of July last year, because of this article (that I have linked to on the green many times), and it has vastly improved my gut health and some aspects of my mental health. I can report that PTSD has nothing at all to do with gut health.
I bought one of Tim Spector's books to learn more about the principles and also googled a bit.

As people are saying, there are a lot of structural and individual issues that make this difficult. There have been some different situations where it was impossible for me to stay with the plan. In the first five-six months, that meant I had to go back to start. Now, a few days where I don't get enough variation or vegetables isn't catastrophic and has little impact on my general health. Since the end of April, I have been dealing with long COVID, and it means I am too exhausted to cook most nights. I do my best to get fruit and vegetables when I can, and my workplace has a great cafeteria (because they do nutrition research). But because of the COVID thing, I had blood tests done, and specially my liver counts were wildly improved since before I started the new lifestyle.
Before, my favorite foods were white starch and fat, like pasta with a gorgonzola sauce, and I had the health profile to go with it. now I eat lots of legumes, which I also enjoy, and green vegetables.

Tins and frozen whole foods are very helpful if you have no energy. My easiest food is: dump a tin of white beans (whatever sort) in a pot with half a tin of tomatoes and a good handful or two of frozen spinach. Cook till the spinach is well done, or less, I just love well done spinach. It doesn't strictly need more than thawing the spinach. Season to taste. Eat.
Baked beans on toast are not an ideal solution because of the sugar in the sauce and the bread, but they are a far better solution than soft cheese or charcuterie on toast, from a gut-health perspective. This is not the place for recipes, but I stock up on legumes when I see them on sale, frozen or fresh. Okra is good too. Spices are good. Peanutbutter is good, but put it on whole grain bread rather than white bread.
posted by mumimor at 7:58 AM on June 10 [13 favorites]


I find the fact that what we eat shapes our internal micro-galaxies super super fascinating. From a study of Southeast Asian (Hmong and Karen) immigrants to the U.S. and their changing gut microbiome:
We found that immigrants who lost Prevotella strains also lost highly specialized enzymes carried by those Prevotella for breaking down certain types of plants. These included palm, coconut, konjac and tamarind, which are commonly eaten in Southeast Asia. It is likely that the immigrants we studied had stopped eating some of these traditional foods after immigration, and the microbes that relied on those plant nutrients failed to grow and multiply and died off.
I was just chatting with the spouse about significantly reducing how much meat we consume (most recent reminder of how land- and resource-intensive animal agriculture is from George Monbiot).

While Korean food is often associated with galbi and grilled meats (and yes, there has been a dramatic shift in recent decades in meat consumption and my relatives in Korea do like to go out to celebrate birthdays with galbi), I've also read at least one study that South Korea is one of the few countries to maintain a high consumption of vegetables through its economic rise... kimchi of course, but also all the non-fermented veggie side dishes featuring both cultivated and wild sprouts, leaves, roots like kongnamul, gosari. I wonder how my parents' gut microbiomes have re-assimilated or not to Korea after their decades of life in the U.S. Their breakfast preferences remain hyper-North American -- pork products, scrambled eggs and sweetened bready things like pancakes and waffles.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:35 AM on June 10 [9 favorites]


FIBER
posted by supermedusa at 9:37 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Oooh, and while I now read all these studies in mice with the IN MICE in mental all-caps, this study on how gut bacteria influence food preference in mice is super interesting too.
...gave 30 mice that lacked gut microbes a cocktail of microorganisms from three species of wild rodents with very different natural diets.

The duo found that mice in each group chose food rich in different nutrients, showing that their microbiome changed their preferred diet. The researchers published their work today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While the idea of the microbiome affecting your behavior may sound far-fetched, it's no surprise for scientists. Your gut and your brain are in constant conversation, with certain kinds of molecules acting as go-betweens. These byproducts of digestion signal that you've eaten enough food or maybe that you need certain kinds of nutrients. But microbes in the gut can produce some of those same molecules, potentially hijacking that line of communication and changing the meaning of the message to benefit themselves.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:41 AM on June 10 [6 favorites]


Chiming in as an American farmer of tree fruits (apples, pears, peaches, etc), one huge policy change that I think would help would be some sweeping changes to the Farm Bill. Currently, grains like soy, corn and wheat are heavily subsidized as is beef, but fresh veggies and fruits are not. Obviously I have some self interest here, but one main reason the healthier fresh foods are more expensive and harder to find the in the US is because they are a lot more expensive and risky to grow.
posted by birdsongster at 9:55 AM on June 10 [39 favorites]


I have various thoughts and experiences on this topic but they're well covered above.

I do, though, want to emphasize that "better processed food" is not likely to be a solution. The very notion of "processed food" is to put an impenetrable barrier between the consumer and the production of the product. The product will have its claims and those claims will be supported by the good will of the "brand" which itself is the smiling face of the unsmiling corporation with its factories, supply chains, distribution channels, profit margins and marketing department.

Consider for a moment something as simple as eggs. I desire cruelty-free eggs. Can I have them? Well, no, in a supermarket I probably cannot. "Free range," "organic," etc. these terms mean basically nothing. My best—my only—hope is to buy eggs in a farmer's market and even then I have to trust that I'm not being scammed. (Milk is a whole order of magnitude more complicated.)

Nothing short of strict regulation can improve the quality of processed food. Or you can put your trust in "brands," I guess. (I mean I used to buy Annie's mac and cheese for my kids but I knew even then that it was nonsense.) But the state of firm knowledge about the microbiome is such that regulation is currently out of the question.

If there is a solution it will be something like easier access to less processed foods, but that will not be a solution for everybody for reasons others have already explained.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:09 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Personally I think "better processed food" is likely to be the biggest part of the solution. I think changing people's eating habits is incredibly difficult because there are so many constraints and because I don't really think we have full voluntary control over our appetites and eating behaviors. (See spamandkimchi's eponysterical comment just above & listen to the podcast Maintenance Phase)

But personally I think we've made a lot of advances in healthful food processing since, say, the 1970s, and I don't find further improvements a stretch. We're not all eating wonder bread and mayonnaise and jello any more. We are eating more frozen foods than canned. We enrich our flour and fortify our milk and iodize our salt, and that's prevented malnutrition on a huge scale. (I find it amazing to think of how many cases of spina bifida have been prevented by by folic acid enrichment.)

We figured out trans fats and saturated fats are bad, and there is a lot less of that stuff in the average bag of chips these days.

I buy lots of bagged salads and little yogurt cups. They're "processed foods" I guess in that they are ready to eat (and delicious) but they're a long better than those baloney, mayo, and wonderbread sandwiches I grew up on.
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:31 PM on June 10 [16 favorites]


Good points all. I am reconsidering my position.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:40 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]


As an aside, I heart Maintenance Phase podcast, OnceUponATime! It's been a delight to have podcast hosts who enjoy each other's company and share personal details when appropriate, but without making podcast listeners wade through "how was your weekend" replies and force me to eavesdrop on their friendship. There are podcasts where I like the content and the podcast hosts, but I can't deal with the chitchat to content ratio. LA Podcast I'm looking at you!
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:43 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


I like thinking of myself as a spaceship with a bunch of happy inhabitants.

Including those happy little eyelash mites.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:12 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I think processed food can be better, even if it's not as good as the best fresh food.

I've seen a lot of chapped fruit and vegetables in the supermarket-- not as cool-- or as fresh-- as having a vegetable butcher, but they're easier on people's hands than chopping.

I can cook, but I've seen a lot about people with limited hand mobility or time or energy to refrain from making claims that everyone can cook.

The Second Brain is about the nervous system which runs the digestive tract. It does important things like timing when valves open and close, The author's theory is that a lot of digestive issues are problems with the nervous system rather than the individual organs. This is not to downplay the microbiome which is obviously important, but I wonder whether i's overshadowed research on the nervous system.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:37 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Nothing short of strict regulation can improve the quality of processed food.

So uh...even assuming this is the only route, seems like we could get that strict regulation going, and then we could improve the quality of processed foods?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:44 PM on June 10


Here in the EU, the regulations are pretty strict, so if I buy an organic whole grain pizza, it will be OK. Not good from my point of view, but not bad either. There won't be added sugar or corn syrup.

So yes, there is a political aspect to this: lobby and bully your politicians to regulate food.
posted by mumimor at 1:51 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


A really good book on this topic is The Good Gut, by the Sonnenburgs who run a microbiome-focused laboratory at Stanford. It explains a lot of the known science, gives dietary recommendations, and it's easy to read.

One of the big recommendations from The Good Gut is to eat more dietary fiber (onions, garlic, radishes, carrots, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, barley, bananas, seaweed, oats, flax, chickpeas, etc) -- because while getting oral probiotics to remain in the gut is still fairly elusive, dietary fibers feed many of the gut microbes we want.

If you don't/can't cook, inulin powder -- usually inexpensive and derived from Jerusalem artichokes or chicory -- may help get some of the same prebiotic benefits you'd get from vegetables, and it's flavorless and can be easily mixed into pretty much any beverage.
posted by hungrytiger at 2:07 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


It would probably help to think of it as "less unhealthy processed food" rather than "healthy processed food."

The structural issues that would make it easier to get fresh veggies aren't getting fixed and people are eating a bunch of processed food. If we can't fix it more properly the making the stuff people are eating less bad for them. Still doesn't keep anyone from also pursuing structural changes.

I try to cook whole food for my kid as much as I can but sometimes we're going to get McDonalds and it would be great if that McDonalds were even a little bit less bad.
posted by VTX at 2:14 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


The ideal rule of thumb for eating in the context of these new findings:

"Don't eat food. Eat fiber."

Forget about calories; forget about the four food groups; don't worry about any other aspect of calorie intake or nutrition. When you visit your grocery provider, push your cart in the direction of high-fiber foods, and buy these and nothing else.

Kale. Legumes. Nuts. Spinach. Carrots. Squash. Beans. Oats. High-fiber fruits.

All the protein, carbs and nutrients you require will be contained in these foods as ancillary products.

"Don't eat food. Eat fiber."

No further effort needed.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:20 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


buy these and nothing else.

Kale. Legumes. Nuts. Spinach. Carrots. Squash. Beans. Oats. High-fiber fruits.


LOL I mean, okay, but then why bother living?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:25 PM on June 10 [14 favorites]


"Don't eat food. Eat fiber." --- Careful or you'll accidentally create the Metamucil diet. (Actually this may already be a thing.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:26 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I'm a total foodie, so I would never ever change my diet to comply with a health diet solely because of health issues. Because of COVID I have lost my sense of smell and taste which is incredibly depressing, but in the many months before I caught corona and was trying to live on a gut-friendly diet, I actually found it stimulating and that it opened my mind to many recipes I hadn't known before.
And some research claims that one can retrain one's senses, so that is my current project.
posted by mumimor at 2:47 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


The problem with advocating for better ultra-processed foods (it's important to distinguish between processed and ultra-processed here), is we don't really have a solid grasp on which aspects of ultra-processed foods are particularly harmful and which may be benign. We already have a lot of this kind of thing (supposedly healthier versions of all kinds of things), but we don't have any real evidence that the healthier versions are actually any better. Absent very expensive diet studies where all food is provided to participants, it's awfully hard to prove anything.

From a public health perspective, I'm sure it would be more effective and cheaper to work to increase the availability of fruit, vegetables, fermented foods, and legumes and increase the public know-how to deal with them, than it would be to try to make ultra-processed foods dubiously healthier. Of course, the latter has a potential for profit that the former doesn't.
posted by ssg at 3:54 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


From a public health perspective, I'm sure it would be more effective and cheaper to work to increase the availability of fruit, vegetables, fermented foods, and legumes and increase the public know-how to deal with them, than it would be to try to make ultra-processed foods dubiously healthier.

literally the FPP says this is unlikely to be true, due to everything about how humans are:

Instead of relying on individuals to change their eating behaviors to improve their health, which has a limited success rate, a greater availability of reformulated processed foods may enable individuals to improve their diet quality without significantly changing dietary habits.

it is extremely hard to get people to change their habits. They will mostly fail at it on a long-term timeframe. It seems like we know and recognize this when it comes to everything except diet, and then suddenly humans are presumed to not behave like themselves at all.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:01 PM on June 10 [10 favorites]


Yes, it is hard to get people to change their eating habits, within existing structures of food prices, availability, know-how, etc. Of course when ultra-processed foods are cheap and widely available and whole foods are expensive and often low-quality, people are going to favour processed foods. That's why you need the change the structures, not just tell people to eat more vegetables!

It's the same situation as trying to get people to drive less. You don't just tell them to start biking to work or taking transit, you provide safe bike lanes, you set up bike parking, you start bike share systems, your provide frequent, fast, pleasant transit, you build walkable neighbourhoods, and so on.
posted by ssg at 4:10 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Some of the desire for processed foods over unprocessed or less processed fruits and vegetables is going to be a matter of preference. There are substantial differences in taste, texture and presentation.
posted by Selena777 at 4:47 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Kale. Legumes. Nuts. Spinach. Carrots. Squash. Beans. Oats. High-fiber fruits.

LOL I mean, okay, but then why bother living?


*sigh* You realize that this is a typical South Asian diet, except for kale and oats (not to be confused with the extremely danceable 80s duo). If vegetarian isn't your thing, Blast Hardcheese, that's cool, but making har-har jokes about other people's food isn't.

Blanket prescriptives either way (eat only this! never eat that!) are unlikely to be as helpful for most of us as steady incremental change. But a lot of it is systemic. I spent several years in NYC, which you would think would be a great place for healthy groceries, but my neighborhood was a food desert. I did have access to a weekly grocery shuttle that went to the Harlem Fairway (that cold room!) but most people in the neighborhood didn't.

One thing I'm peripherally interested in is the epigenetic effects on gut microbiota. Epigenetics basically upends what you probably learned in middle school biology (DNA -> RNA -> protein) and looks at the so-called non-coding regions of DNA, which actually have a huge effect on gene expression. It's neat because genetic evolution is slow, but epigenetic change can happen quickly, often under the influence of major historical and social events. The biggest epigenetic study I'm aware of is the Dutch Famine Study, which looks at the impact of a WW2 famine on prenatal development. (Note that the structure of DNA had not even been discovered when this happened.) The cohort is now in their 70s and many of the changes appear persistent, and may even transfer across generations. There's also growing interest in epigenetics and racism, which I'm a bit cautious about (it feels a bit like searching for a biological determinism for a non-biological category like race), but may end up explaining some of the fuzzier, hard to quantify issues around health disparities in things like, say, metabolic syndrome.

Or it could be, y'know, food deserts.
posted by basalganglia at 5:16 PM on June 10 [15 favorites]


Yes, it is hard to get people to change their eating habits, within existing structures of food prices, availability, know-how, etc. Of course when ultra-processed foods are cheap and widely available and whole foods are expensive and often low-quality, people are going to favour processed foods. That's why you need the change the structures, not just tell people to eat more vegetables!

It's hard to get people to change ANY habits, NO MATTER WHAT. Else we wouldn't still have smokers, in an environment where smoking is considered worse than almost anything else you can do to yourself, prohibited almost everywhere, and generally discouraged by all structures including price and availability.

If someone published an article that said "hey, we're researching cigarettes and what we're finding is that we might be able to produce basically a cigarette that is modified so it doesn't damage your lungs," would the immediate reaction be "well I just think it's better if people learned an entirely different habit instead of being offered these non-harmful versions of a thing they already love"?

just kidding of course it would.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:17 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


And i'm sorry, I've eaten far too many of the hundreds of varieties of South Asian food to be convinced that 1) there's AN "typical" south Asian diet and 2) it has such an extremely limited variety of ingredients chosen solely for their fiber content.

For one thing, not all South Asian cuisines are vegetarian at all, and they do not generally shun grains. It seems a bit unfair to assume that it's the lack of meat to which I objected and not the lack of, like, I dunno, bread? Rice? Bananas? Grapes? Booze? Cheese? Sweets? (Please do not attempt to convince me that the part of the world which gave us gulab jamun has no use for sweets!)

The comment to which I was responding took a single article and made a declarative statement that only about 10 foods in the world should ever be eaten and this was the simplest thing imaginable. It was so wildly reductive that honestly, I'm half convinced it was sarcasm and I'm going to be embarrassed when they show up and say so.

But sure probably anyone who reacts derisively to a pat, tone-deaf possibly satirical tossed-off comment on a website is just a racist who doesn't know about non-US foods and needs MUH MEATS.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:34 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]


And new(?), to me at least, just in on *Antibiotics and Exercise:

(snip)
New research demonstrates that by killing essential gut bacteria, antibiotics ravage athletes’ motivation and endurance.

(*just seen in mice study so far)
posted by aleph at 5:37 PM on June 10


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese, I agree with you on the reductionism of "eat this not that" (as you can see if you read the rest of my comment).

But we had almost the exact same exchange on a prior thread when you acted like lentils were some kind of inedible alternative to hot dogs, so I'm tapping out.
posted by basalganglia at 5:47 PM on June 10


Yeah it turns out that people tend to feel strongly about a thing that we all need a bunch of every day to continue living, I guess.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:50 PM on June 10


Damn I wanted to ask something about vegetarianism and fiber, but that topic has suddenly heated up!

Forging ahead anyway.

I have started getting frustrated with the overwhelming advice to eat more fiber, because it seems, to me, to assume a way of eating and over correcting for that.
The suggestion that what I eat is also shaping my gut biome really makes sense to me and makes me reconsider a lot of the advice my GP and GI specialist give me.

I think they assume I eat like most other (middle class) South Africans, which means, a lot of red meat, poultry, and a vast amount of processed meat, a lot of processed carbs, with a small and sad token piece of lettuce on occasion.

I actually eat mostly cooked fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, sea food, eggs and dairy, with bread, oats, sugar free muesli. No red or white meat at all. I have gastritis because of anxiety, and my health care providers 1)never ask what I eat beyond "vegetarian? Alcohol?" 2)always tell me to eat more fiber.

What I've only recently discovered is that unless I eat a certain amount of soft bread, rotis, pizza bases etc, I get diarrhea. I think because of *too much fiber*.

So it feels to me like a lot of general eating advice is aimed at people who simply don't eat like me. And it's amazing how difficult it is to get even a specialist to believe you about what you're actually eating.
posted by Zumbador at 9:39 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Zumbador, from my personal experience and what I have read during the last 11 months, you can't eat "too much fiber" in a steady diet, but you can eat too much fiber suddenly. So if your normal intake is 15 grams of fiber a day, and you suddenly eat 40 grams, your stomach will be upset. But if you are used to eating 40 grams, you'll just be living with a healthy gut. I didn't write it above, but I took a slow approach to changing my habits after reading some sources online for that exact reason. As I understand it (IANAD) it makes sense: those good bacteria don't appear in one day, or even one week, so if you just change your diet overnight, there will be no one there to deal with it.

Also, in the beginning, the healthy microbiome in my gut was a somewhat fragile balance, so if I had a day or two where I couldn't get enough vegetables and fiber, I had to rebuild it over several weeks. Now that isn't an issue any more.

Since I register everything I eat in a spreadsheet, I can tell you that it is totally possible to be a vegetarian or pescatarian and not get enough fiber. When I started out, everyone, including my doctors, thought I had a perfectly healthy diet, and were mystified by my IBS and other digestive issues. When I started counting my fiber intake and servings of vegetables pr day, I was surprised to see I only ate about 8 grams of fiber and 3 servings of fruit and veg as the average. Even writing it here now feels stupid, but the vegetables I was eating most of were not doing anything: tomatoes and cucumbers and lettuce are mainly water.

I love carbs. I love pasta, bread, pizza, rice, couscous and bulgur. But I have taught myself to eat them in moderation -- about 100 grams a day. In the beginning, I hated it, but when I began to be able to feel the improvement, it became "natural", in the sense that I no longer craved more than my gut can handle.

If your stomach needs soothing, try eating a barely ripe banana (it should still be a bit green) and drink kefir with it. I learnt this from my grandmother who suffered from gastritis, but it turns out there is science supporting the old wives' tale: unripe bananas are rich in inulin, and kefir is a good source of healthy microbes.
posted by mumimor at 10:42 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that insight, mumimor. That actually makes a lot of sense.

For what it's worth, the vegetables I eat, (most meals, the veggies are the bulk of my food, I don't really eat rice or pasta) are butternut, green beans,carrot, brinjals, baby marrows, baby peas in their shell, mushrooms (OK fungi, but still) okra, green and red pepper, broccoli, and I also eat a lot of ripe banana, several a day.

I also eat a lot of oats, nuts, seeds, and recently, a sugar free wheat cereal.

Thanks for the green banana and kefir tip. That sounds promising.
posted by Zumbador at 10:52 PM on June 10


I'm generally healthy, but I've not seen a high fiber diet to do anything at all for my health. I started it because of my high cholesterol, and it made a tiny difference, but my general health is 'fine' and unchanged, weight, endurance, energy, sleep, recovery, skin, etc are all the same as before. I still eat whatever too, along with more fibrous food, and my weight is fine but slightly rising with age, but as for health benefits (vs before)? Nada that I can tell. I still do it mostly because fiber is easy and pretty cheap and I generally enjoy fibrous foods, but if I didn't I wouldn't keep it up. It's going on a few years now, so I guess unless I fully change and drop all the bad things, I'm stuck with the cholesterol I have.

People are different, anecdote, not diet advice, etc. .
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Also I don't know what stores you all shop at, but there most assuredly is a 'butcher for vegetables' concept in the stores I shop at, though things like watermelon go from $2 to $10 just because they cut them up and put them in some plastic so no thank you. But yeah, tons of shredded, chopped, etc fresh vegetables are certainly available if that's what you want.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:04 PM on June 10


The diet suggested in the link I posted above is not just high fiber (25-30 grams of fiber), but also asks for at least five servings of fruit and veg a day, and 30 different vegetable foods a week. In my experience, that just doesn't leave room for a "normal" western diet. I can't eat a can of beans in a seven-vegetable stew and then also a burger, but YMMV.

The 30 different vegetable foods are why I don't think this can be solved with a pill or better processed foods. I am not a doctor, but I find that advice convincing, because many things suggest that we need complexity to thrive, not just nutrition-wise, but in all aspects of life.

And: I live about 50% in the middle of a city with a large percentage of immigrants, and it is very easy for me to reach the 30 different vegetable foods when I'm here, as I am now. I don't have to cook it all, either, a lot of the stores make delicious foods to take out. But the other 50% of my time (during lockdown 90%), I manage our family farm, and that is where I end up eating lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers because that is what I can find at the store. It's not that there aren't other foods, but the quality is mostly depressing. I don't want to pay money for wilted cabbage and bruised carrots. I should grow my own veg, but the deer have eaten all my attempts. I do forage, though. And I can get canned and frozen produce and make them work for me.
posted by mumimor at 11:34 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


mumimor, why do you think what you're saying is true of everyone?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:44 PM on June 10


I don't at all, in the above comment there is a YMMV in the first paragraph.
But I have had a life changing experience, and I share it in the hope that others can have the same.

I do research in a completely different field: perception of space, and we are struggling to explain the concept of complexity in useful terms. But it does seem that, for instance, humans in hospitals who can look out at a garden heal faster than those who look out on a parking lot. This may be an indicator that complexity is good for us.
posted by mumimor at 11:51 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]


muminor, do your studies include perception of space inside one's body?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:53 AM on June 11


My research has indeed dealt with the spaces inside the body, thanks for asking. Obviously, there were doctors taking care of the medicinal aspects in the research groups.
posted by mumimor at 12:57 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


For those like me with a low spoon count who want to incorporate more veggies into their diet a few times a day: tall jar or metal cup plus handheld immersion blender is my secret weapon combo.

You don't need a Vitamix or special juicer, just an immersion blender with sufficient oomph. 1000 watts should do it. And the cleanup is so much easier than what you have to do with a regular blender.

Basic recipe: (Greens like kale, spinach, chard, or collards) plus powdered algae like spirulina plus (water or other liquid), plus whatever else you want to put in there. Berries and nuts are other easy add-ins.

Sometimes this takes the form of (greens plus water plus algae plus citrus plus stevia) if all I'm looking for is an easy quick veg hit. And a pea protein / seed smoothie with the greens / liquid base I described above is my daily breakfast now. I add some nut milk to the breakfast smoothie!

I'm traveling at the moment with a hefty metal thermos full of lime spinach drink. Beats the heck out of bottled water or murderously sweet bottled fruit juice.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:44 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Chicory often causes hives, and can cause low blood sugar. Inulin has an even lonver list of side ecfects. Both commonly cause gas, bloating and a gut ache. I don't think they should be taken together.
posted by Oyéah at 3:18 PM on June 14


« Older The Almost Complete History of Kill Rock Stars   |   the war on drag Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.