For some reason, the “gut microbiome” has been receiving a lot of press lately. The gut microbiome refers to the genes of the microbes living in our bodies, including bacteria, fungi, bacteriophage, protozoa and viruses. In other words, it’s the body’s ecosystem. As a matter of fact, three books recently came out discussing the influence of gut health on weight gain and obesity, and brain development: The Gut Balance Revolution by Gerard E. Mullin, MD, Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD, and Kristin Loberg, and The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health by Justing Sonnenberg and Erica Sonnenberg. [Interestingly, this is coming at the same time as we are coming to terms with the importance of soil health to sustainable farming. Maybe we are slowly coming to realize that health (of our bodies, of our environment, etc…) is dependent on much more than that which we can see. As Gerard E. Mullin, MD, writes in his book, The Gut Balance Revolution, “Well, the steps (to grow a healthy garden) are not so different when it comes to preparing the “soil” of your gut for the overall ecosystem of gut microbiota you wish to plant in it. You want to increase the overall biodiversity of this inner ecosystem, shifting it toward a robust set of microbial communities that work together in a symbiotic way to support your health and help you achieve optimal weight.” (p.46)]
There are over 100 trillion microbes residing in our bodies, and the bulk of them are in the intestines. So, it’s not surprising that our gut health has resurfaced as a topic of discussion. 80% of our immune system resides in our gut too, so, naturally, the health of our gut is paramount to ensuring our well-being. More recently, researchers have been finding that the health of our gut is a key factor in weight loss, mental and emotional health, and brain development. The balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies also helps regulate our bodies’ inflammatory responses, and, rampant, chronic, inflammation is a big factor in many modern diseases.
The problem is that we’ve slowly been eliminating the good bacteria from our bodies in the following ways: we don’t eat as many fermented foods with good bacteria in them as we used to; we use too many antibiotics, antibacterial cleansers, and over-sanitize everything so our bodies no longer know how to fight off infection; antibiotics are used in our food production too (70% of antibiotics produced are used in poultry and cattle raised for consumption) and we are inadvertently exposed to antibiotics when we eat these foods; and we are under constant stress. Stress also affects our gut health because, when our bodies experience a stress response, the first system to shut down is the digestive system. This, in turn, affects the balance of bacteria in our gut.
Here are a few simple things you can do to support the good bacteria is your gut:
- Eat or drink foods with lots of good bacteria in them, such as: sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir milk, pickles, kombucha, miso and tempeh. These will build up the good bacteria in your gut.
- Put down the sanitizers (and use soap and water). Don’t over-sanitize everything—it’s okay (and even probably good) to get a little dirty.
- Stay away from sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. They create too much acid in our stomachs, which kills off any beneficial bacteria.
- Eat foods rich in fiber. Fiber helps feed your good bacteria…and it helps you feel full.
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The Third Plate:
Field Notes on the
Future of Food
by Dan Barber
I didn’t think that I would enjoy reading The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber for a variety of reasons. I read it more because I felt I had to – given Mr. Barber’s influence in the culinary world – than I actually wanted to. When I read the title, I thought, “Oh boy, not another book on the perils of factory farms and industrial agriculture, and how bad processed foods are.” But, I dug in, because – like I said – Mr. Barber is quite influential in the food movement. And, I have to admit that once I started reading the book, I began to think of the way we grow food in a whole new way. It’s no longer about just growing organic, but about viewing our food system in a whole new way.
The starting point of Mr. Barber’s book is what food (Barber uses the analogy of the plate) will look like 35 years from now. In thinking about this, he realizes that it’s a new vision of farm-to-table. It’s not the farm-to-table which is popular now, where we grow what we ultimately want to eat. Rather, it’s a farm-to-table where we eat what is grown, and what
is grown is that which will most benefit the soil, the land, the rivers and/or seas. And, perhaps in our quest to do what was right in terms of food, such as growing organic, we overlooked what was most important, which is the sustainability of the entire ecosystem. As Barber puts it, “Wendell Berry once described the land as an “immeasurable gift,” and he wasn’t just referring to food. In the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity. What Berry refers to as the culture in agriculture is as integral to the process as the soil or the sun.” (p.175)
Throughout the book, Barber takes us on a journey to visit farmers and chefs who have adopted a different approach to protecting the soil, the land, the sea and the seed. His representations of these people are captivating and we feel like we are on the journey with him, which makes the read even more worthwhile. More importantly, though, each of these methods of farming or cooking can provide us with insight into the future of farming, a future that need not deplete our resources so intensively. As Barber writes at the end of his book, “In many ways the research for this book began with the opposite idea: take one great ingredient, and discover how it was grown or raised. Learn the recipe, I figured, and help make the harvests from the farmers that surround me more delicious and ecological. But the greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it…Aldo Leopold once wrote that the right kids of farming doesn’t discard any of nature’s component parts. “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” The right kind of cooking does the same thing: it promotes the vibrant communities, above and below ground, that make food delicious in the first place.” (p.446-447)
CAPTURING THE BOUNTY OF OUR FARMS
As you all know, one of my
favorite pastimes is visiting
farmers markets. I had the
opportunity to visit quite a
few this summer. You can
see my pictures HERE.