Built-in diet: Mind your own microbes

Maria Isabel Garcia
The thing about eating is you are not just feeding yourself when you eat

It is always good to start revealing the elephant in the room about diets so I will open with this. There is no ONE super food that can keep you thin, gorgeous, alive and satisfied. As far as science have found, the only diet that works is the one you can stick to for the rest of your life. “Sticking” to a diet depends on the availability of food, your age, your health condition, your moods, even your culture, so sticking to a diet is a parallel journey you make discovering yourself for as long as you live since all of these things change throughout your life.

The thing about eating is you are not just feeding yourself when you eat. Even if you do not have dependents, you have “mouths” to feed – about a 100 trillion of them – for as long as you live. These are microbes. They have been here long before humans were and so that when we slowly emerged into the life scene, microbes have woven themselves into the human “package” that we are – so much so that our insides serve as their home sweet home.

One hundred trillion strong. They do not show up in your selfies but in those numbers, it makes you wonder who really owns your body. Only about 5% of microbes can cause diseases; the rest promote life, in terms of functions. In fact, without them, you would have trouble eating or thinking.

First of all, if you do not feed these inner pets which come with being human, they will eat you. Research has found that if they do not get fed with what they prefer (fiber), they will eat the mucus lining of your intestines. This “lining” serves as a protection for you and if your own microbes consume that, then you are laid defenseless against the onslaught of the non-friendly microbes and also inflammation.

Microbes also help our brains work.  We often think of neurons as residing in our brain but of the 80 -100 billion neurons we have, 100 million of them are in our gut. In fact, serotonin – which is a hormone associated with mood regulation, is mostly produced in our gut with the help of the resident microbes there.  

Another vital function of the “bugs” in your gut has to do with being able to eat what you cannot digest on your own. Fiber (such as vegetables and whole grain foods) is not simply your inner broom that makes bathroom trips easier and trouble-free. More importantly, they make up the feast for your microbes. As microbes eat these otherwise indigestible stuff for humans, they extract the good stuff that we need – energy, nutrients, vitamins and especially short-chain fatty acids that have been linked to improved immune functiondecreased inflammation and protection against obesity. Weight management, research has found has a lot to do with the microbes in your gut.

Scientists have also found that good bacteria found in your gut affect the on-and-off switch in your genes which could play a role in colon cancer. Another research has found that if you do not have good bacteria in your colon, you do not have the “guards” that wards that keeps off oxygen in your column. Apparently, oxygen in our colons is not a good thing as it causes a lot of problems, including inflammation and the retreat of “T cells” – those Navy Seals that fight off diseases. When these happen, the colon is now ripe for “bad bacteria” to move in.

Those are surely great reasons to eat your vegetables. But why do we need to remind ourselves to eat vegetables when we do not do that for other food groups especially dessert?

We were all babies once and as such are come with a strong bias for sweet and savory tastes because mother’s milk, which is the best food for infants is heavy on sweet and savory. In fact, we seem to carry these preferences into puberty because up to that point, we need to build up. This is also why it is difficult for most kids to eat vegetables. Their taste buds still identify “sour” as unpleasant and “bitter” as poisonous.  So your kids are just not being stubborn to your veggie insistence. Their young bodies are just not yet set-up for it. But they will learn and you would have to help them.

This study found that if you want your kids to learn to eat vegetables, you would have to introduce and sustain a positive environment doing so. This means for kids that maybe it should be fun. I also did not like vegetables and my mother’s insistence also did not help me. But in school, I like understanding what things are made of and when I started to learn where veggies come from, what they are made of, I started to think they were really cool, fresh inventions of nature and wanted to partake. The research also showed that when kids were pressured to eat certain things, they find it more difficult to accept those foods.

Feeding your existing “good” microbes, which calls for fiber is called “prebiotic” eating. If you want to call that a diet, it is up to you but “diet” always seems to alert the notion that it is a fad. Your microbes are not trendsetters. They have been here long before you have so deal with them and you will live.  “Probiotic” eating is when you add live “good” bacteria such as yogurt to join and add the ranks you already have which may be lacking or need reinforcement. It has been found to give us benefits too and it all depends on the kind of strain you are getting from eating probiotics like yogurt,  soy milk and other fermented foods.

So now when you think about your meals, remember that you are eating for a trillion “mini-me’s” inside you which help you be you. – Rappler.com

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