Your Gut Bacteria Are What You Eat

A new study found that Japanese people, but not Americans, have gut bacteria that help them digest seaweed. The Japanese eat a lot more seaweed than Americans, of course. Presumably they acquired the gut bacteria from eating seaweed that wasn’t hyper-sterile. It’s more evidence that we are not designed to eat hyper-sterile food.

Thanks to Aaron Blaisdell and Deborah Estrin.

3 Replies to “Your Gut Bacteria Are What You Eat”

  1. This is one of your most important posts, I think, because it suggests both the mechanism and the use of fermented foods. Fermented versions of the foods we regularly eat will give us bacteria that will help digest the (unfermented versions of) the foods we regularly eat.

    Sounds like Americans should try to find ways to eat fermented corn. Perhaps like the Andean drink chicha – http://beverages.suite101.com/article.cfm/chicha

    This reminds me of the idea that some of the selection process that helped plants evolve into more useful forms was a function of people eating the “best” plants and then shitting the seeds out near where they lived. Rinse and repeat over a long time, and you end up with a proliferation of plants suited to human consumption.

  2. How do you think raw vs. cooked factors into the fermented foods issue? The live cultures in yogurt and kombucha clearly make it to your stomach alive, but when I make miso soup or cook tempeh, I can’t imagine the high heat is great for the bacteria and/or fungi. Do you know of any research on whether they can make it through the cooking process? (Some bacteria can encyst, for instance.)

    I’m also curious about some claims that the fermentation process (for some substrates) ends with the death of the microbial community, via high acidity or alcohol content. Any pointers?

  3. Tim, my understanding is that Japanese cooks add miso to soup at the very end to avoid exactly the problem you mention: killing the bacteria.

    I haven’t read about how fermentation, if it lasts long enough, ultimately kills the bacteria but I’m sure it’s true. They run out of food, are poisoned by their own waste. So wine may be less healthy than other fermented foods where the bacteria are alive (or more alive).

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