Can the food you eat and how it’s cooked matter to the communities of bacteria living in your gut? Yep!  Read the Wall Street Journal article by Micheal Pollan “Some of My Best Friends are Germs”, where he had the bacteria living in his body tested and analyzed to better understand how the food we eat is more important than we realize. It will change the way you think about food.

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One of the things that I love about nutrition is that it’s an emerging science. Always changing. And this article was like a light bulb moment for me.  Here’s the problem… we just don’t understand how the trillions of bacteria that live in our guts work to keep us well. As a nutrition professional, here is what inspired me.

First, with our typical American diet of processed sugars and unhealthy fats (I’m talking fast food here), we’re depriving the trillions of bacteria in our guts the food they like best: fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. They need the prebiotic and soluble fibers found in these healthier foods to survive. When they get lots of this healthy fiber to eat, the byproduct of bacteria fermentation in our guts is a nutrient that helps prevent inflammation (yes, not just gas ). Most scientists now agree that inflammation is the root to chronic disease today. We want to prevent inflammation in our body.

It’s so simple really, by just adding plants to a fast-food diet, you can lower the inflammatory effect of processed foods. In many ways, it could be as easy as adding an avocado to your hamburger or tomatoes and mushrooms to your steak dinner. I don’t know about you but this type of thinking puts makes me think about the foods we buy in our supermarket in a whole new light.

In fact, today I shopped with my bacteria friends in mind, what would they like to eat? It’s like feeding or fertilizing the garden in our gut!

Plus, scientists found the less a food is processed, more of it will get safely through the gastrointestinal tract and into the large intestine where numerous colonies thrive. Unfortunately, our diets of fast food and highly processed, low fiber meals gets absorbed in the small intestine and don’t make it that far. So surprise!  We are essentially starving those little guys that live way down in the end (the colon). Gives a whole new meaning to the word “fiber”.

In terms of food processing, al dente pasta, for example, feeds the our bacteria friends better than soft pasta does; green bananas better than ripe one; steel-cut oats better than quick oats; raw or lightly cooked vegetables offer the bugs more to chomp on than overcooked, veggies etc.

Plus he suggests that all calories are not created equal and that the structure of a food and how it is prepared may matter as much as its nutrients it contains.

Take the time to read it.

This is especially important for those of you following the trendy Paleo, Wheat belly and now Grain Brain diets. Probably not a wise way to go.

Heidi Diller, RDN (Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist)