FoodNavigator caught up with Dr. Vincent Pedre, Medical Director of Pedre Integrative Health in New York and author of the best-selling book Happy Gut.
He explains that bad bacteria in the stomach leads to many health conditions such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and chronic pain. Evidence is mounting, meanwhile, suggesting that the Western lifestyle, with diets featuring high levels of processed food, is altering our microbiome, putting us more at risk from these diseases – and possibly at risk from mental health issues too.
He recounts a trip to Africa, to the Hadza tribe of Tanzania: a group of hunter gatherers with a diet consisting almost entirely of food they find in the forest. Think wild berries, fiber-rich tubers, honey, wild meat.
The trend from this group -- and from other indigenous peoples studied around the world -- is clear. The further away diets are from a Western one, the greater the variety of microbes they tend to have in their guts. Therefore, cardiovascular problems, so prevalent in the West, are as alien to the Hadza as a cheeseburger and fries with a fizzy drink.
Fermented foods or fibre?
Scientists have also just made another potentially huge discovery. Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in the US found that fermented foods - like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut – were more effective, in the short term at least, in eliminating unhealthy bacteria in the gut compared to high-fibre foods rich in legumes, seeds, whole grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits. It’s a radical finding, agrees Pedre, as it flies in the face of previous evidence suggesting a high fibre diet is the key to a healthy gut. This study though suggests fermented foods – not the high fibre foods - are the foundation of a gut-friendly diet. Is it on to something?
“We haven’t scratched the surface yet on the types of fermented foods and vegetables that could be looked at,” he said.
Doing so has the potential to improve human physical and mental health as well as planetary health, he added. “We’re losing the diversity of the food supply and that’s going to effect the diversity of our gut microbiome as well. We know that what’s happening to the environment is happening to our gut. If we think we can do whatever to the environment without effecting ourselves, our microbiome and our health, that’s fallacy.”
So to conclude, a greater variety in food and beverage products designed to offer consumers a more diverse microbiome offers a tantalising opportunity to improve our physical health, our mental health – and the health of the planet.