What is a Microbiome and Why Should I Care?

If you are a regular reader of our blog (and we hope you are) you know that we write not only about the fruits and vegetables in season right now, but also about healthy-living-through-food-related topics such as the benefits of water, and when to choose organic. Recently, I’ve been attending classes with one of my favorite chef-authors, Meredith McCarty, and learning a lot about the role bacteria plays in keeping us healthy. So I was excited to read about the results of a study that is mapping the genetic material of bacteria in healthy people, and changing the research landscape in this field. It inspired me to dedicate today’s post to the brilliant little microbes that keep us on track: healthy bacteria. Come and cook with us!

The Human Microbiome Project Consortium, a consortium of 200 scientists at 80 institutions, has spent the last five years sequencing a variety of microbial communities and their genes (the microbiome) taken from nearly 250 healthy people. They found as many as thousand bacterial strands in each person. And each person’s collection of microbes (viral, bacterial and fungal) was different from the next. This is ground breaking research that will change the way we look at bacteria and how it shapes us as individuals. More work has to be done to establish how some of these bacteria help keep people healthy, to explain why individuals react differently to various drugs and why some people are susceptible to certain infectious diseases while others are impervious.

What the researchers have learned, however, is that healthy bacteria are essential for human life as they are needed to digest food, synthesize certain vitamins, and form barricades against disease-causing bacteria. According to many experts in health and nutrition, all health begins in the gut, which is the site of a turf war between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Clearly bacteria (the good kind) are an important part of a daily diet. Given this, how do you get the healthy bacteria into your system, particularly when yogurt is just not what your up for (or maybe you want to super-charge your system with lots of the good guys). If you have a hankering for more friendly-bacteria foods that are rich in enzymes and other live microorganisms that have a wide array of health benefits, here’s a list of the top 10 items whose claim to fame is to boost your friendly-factor in your gut:

1. Yogurt, real yogurt (remember, the fewer ingredients, the better it is for you)
2. Fermented Cheese
3. Cultured Buttermilk
4. Acidophilus Milk
5. Kefir
6. Miso
7. Tempeh
8. Kimchi
9. Sauerkraut, unpasteurized
10. Sourdough Bread

Some of these foods may sound strange on the tongue, but as long as you buy them from trustworthy sources they work wonders in the tummy. If you’re looking for a few more friendly microbes, they can’t be beat. Come and cook with us!

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