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Tuesday, February 9, 2016


WHOLE PLANT EATING?  What do you know about the human microbiome, the 100 trillion microbes that inhabit our bodies, creatures that happen to be key to our health and wellbeing?  This topic has flooded the scientific literature and popular media for quite a few years - and it wakens us to our symbiotic relationship with some of the smallest creatures on this planet - - creatures we house in our own bodies.
There are multi-dimensional ways a whole food, plant-based diet helps prevent and reverse most of the chronic diseases experienced in Western societies today, such as heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer, kidney disease, and osteoporosis.  In fact, a whole food, plant-based diet can also help prevent (and possibly help reverse) many more of the chronic diseases that have skyrocketed in recent decades, including allergies, food intolerances, gastrointestinal disorders, and the long list of devastating autoimmune diseases (such as Crohn’s disease, type I diabetes, eczema, Grave’s, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, MS, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis).
The Threat to our Microbiome
By changing our diets, we can change our microbiome. This is important because our Western lifestyle is seriously threatening the number, type, and diversity of microbes in our body. Considering that our microbes are a key link in everything from our digestion, to our metabolism, to our immune system, to our central nervous system . . . threats to the health of our microbiome affects every part of our biology.  Obviously, we can’t afford to stand idly by while it is under threat.
Many of the types of useful microbes that used to inhabit the bodies of our ancestors no longer inhabit our bodies. In other words, we are losing part of a precious heritage handed down to us from generations of those who have gone before us. What will be the long-term consequence of such a loss? We are becoming aware of the unintended consequences of losing whole populations of creatures and plant life out in the wild, but what about the unintended consequences of losing whole populations inside our bodies? What will the consequences be for our children who will inherit our diminished microbiome? And what about their children?
The symbiotic relationship we have developed with these creatures has existed from the beginning of humankind. We are so dependent on these little bugs that our bodies can no longer perform many of the functions we have delegated to them. These microbes are as important to our body as our liver, pancreas, thyroid, and other organs. In fact, some researchers are calling the microbiome the “forgotten organ.” In other words, it is not optional appendage that we can neglect without consequence.
As our microbiome is threatened, chaos ensues in our body. If this were irreversible, we’d all be in deep trouble! Fortunately, just as diet and lifestyle can put these microbes at risk, so diet and lifestyle can re-establish their health and vitality.
In one study, 20 rural South Africans were put on a high-fat, high-meat diet (including hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries).  At the same time, 20 African-Americans on put on a high fiber African diet with lots of corn porridge, beans, and fruit. According to the research— Changes occurred quickly. Inflammation of the colon, which increases the risk of cancer, decreased in the African-Americans on the African diet; and it increased in the Africans on the American diet. Production of the fermentation by-product butyrate, thought to prevent colon cancer, increased in those eating African fare, and declined in those eating American-style.
So while the South Africans on a fiber-poor, meat- and fat-fed microbiome, experienced threats to their microbiomes, the African Americans on a healthy fiber rich diet actually began to reverse the decades of dysbiosis in their bodies!  This is the good news!  Now, the bad news.
When Temporary Losses May Become Permanent
The obvious bad news is that we see little evidence of widespread change to rescue the imperiled state of our microbiome. In fact, what we see is continuing widespread popularity of Atkins, Paleo, Ketogenic, and other low-carb fads that promote diets that are the exact opposite of what will nurture a healthy microbiome. 
When we pass through the birth canal, we are slathered in our mother’s microbes, a kind of starter culture for our own community. In this case, though, pups born to mice on American-type diets—no fiber, lots of sugar—failed to acquire the full endowment of their mothers’ microbes. Entire groups of bacteria were lost during transmission. When . . . these second-generation mice [were put] on a fiber-rich diet, their microbes failed to recover. The mice couldn’t regrow what they’d never inherited. And when these second-generation animals went on a fiber-less diet in turn, their offspring inherited even fewer microbes. The microbial die-outs compounded across generations.
. . . what this experiment suggests is that by failing to adequately nourish key microbes, the Western diet may also be starving them out of existence.
It is one thing to know that we in the Western world are losing the microbial heritage we received from our ancestors, it is another to realize that we may be giving our children a permanently diminished heritage. If this continues, the children of this generation may never be able to recover the microbiome that protected their ancestors against many of the destructive, life-threatening diseases we are experiencing today. The types of diseases linked to an unhealthy microbiome are, in many cases, devastating diseases that can begin in childhood and cause confusion and chaos throughout a person’s life.
There are many threats to our microbiome, including how we were born, what we were fed as infants, over-sanitization of our bodies and living environments, and widespread use of drugs and chemicals (especially antibiotics).   Some of these factors we can’t change now, but others we can do something about it.

For Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), this topic is especially compelling.  The diet needed for a healthy microbiome is the same whole food, plant-based diet that the Jesus Christ revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833, long before the scientific world knew anything about the human microbiome!  The health code in the "Word of Wisdom" found in Doctrine and Covenants section 89 (D&C 89) teaches to eat plant foods in times of their season.  Jesus Christ teaches that He ordained wholesome (“whole”) plant foods for our “constitution, nature, and use,” with grains ordained as “the staff of life”.  Meat is ordained to be used “sparingly” and preferable only in times of need. This is the very definition of a whole food, plant-based high fiber diet that can help our healthy bacteria to thrive.  https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/89?lang=eng
Our Low Fiber Diet Can’t Support a Healthy Microbiome
The healthy gut bacteria in our bodies thrive only on dietary fiber, and dietary fiber is only found in whole plant foods. It is completely absent from animal foods and is the first thing that is tossed out when foods are refined. So the typical Western diet, high in animal foods and processed foods, is the very definition of a low fiber diet.
The two most dramatic changes to our diets in the last 200 years is the transition from whole foods to processed foods and from plant foods to animal foods. Why this change? Basically, we humans love rich foods that are easily digestible. This has led to a dramatic decrease in the amount of fiber we consume.
Since 1970, our overall consumption of grain has risen, but the vast majority is refined grains. Likewise, our consumption of fruits and vegetables has risen somewhat, but most of it is processed, and we are still getting far less than the already relatively low target set by the U.S.D.A. What else has risen? Foods that are not healthful to our microbiome and harmful to human health: added sugars, added fats, and animal foods of all kinds (meat, dairy, and eggs).
Our distant ancestors likely consumed between 100–200 grams of fiber a day.   That may well be the optimal nourishment for a healthy microbiome, yet compare that with the average American diet of a paltry 16 grams a day.   No wonder we have seen skyrocketing rates of disease related to a diminished microbiome!
How many people do you know are concerned enough about their microbiome to make sure they get enough fiber in the foods they eat every day? If the people you know resemble the average person in America, they are paying relatively little attention to the amount of fiber in their diet and yet quite a lot of attention to the amount of protein. Everyone in America, it seems, is concerned about “getting enough protein”! The irony is that nearly everyone (this include vegetarians and vegans) are getting more protein than their bodies can actually use. At the same time, nearly everyone (except vegans) are consuming far less fiber than even the inadequate amounts recommended by the USDA. (For details, see this video on protein and fiber.)
The Lord teaches in the Word of Wisdom that this eating and health code is “the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (D&C 89:2) and that it was given in “consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days”. Those who keep these saying are promised they’ll run and not be weary, find hidden treasures, and “the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:21).

If we take the Lord at His word and fully embrace His wisdom we will receive these promised blessings. Let us save our microbial heritage and teach our children to do the same. Let us safeguard our health and the health of our children that we may accomplish the mighty work we are called to perform in these the last days!
Links for lists of high fiber foods  and “Getting Started on a Whole Food, Plant-based Word of Wisdom Diet.”

Eating whole foods is the least expensive way to eat!  It makes sense that the Lord’s diet is affordable for His children.  He designed a diet that even the poorest among us can use!  Grains are the cheapest source of calories on the planet!  Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and beans are a great source of nutrition and calories at a very low cost.  Buy fruits and vegetables in their season at the store, and they’ll be at their lowest price (they do not need to be organic to be good) - - but better yet, grow them yourself.

Adapted from "Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Let's Save Our Microbial Heritage" By Jane Birch  February 8, 2016, Meridian Magazine

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