Just as health food shelves are brimming with a myriad of probiotics, so are the bookstore shelves overflowing with books on the microbiome and diet. The Good Gut by microbiome research scientists, Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, stands head and shoulders above the rest providing an evidence-based approach to healthy eating and a microbiome friendly diet. Using interesting personal stories and great metaphors, the Sonnenburgs engage readers with their clear explanations of the quickly developing field of how the microbiome influences human health.
Covering all the relevant topics, from what the microbiome is, to how it is first acquired, how it changes with age, diet, illness, and antibiotics, The Good Gut gives its readers a solid, but realistic foundation in the science of the microbiome. Throughout the book, Erica and Justin interweave the history of humans as a species and a society, and the history of medicine and science. They share stories of how our Western lifestyle may be destroying our natural biodiversity in and on ourselves. I enjoy that they talk about humans as just a giant tube of bacteria, but then again, I’m an advocate for bacteria.
As a scientist and mom, I appreciate the evidence-based approach of The Good Gut. The primary literature is cited throughout the book and both the promises and the limitations of studies are presented. Justin and Erica do an excellent job balancing the excitement of an emerging field with the thoughtful caution of basic research scientists. As investigators at Stanford University leading one of the leading microbiome research labs, the Sonnenburgs know first-hand the complexity of the microbiome. It will take years more of data collection, animal experiments, and clinical trials to sort out the extremely complex interactions occurring both between the human host and its microbes, and between the different microbes themselves. The Sonnenburgs acknowledge that it is difficult for both scientists and nonscientists to hold back their enthusiasm for this new field that holds promise for improving human health and well-being. Yet, they remind the reader that study of the human microbiome is just beginning. We’ve barely scratched our skin’s surface of understanding of how microorganisms influence our bodies.
But exercising restraint in enthusiasm for the microbiota’s health implications… is a bit like parking a new Ferrari in your driveway for your child’s sixteen birthday and asking the dealer to send the keys along in a few years.
– The Good Gut
After providing a foundation in the current state of our knowledge of the microbiome, the authors discuss restoring damaged microbiomes using pre- and probiotics, fecal transplants, and diet. The first two methods are certainly still being refined and are years or decades away from routine use. However, modifying one’s diet to benefit the microbiome is a simple, cost-effective way to change your microbiome. Interestingly, many of the findings and diet changes are what the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. 2015 Dietary Guidelines for American Advisory Committee also suggest. Increase fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to increase dietary fiber. Yeah – your mother told you that too, didn’t she?
Actually, the Sonnenburgs go one step further than mom did. They focus on a “Big MAC diet”. A Big Mac your bacteria love! MACs – “Microbiota Accessible Carbohydrates” – the parts of the dietary fiber that bacteria in your large intestine can feed on. I’ll save the details for you to read in the The Good Gut as to where MACs are, how much to eat, and the potentially beneficial interaction between MACs, microbes, and you.
The entire produce section of the grocery store should have signs and stickers:
“Contains Prebiotics!” – The Good Gut
Finally, The Good Gut is a fabulous read, because it was conceived by busy, but concerned parents who want to share their excitement about how science has changed their lives. Like most of us, Erica and Justin are super busy people. Running a top notch research lab, raising two daughters, and keeping a household functioning doesn’t lend itself to spare time and elaborate meals. They provide microbiome and kid friendly suggestions based on their own household meals. My next post will feature different recipes we tried, including making homemade yogurt from different starter cultures. My oldest, Jac, is now excited about kefir. “Mama, did you SEE how many types of good bacteria are in this?!”, she proclaimed the other day. She’s not quite taken to the “Gold of the Incas” or kale salads, but baby steps. Actually our two-year old “baby” Emily – loves it all. Jac, she’s more willing to try it “for her microbial friends”.
For more information on The Good Gut see the Sonnenburg Lab Press Coverage.
A podcast interview with the Justin and Erica Sonnenburg about the book with the American Microbiome Institute.
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