At this point, most of us have heard something about how the bacteria that inhabit our guts are extremely important for good intestinal function and health. So much so that some of us take probiotic supplements or eat yogurt or fermented foods with the hope of employing bacteria to provide good health. But are your probiotic supplements actually doing anything positive? Or is it simply a case of wasted money and wishful thinking?

The entire population of gut bacteria consists of dozens of different species and total about 100 trillion—more than the number of human cells in your whole body! This total population is known as the microbiome. The microbiome differs substantially from person to person; it is one of the factors that determine health and disease: some bacteria are good for us and some are very bad for us. In fact, after more than a decade of intense research into the microbiome we have correlated specific bacteria with specific diseases including some types of arthritis as well as autoimmune disease. Some bacteria have even been correlated with obesity! It’s no wonder that products such as Activa have become so marketable!

Although the intestine of a fetus is completely sterile before birth, it is inoculated during vaginal delivery, exposure to the environment post-partum, and further inoculated with breastfeeding. In fact, by the age of two our microbiome has pretty much been established and does not seem to subsequently change very much except in a couple of regards. One, antibiotic use decimates bacterial populations and studies have shown that it may take years to re-establish populations of bacteria. Two, whatever you eat your bacteria eat.

Whatever you eat, your bacteria eat. Bacteria need to eat, after all; and they eat what you eat, obviously. What else would they eat? However, not all bacteria eat the same foods. Some are sustained by plants and some prefer animal products. But what research is finding is that bacteria that promote human health eat plant material; and bacteria that cause human disease have a penchant for meat, eggs and dairy products. If you eat a diet high in plants and low in animal products, you will support a microbiome that prevents disease and obesity—even without taking probiotic supplements or eating yogurt!

No matter how many probiotics you take, the bacteria that you are paying good money for and introducing to your gut will not survive if you are not feeding them properly. Very simply, we sustain healthy bacteria with a whole-food, plant-based diet.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is synonymous with a “healthy” vegan diet. After all, a vegan can claim that Cocoa Puffs™ with soy milk is vegan, and although that is true, it is certainly not healthy and Cocoa Puffs™ with soy milk will not support a healthy microbiome. Whole-food, plant-based cuisine excludes processed foods—that’s the difference. It’s also the reason that here at the Heartland Wellness Retreat we provide and teach guests how to implement a whole-food, plant-based diet. You will support healthy bacteria, diminish heart disease and cancer risk, and live longer and more healthfully!

A whole-food spinach salad with tomatoes, sprouted mung beans and alfalfa sprouts! The perfect meal when combined with a quinoa bean side dish.