Skip to content

Feasting your inner pet

Lentil-barley burger with fixin’s

Just in the last ten to twenty years, we’ve gotten a whole new insight into how to use food to keep ourselves healthy. That new insight has to do with our microbiome. For much longer than that, we’ve known that antibiotics will do serious harm to our digestive systems. Even so, we didn’t appreciate just how important the microbiome is and how to take care of it. We also know now why, beyond the stomach, we have a two-stage digestive system. Cows have four stages, but we humans don’t eat grass. Still, we humans are omnivores (except for grass), and now we know much more about why we require a two-stage digestive system. The first stage in humans is about the enzymes, and all that, which break down our food and feed us. The second stage is all about feeding the microbiome. And feeding the microbiome is all about fermentation.

The favorite food of the microbiome is soluble fiber. That’s what ferments best, that’s what is most nutritious to the microbiome, and that’s what creates the nutrients that we need but that we can’t acquire directly from our food. One of the key signs of a healthy microbiome is a low level of inflammation everywhere in the body. That’s because of the nutrients that only the microbiome can produce. Unsurprisingly and conversely, one of the key signs of a poorly fed microbiome is inflammation everywhere in the body. We probably notice it first in our joints. We don’t notice it in our arteries — a very dangerous place indeed for inflammation.

I’ve started thinking of the microbiome as a kind of inner pet, a pet that we should take care of as carefully as we take care of our cat. One of the things we’ve learned is that the makeup of our microbiome can change very quickly, based on what we eat. There’s also an inertia in the microbiome, because our inner pet adjusts to what we eat, and, once adjusted, wants to go on eating the same thing. If you’re living on pizza, doughnuts, and TV dinners, then that’s very bad news, because that’s what your microbiome will crave. But if you have a well-fed microbiome, then what you crave will be healthy food. There are many references in the literature to a brain-gut connection, but I’m not sure we know yet how that really works. Presumably the microbiome creates substances that are carried by the bloodstream to the brain and tell us what to crave.

Two of the foods highest in soluble fiber are lentils and barley. The two of them together, with seasonings, make mighty fine burgers for feasting for both stages of your digestive system.

I use organic green lentils, which I buy in bulk from Whole Foods. I make barley flour by grinding organic hulled barley, using an old Champion juicer with a milling attachment. Organic hulled barley is hard to find locally, but you can get it from Amazon. I believe that every well-equipped kitchen should have a grinder for flour. I buy unbleached wheat flour already ground. But I use my grinder for whole wheat flour and barley flour.

Just as your cat nags you when it wants to be fed, your microbiome will nag you, too. It will nag you for more of whatever you’ve been eating lately. If you feed your microbiome lots of soluble fiber, I can testify that that’s what it will nag you for. I eat fiber because it’s good for us. But I also eat it — no kidding — because that’s one of the main things that my microbiome nags me for.

But I still like a nice slice of pizza a few times a year.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *