A recent article dramatically demonstrates the value of diversity in the human diet. A professor from England, whose work entails studying the diversity of the microbiome (primarily the bacteria in the gut), traveled to Northern Tanzania in Africa to live with one of the last groups of hunter-gatherers, the Hadza, for three days. During this time, he ate only what they ate: such foods as baobob "porridge," wild berries, foraged tubers and porcupine organs and meat. Honey is an important food for them as well (above).
After just three days, he returned to England and tested his own microbiome. He was astonished to find that even in this short time, he experienced a tremendous increase in the diversity of his microbiome. Unfortunately, after resuming the modern diet of the English after another short time, the microbiome reverted to its previous level. This finding suggests that, as one would imagine, the all-important diversity of the microbiome is a direct reflection of the diversity of food eaten. The author estimates that the Hadza have one of the most diverse diets on the planet, containing upwards of 600 different species of plants and animals. This number stands in stark contrast to the average of 20-40 species in the typical modern diet.
More and more research is confirming the critical importance of the microbiome in human health. In the time I have been a physician, we have made the transition from trying to sterilize our patients’ guts to prevent infections to recognizing the crucial importance of the diversity of our microbiome for immunity and overall health.
Fostering diversity in the diet, through access to an ever-wider number of plant foods, is the core mission of Dr. Cowan’s Garden. We do this by providing easy-to-use annual vegetables, along with hard-to-find perennial, wild and medicinal vegetables.
Tom Cowan, M.D.