A vegetarian diet of plants picked as close to the vine as possible proves the healthiest, as demonstrated in a recent study comparing the diets of rural African children to that of urban Italian children.
Even though infectious diseases such as malaria and malnutrition run rampant, the guts of Mossi children from the village of Boulpon in Burkina Faso, a landlocked agrarian and extremely poor country in West Africa, are healthier because they eat what they grow — foods high in fiber.
The Mossi children were chosen as the study group because their food is similar to the variety of foods eaten 10,000 years ago when farming became a predominant communal occupation. In Boulpon, they eat millet and sorghum wheat, as well as plant-based protein from legumes and vegetables.
Because they eat food picked close to the ground, including the occasional termite or two, they ingest a healthy amount of beneficial bacteria, aka digestive microbes, according to a study conducted last year by the University of Florence in Italy for the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., (Internet search: PNAS Digestive Microbes). These intestinal microbes, including those found in termites, help digest fiber.
The analysis compared 15 African children with 15 Italian children aged one to six. The children from Burkina Faso ate a traditional rural African diet rich in starch, fiber and plant polysaccharides. The children from Florence ate a typical Western diet high in animal products, white sugar, white flour, white salt, fat, calories and processed food, and low in plant-based fiber and, consequently, healthy fiber-digesting bacteria.
The fiber-decomposing bacteria, which is not produced by the human body, was completely missing in the children who ate a more modern Western diet. This indicates, the study stated, “the importance of preserving this treasure of microbial diversity from ancient rural communities worldwide.”
The same bacteria protects humans from diarrhea and inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s, colitis and irritable-bowel syndrome. In combination with high-caloric intake, the study also connected a rise in obesity to the deficiency of these gut microbes.
The Western world’s improvements in sanitation as well as the use of vaccines and antibiotics help control infectious diseases, the study noted, but have now spurned a slew of new plagues associated with lack of healthy bowel bacteria and the globalization of food products — allergies, autoimmune disorders and gastrointestinal diseases due to the missing microbes. As a remedy, the study cited the importance of adding probiotics as part of a daily supplemental regimen.
“Reduction in microbial richness is possibly one of the undesirable effects of globalization and of eating generic, nutrient rich, uncontaminated foods,” the study stated.
Earlier studies in Africa in the 1960s discovered the “remarkable absence of noninfectious colonic diseases in Africans consuming a traditional diet rich in fiber.”
The study also noted that the Mossi children are breast-fed until two years of age, while the Florence children are typically breast-fed until one. The two groups contained the same healthy immune-system-building bacteria until breast-feeding stopped and solid foods were ingested.