What affects Gut Health, Food Quality and Soil Health? How are they connected?

A dietician’s and agricultural scientist’s insights and suggestions.

Summary from Baw Baw Food Movement workshop ‘Healthy soils, Nutritional food, Healthy people‘, 21 September 2017.

By Marieke Rodenstein, Dietitian and Nutritionist (www.thenutritionpractice.com.au) and Dr Maarten Stapper, Farming Systems Agronomist

The mention of the word bacteria typically conjures up fears of disease and has us running for our hand sanitizer. Most people think of bacteria as dangerous and dirty, more foe than friend. Subsequently, our focus has been on the microbes that harm us, ‘those germs’, and how we can eradicate them. Yes, there are many bad bugs that can have serious consequences on our health. What goes largely unnoticed is the critical role that bacteria play in keeping us healthy.

Microbes are the smallest and most prolific organisms on planet Earth. The vast majority manage the health of larger organisms both from the inside and outside, and create healthy environments for all to live (eg human, animal, plant, soil, landscape). Such ecosystems are characterized by a symbiosis, an interdependence between organisms. Pathogens, which form less than 15% of microbes, on the other hand, play another game. They cause disease when they find a hole in the defence systems created and maintained by beneficial microbes.

We hear more and more about the microbial worlds around us as science is now enabling us to identify through DNA, the make-up of microbial communities, also known as microbiomes. Molecular biology methodologies are routinely used to characterize microbiomes in gut and soil at low cost. In these complex systems, we are now on a path to find out what it means what we can measure.

We humans harbor over 100 trillion bacteria in and on our body and the majority of these microbes live in our gut. In fact, the gut is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet. Look after it and you are guaranteed better health. Harm it, and you risk harming the health of your entire body. Discover the different ways your gut affects your health, from your digestion to your weight, mental health, immune system and skin.

A spoonful of healthy soil can have 1 billion microbes. Frequent use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals over time, however, have substantially reduced soil food web activity. Resulting soil problems stem from gross oversimplification of fertilization and ‘plant protection’ practices that use harsh synthetic chemicals and ignore the delicate balance of microbes, nutrients and carbon in the soil. Planet Earth has a skin disease!

In making soils more fertile and productive by re-activating the soil food web which significantly sequesters soil carbon, plants and animals become more resistant to disease, and yield nutrient dense produce.

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