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Gut bacteria reflect dietary differences

High-fiber, low-fat diets cultivate healthier intestinal microbes, study suggests

6:10pm, August 2, 2010

A termite a day may keep the doctor away. African children who eat a high-fiber diet (and the occasional wood-digesting insect) have gut bacteria that help them digest plant fibers and protect them from diarrhea and inflammatory disease, a new study finds. The research may lead to new probiotics that improve the digestive health of Westerners, who were found to have a less diverse assemblage of intestinal microbes.

“This discovery is very important because it bears on how we should feed our children to make them healthy,” says study coauthor Duccio Cavalieri, a microbiologist at the University of Florence in Italy. “We should move our habits toward a diet more heavy in fiber, with the same amount of calories.”

Animals have bacteria in their guts to help digest their food, train their immune systems and protect them from harmful bacteria. Different types of food encourage different abundances and diversity of bacteria to grow in the gut.

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