Healthy and Slim

Perfect Body

The microbiome thread: From farm to food to h

Deep within our bodies, millions of microbes help digest our food and provide nutrients to keep us healthy.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that dates back millennia, when the first bacteria appeared on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. Ubiquitous in the soil and environment, these microbes tagged along as more complex plants and animals evolved and became an essential part of human function. In fact, the human microbiome contains more bacterial cells than actual human cells.

“Even though they’re not part of our genetics, they exist in and on us,” said Dr. Davendra Ramkumar, a Champaign gastroenterologist and Associate Professor at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (COM).

Ramkumar and his wife, Dr. Japhia Ramkumar, internist and Associate Professor at the Carle Illinois COM, have key roles in a project seed-funded by the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (IRAI) to explore the microbiome connection from farm to food to human health. “Regenerative Agriculture and the Human Health Nexus in the Age of Climate Change” is an initiative of Basil’s Harvest, an Illinois nonprofit promoting regenerative ag and human health. The project will shed light on how regenerative farming practices lead to healthier soils and plants, which produce healthier food, which in turn influences gut health and, ultimately, overall human health. The collaboration, which includes researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Illinois Water Resources Center, and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, has received a second year of IRAI seed funding.

“There’s a movement emerging that envisions transforming our agriculture systems in order to transform our health. Regenerative agriculture is a cornerstone in this movement,” the proposal states.

How does it all connect? Bacteria in our gut microbiome survive by extracting nutrients from what we eat. In return, they provide us with vitamins, help produce hormones, and modulate our immune

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Food, Family, and Good Nutrition

In the United States, millions of events such as holidays, birthdays, and weddings are marked with small celebrations that embrace food, family, and friends. The special foods associated with these occasions convey traditions of gathering and expressions of gratitude. Other cultures around the world honor their own food traditions, often linked with religious events and other remembrances.

To the extent that people can afford them, the meals consumed on these occasions are often rich in nutritional content as well as historical meaning. Special dishes laden with protein, fats, and sugar signal a deep sense of abundance and well-being. Indeed, there may be some scrimping on the resources allocated to the daily meals before or after the holiday in order to meet the needs of the celebratory feasts.

But holiday meals are the exception. They do not reflect optimal dietary standards or sustained patterns of healthy eating. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population cannot afford to acquire healthy diets on any given day, leading to endemic levels of malnutrition. In other places, acute food insecurity (a severe lack of food) is the result of persistent drought, extreme flooding, conflict, or other factors. According to the World Food Program, nearly 50 million people are estimated to be teetering on the edge of famine, unable to access even the minimum quantity of calories needed for survival. 

The global nutritional picture is one of high contrast. Even in countries experiencing widespread hunger, a substantial number of people are, at the same time, eating diets that symbolize abundance but that literally make them sick. The foods they eat contain more calories than their bodies need or include too few of the micronutrients (iron, zinc, Vitamin A, among others) that are needed for good health. Unhealthy diets are contributing to alarming levels of obesity and

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