Is Our Future Health in Our DNA or Our Bacteria?

Savannah Helm

By Alicia Jerome MS, RDN

You’ve seen Forks Over Knives. You know about the Blue Zones, How Not to Die, and you have both The China Study and Eat to Live on your bookshelf. What else is there to say about a plant-based diet, fiber, and the microbiome? More than one might think. Read on my friend. Read on.

Here’s a question: Which creates greater diversity between you and your neighbor: your DNA or your microbiome? 1,2

Author of Fiber Fueled, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI, proposes an interesting thought. The Human Genome project, completed in 2000, hasn’t solved a lot of medical problems. Why? Since 2000, scientists have discovered that <20% of disease is based on genetics and that we are more bacteria than we are cells. Dr. Bulsiewicz’s conclusion? Let’s start looking at the bacteria in our body!

Okay, let’s try another set of questions:

What percentage of Americans overconsume protein?3

Can you explain what happens to the gut after adhering to a long-term Paleo diet?4

Would you be able to explain why the average life expectancy of a professional body builder is only 47 years?5

Currently, in 2021, protein is king! Sure, it is satiating, it has a slightly higher thermic effect, and it usually tastes really good but what is this tilting of the macronutrient scales doing to us long- term? Concern for everyone is that low-plant / high-non-plant diets are wrecking the gut. Studies are showing these diets are reducing specific bacteria responsible for protecting against disease and obesity.

Last set of questions:

True or False: lentil consumption positively affects blood sugar in the current meal and in the subsequent meal.6

When you hear “carbohydrates are inflammatory” could you defend yourself with this research: whole grains decrease C-reactive protein by 21% while avoiding whole grains increases C-reactive protein by 12%?7

The modern myopic view of protein crowds out legumes and grains. This lop-sided balance of meat to plants is also rapidly increasing the bacteria that promotes inflammation throughout the whole body. Are short-term gains resulting in long-term pains?

It can feel like you are going against the flow promoting a plant-based diet but, with substantial facts and research, it’s easy to defend the position. Let’s just say the research on the effect of legumes in the microbiome is astonishing.

If the answers to the above questions made you think longer than you liked, consider adding Fiber Fueled to your book queue. The book is well researched (over 100 supplemental pages of references) with motivating facts about how fiber and a plant-based diet can significantly improve the gut microbiome – in a short time – even 24 hours!

The book is thought provoking, fresh and approachable. There are no guilt trips or hard lines drawn in the sand. Sure, the author wants you to commit to a 100% plant based, no dairy, no meat diet but there is an accommodation. If garnishing your plate with meat helps you stay 90% plant based, then add the meat.

There’s an added bonus for dietitians. Read the book and then take the corresponding exam to earn 25 CPEUs (without leaving the couch)!

By Alicia Jerome MS, RDN


  1. Qin J., Li R., Raes J. et al.A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature 46459–65 (2010).
  1. Vanamala JK, Knight R, Spector TD. Can Your Microbiome Tell You What to Eat?. Cell Metab. 22(6):960-961 (2015).
  1. Fulgoni VL. Current protein intake in America: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003–2004, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87(5):1554S-1557S (2008).
  1. Genoni A., Christophersen CT, Lo J, et al. Long-term Paleolithic diet is associated with lower resistant starch intake, different gut microbiota composition and increased serum TMAO concentrations. Eur J Nutr. 59(5):1845-1858 (2020).
  1. Gwartney D., Allison A., Pastuszak A.W., et al. Mp47-17 Rates of Mortality Are Higher among Professional Male Bodybuilders. Journal of Urology 195(45) (2016).
  1. Mollard RC et al. First and Second Meal Effects of Pulses on Blood Glucose, Appetite, and Food Intake at a Later Meal. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 36(5): 634-642 (2011). 1139/h11-071
  1. Vanegas SM, Meydani M, Barnett JB, et al. Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 105(3):635-650 (2017).



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