A loss of dietary diversity during the past 50 years could be a contributing factor to the rise in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and other diseases, said Mark Heiman, vice president and chief scientific officer at MicroBiome Therapeutics, a US-based biotechnology company.
Heiman said our gut bacteria needs a diverse diet to function optimally.
However, current agricultural practices as well as climate change have contributed to a loss of that diversity, with about 75 percent of the world's population consuming only five animal species and 12 plant species.
Of those 12, rice, maize and wheat contribute 60 percent of all the calories, he said at a symposium at IFT15: Where Science Feeds Innovation hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) in Chicago.
"Like any ecosystem, the one that is most diverse in species is the one that is going to be the healthiest," Heiman said.
"In almost every disease state that has been studied so far, the microbiome has lost diversity. There are just a few species that seem to dominate," Heiman said.
In his research, Heiman found people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes had a different microbiome makeup than people without those health conditions.
He created NM504, a formulation of inulin, beta glucan and antioxidants, and tested it in a pilot of 30 individuals, half of whom received the formulation twice a day.
The remainder received a placebo. Those who received NM504 saw a shift in the makeup of their microbiome and, consequently, health benefits that included improved glucose control, increased satiety and relief from constipation.
"Think about diets and think about foods you eat," he said.
"How can we get more diversity into our diets? And we may think less about fad diets where you eliminate a certain component to your diet," Heiman said.