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You Eat Millions…Even Billions!…of Microbes Every Day

Yes, plenty of live microorganisms lurk in your yogurt, but they are everywhere else as well

(Tim Pannell/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Vegans, we’ve got some bad news: Every day you eat about 6 million living organisms. New research says it’s so. Of course, those critters are simply the microbes that live everywhere in, on and around us. But the numbers aren’t anything to scoff at: If you instead eat the USDA-recommended diet, which emphasizes fruit, veggies, lean mean, dairy and whole grains, you are downing a remarkable 1.3 billion microbes, reports researchers in the journal Peer-J

“Up until now, the question of whether the microbes we eat impact our health has been largely ignored, except for the case of overt pathogens on the one hand and probiotics on the other hand,” lead study author Angela Zivkovic told Maddie Stone at Motherboard. Zivkovic and her colleagues also tested an "Average American" diet that included meat, dairy and a focus on "convenience foods." That not-so-healthy day’s worth of meals included 1.4 million microbes.

The invisible living organisms hitching a ride on our food into our bodies included lactobacillus from cultured yogurt and cottage cheese, fungus hiding in cereal and lots and lots of streptococcus. (Not all microbes cause disease; some are necessary for making swiss cheese, for example.)

Stone writes:

I, for one, never bothered to consider the lives of the half million microbes in my mocha frappuccino, nor the consumption of a small city’s worth of bacteria in a fistful of hazelnuts. Now, I can’t help but wonder what sort of an impact these little guys are having on me.

“No one knows, but we are very eager to find answers,” says Zivkovic.

She adds that she hopes the study will inspire further research, and "convince the powers that be" that more work is needed. For now we just have some stunning numbers to consider.

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