If you have been following me lately, I have been using the words prebiotics and polyphenols a lot in relation to gut health. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates and polyphenols found in plant foods that can positively influence the growth of good gut bacteria (such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, as well as others), thereby reducing the growth of pathogenic or opportunistic bacteria and ultimately improve health. When bacteria consume these prebiotics, they themselves produce short chain fatty acids and other metabolites that influence metabolic pathways. Why is this important?? It is important because this means that your gut bacteria directly influence your health and susceptibility to chronic disease and that your diet and lifestyle directly reflects what bacteria call your gut home.
Since many people have heard the term prebiotics in relation to certain fibers, I want to talk about polyphenols today. Polyphenols are part of a large family of plant compounds collectively called phytochemicals or phytonutrients. In the plant kingdom, polyphenols act as a defense mechanism to increase the survival of the plant. In humans, research has found that phytonutrients offer both preventive and therapeutic benefits to combat chronic disease. Interestingly only 5-10% of consumed polyphenols are absorbed in the small intestine. The remainder reach the large intestine where they are consumed by bacteria which generate bioactive compounds with the ability to both influence bacterial residency (promoting good and reducing bad bacteria) in the gut and human health. Polyphenol rich foods include tea, coffee, cacao, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans/legumes, and red wine. However, the foods with the highest concentration of polyphenol content by weight are herbs and spices! If you are just a salt and pepper kind of gal, then consider adding more FLAVOR to your meals. Here is a list of the top polyphenol rich plant foods (based on mg per 100g). Cloves, peppermint, star anise, cacao/dark chocolate, oregano, flaxseed, and elderberry are in the top ten. Each category below is ranked from highest to lowest polyphenol content. Although many of you may see your favorite beverages on this list, I encourage you to aim for a wide assortment. Each polyphenol has its own unique ability to benefit your gut microbiome. Therefore, the more variety the merrier! And just because you do not see your favorite plant food on the list (like kale for example), doesn't mean it is not wonderful in other ways.
So, let’s look at some research in regards to polyphenols and bacteria!
A recent study investigated which of the following seven culinary spices best support the growth of either Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus. The spices studied include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric. Researchers found that all spices except turmeric enhanced the growth of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species. While all spices suppressed the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Inspired to add more spice to you cooking?? Then make your own herb garden, exciting spice blends, or buy fresh herbs and spices locally. Personally, I love making Madras Curry, Ras el Hanout, and Dukkah!
Another research study looking at green tea polyphenols found that daily consumption of green tea altered oral and gut microbiota favorably. After consuming 400ml (~ 2 cups) of green tea per day for two weeks researchers found that the participants had reduced levels of lipopolysaccharide (very inflammatory endotoxin) producing Bacteroidetes, and increased levels of bacteria producing short chain fatty acids in their stools. Green tea consumption was also associated with a reduction of pathogenic oral bacteria fusobacterium. Are you ready to drink more green tea?? Cold brew green tea (recipe to come soon!) contains the highest concentration of polyphenols and the lowest amount of caffeine. This is absolutely a win-win! However, traditionally brewed green tea is also a great choice if you are not sensitive to caffeine.
And if enjoying flavorful meals and sipping cold brew green tea aren’t enough reasons for you to jump on the polyphenol train, cacao (this includes dark chocolate >/=75% cacao) ), also improves the microbiome favorably. Studies have found that dark chocolate consumption in humans encourages the growth of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, but ultimately tends to favor Lactobacillus growth more. Here is a delicious recipe for double chocolate brownie bites (made without sugar) that hit the spot oh so good!
Do you have SIBO or IBS? Then you may want to tread carefully. Some polyphenol rich foods are better tolerated than others due to their unique fiber and carbohydrate content. Herbs and spices (except garlic and onion powders), cacao, green tea, some berries, as well as extra virgin olive oil are generally well tolerated. Work with a skilled SIBO dietitian to guide you based on your unique tolerance.
Eat the rainbow and reap the benefits!
Are you incorporating a wide variety of these polyphenol rich foods into your diet daily??
Low carb diets are trending everywhere right now, especially the latest Carnivore Diet, which is comprised of eating only meat and animal products. And although low carb, high protein diets do help support weight loss increasing satiety and therefore naturally reducing calorie intake, it doesn't mean staying on them long term continues to be beneficial for health. Rather they may be doing your gut more harm than good, especially if consumed for the long term.
Research has found that diets high in fat (especially saturated fat) and protein, and consequentially low in fiber, increases the abundance of pro-inflammatory gram negative bacteria in the gut called Bacteroides and other bile loving proteobacteria like Bilophila. These bugs produce a very pro-inflammatory endotoxin called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) which causes inflammation at the gut lining, leading to leaky gut, and increased absorption of LPS into systemic circulation. LPS in elevated amounts plays an important role in the development of IBD and other metabolic diseases. Furthermore, artificial sweeteners often used in low carb diets, continue to shift the gut microbiome towards dysbiosis (an imbalance of good vs bad bacteria), favoring gram negative bacteria.
On the other hand, a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and fibers (including prebiotic and polyphenol rich plant foods) provides a good source of microbiota accessible carbs, which supports the growth of gram positive bacteria such as commonly known Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli as well as other beneficial bacteria such as Akkermansia muciniphila. These beneficial microbes provide many metabolic benefits to the host.
So how much fat and protein should an adult consume daily? Research found that diets consisting of 40% or more of calories from fat, shifted the microbiome unfavorably. As for protein, it seems a moderate intake is ideal, neither too little or too much. Since protein is essential for optimal metabolic health too little can impair cellular growth and repair, digestion, thyroid function, and fluid balance in the body. Too much protein on the other hand can lead to protein putrefaction in the colon and increase the risk for colon cancer. Therefore, I generally recommend 25-30g of protein per meal (or about 15-20% of calories) from a variety of different sources, including both plant-based and grass-fed/wild-caught meats and seafood.
To sum it up, good bacteria like a varied whole foods, plant focused diet, with moderate amounts of quality fat and protein. Therefore, if you have been following various versions of low carb/high protein diets for many years and still are not feeling your best, then it may be time to switch it up for your gut health and ultimately YOUR health. Instead of opting for three slices of bacon, sausage, and coffee with coconut cream for breakfast, add some COLOR and some SPICE! A microbiome loving breakfast could include poached eggs over curried lentils and spinach with a side of fresh fruit.
However, if you struggle with IBS or SIBO, inflammation caused by poorly controlled Celiac Disease or IBD, or a stealth infection, then a diet high in fiber rich foods is not indicated until treated and inflammation has subsided. Speak with your dietitian if you have concerns.
What are your thoughts? I love to hear from you!
I used to be a runner, or at least that is what I called myself. For about a decade of my life, I ran most days of the week. At first it began as a way to stay fit while in college. I used to play sports in high school which kept me active. However, in college, between studies and a part-time job, I couldn’t afford to be involved in sports. I needed a cheap and easy way to stay in shape, so I picked up running. I could do it anywhere, anytime, and all I needed was a pair of running shoes. It was perfect for the poor college student.
Initially, it was hard. I ran seven minutes in one direction and then seven minutes back. Week by week, the distance gradually grew longer, and it felt good. Running was a personal escape from reality and my ever racing mind. It was meditative with my rhythmic breath. As the distance grew, I explored the trails and neighborhoods around me I otherwise would not have seen. I felt like a bounding deer jumping over rock and stone while winding my way around each bend. I even got to explore the streets of Barcelona in the early mornings. Everyone was still sleeping and the city was peaceful, a sight only few get to witness. Eventually I was running 4-8 miles most days of the week, with an occasional 10-12 mile long run on the weekend. I looked and felt healthy, emotionally and physically. It was a beautiful love affair.
However, as time went on, running became an unhealthy obsession. I had to run in order to feel good about myself. No longer was running an enjoyable way to move my body and explore the world around me. Instead running became a chore. If I didn't run, I felt guilty. If the run wasn't long enough or fast enough, I felt guilty. I always timed myself, and I always tracked the distance I ran. No longer was I running out of pure joy, nor was it brining me joy. I was chained to my own prison of fear.
Eventually I stopped, all because of a biking accident. I hurt my knee in a collision with a car door and could no longer run downhill without severe pain. A year later I completed physical therapy and was told not to run for 8 weeks. At first I was distraught. However, during this break I realized the relationship I had with running was hurting my mental and physical health. Who cared if I ran a 7 min mile or ran a half marathon?? NOBODY!! I wasn't a professional athlete. I was simply competing with myself. But why?? In the name of health? Because of my ego? Or the desire to keep my running figure? It was all a mess, and I was a mess. In those two months, I realized, I would be thankful if I could ever run again without pain, no matter the distance, no matter the speed.
Now five years later, I run, but only occasionally when the mood strikes. Instead I thoroughly enjoy walking, hiking, and simply being outdoors. My past self would feel aghast at my current exercise regimen. I have no structure, no routine, and I simply do what sounds good to me in the NOW. However, when the desire to run is strong, I choose to run NAKED. I leave my home with nothing, no phone, no watch, no music, nothing. I simply run to run undistracted by today’s technology and to be present in the NOW. I want to feel the fresh breeze on my skin, to breath rhythmically with my step, and to explore the nature around me. And perhaps not even think at all. I run at a pace that feels good, not rushed. And I stop, whenever I want to. Sometimes simply to rest on a sunny bench in the park, or to admire some flowers along the way.
In retrospect, the accident was a gift. It forced me to change an unhealthy pattern. Otherwise, I may still be stuck in the cycle of fear and guilt. Ultimately, I am healthier today (both mentally and physically) than I was then. My hope is that this essay may bring to light your relationship with exercise and movement. Do you move because you have to or should? Or do you move because you want to? And are you moving your body in a way that feels good and brings you joy? Or are you constantly pushing your limits? If you feel caught in a similar cycle, then I encourage you to honestly evaluate your relationship with exercise. Instead of letting numbers or unrealistic goals define you, opt for presence and kindness. Kindness to yourself and presence in your being. And always opt to move NAKED, free of devices that keep us from being present in the NOW. If you have been there or are there, you are not alone, we are not alone. Let’s run NAKED together!
In practice, many of my clients come to me not eating enough protein, which is leaving them hangry and fatigued. Often they tell me they cannot go for long periods without eating, and are constantly snacking or grazing. Plus, they are not noticing any improvement in lean body mass despite increased effort at the gym or on the trails.
Although the RDA for dietary protein is 0.8g/kg per day (about 10% of calories), this is based largely on the MINIMUM needed to avoid deficiency, but not to support optimal metabolic health. The acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for protein is 10-35% of daily calories. However, research suggests that 1.2-1.6g/kg (or about 20% of calories) is ideal for metabolic benefits. For an average 130lb woman eating ~1800kcal per day that equals to 75-90g per day.
Interestingly, on average Americans eat about 16% of their daily calories from protein. A vast majority (60%) of that protein is coming in at ONE meal and less than 15g of protein is consumed at breakfast. This practice may not be helping Americans. Researchers have found that a protein intake of ~30g per meal has positive effects on lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis when compared to meals containing <20g per meal. Furthermore, spacing total daily protein out over 3-4 meals is a very positive habit to enforce for many reasons. Find out more below.
So why is protein important?? Protein is required for cellular growth and repair, the production of enzymes that are necessary for sustaining life, for hormone production (thyroid, dopamine, adrenaline, melatonin, insulin, etc), for proper fluid balance in the body, nutrient transport and storage, for healthy immune function, and soooo much more. Plus, protein helps increase our satiety hormone leptin, speeds up our metabolism, improves blood sugar control, and reduces snacking behavior. Therefore, by spacing protein out evenly over 3-4 meals per day, you will feel more energized, free of constant cravings, and better to able to listen to your hunger and satiety cues. Without enough protein, especially quality protein, our health declines.
What is quality protein? The type of protein you choose is definitely important to meet your health goals. Conventional meats and dairy have a less desirable nutrient profile. Therefore, I recommend a variety of grass-fed beef, wild caught seafood, pasture raised poultry and eggs, pasture raised pork, organic beans and legumes, and organic grass-fed dairy if tolerated. Organic whole grains, nuts, and seeds also provide small amounts of protein. Supplements such as grass-fed collagen peptides, grass-fed whey protein, or organic pea/hemp/rice protein powders can be helpful to meet your goal.
Although protein is very important, more isn't always better. Pairing a small portion (4oz) of protein with both carbohydrates and fats is ideal. Not only does this macronutrient balance increase satisfaction (and satiety), it also increases nutrient density, and supports hormone balance.
Meats, Seafood, & Poultry — 3 ounce portions or ~ 1/2 cup (20-25g)
Beans/Legumes — 1 cup cooked (~15g)
Meat Alternatives (Extra Firm Tofu/Tempeh) - 3oz (~15g)
Whole Grains — 1 cup cooked (~8g)
Nuts & Seeds — 1/4 cup whole (~9g), 2 T Nut Butter (~6g)
Dairy Products — 1 cup milk, regular yogurt, or 1 oz cheese (~8g)
Chicken Eggs — 1 egg (6g)
Protein Powders — 1 serving (10-20g) varies a lot depending on the product
To those of you who made it to the end, thank you! Are you mindful of your protein intake? Are you already meeting the goal of 25-30g per meal or is it a struggle for you? I would love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below!
If you do not or cannot drink cow's milk (or goat and sheep) and rely solely on non-dairy milks, then this post is for you! It's high time for a nut milk makeover!! Not only to boost your health and keep your wallets a bit more full, but also to keep you out of the grocery store as often during these quarantine days. The only tools you need to make a creamy, rich, and smooth nut milk is a high speed blender and a fine mesh nylon nut milk bag. It's soooo simple to make and the quality and cost far outweighs what you can buy at the store. I know I might be preaching to the choir, but there is no shame in repeating it---because we all get lazy, me included. So here is some inspiration to cultivate a nut milk routine.
WHY YOU SHOULD PRIORITIZE HOMEMADE NUT MILK
Firstly, commercial nut and grain milks are expensive when really they shouldn't be. For example, Califia Almond Milk (which is one of my preferred commercial brands because it doesn't contain carrageenan and is fortified with calcium), costs ~$5 for 6 cups of nut milk. The ingredient list is as follows: water, almonds, natural flavors, calcium carbonate, sunflower lecithin, sea salt, locust bean gum, gellan gum, potassium citrate. For 45kcal per cup you get 450mg of calcium (via calcium carbonate fortification), and about 5 conventional almonds. That's it, for 80 cents per cup of non-organic nut milk. Wow.
Secondly, commercial nut and grain milks (and yogurts), are often lacking in calcium because the ingredients are naturally low in calcium. This is unfortunate because dairy free diets if not properly implemented with the guidance of a dietitian or knowledgeable health care provider, may contribute to calcium deficiencies. Some brands, like Califia, are fortified...which is great. However, they use calcium carbonate, a calcium supplement that has a low absorption rate. In addition, absorption is further compromised in situations where individuals have low stomach acid. As we age, we naturally produce less stomach acid, therefore the elderly struggle the most. However, even younger individuals live with inadequate stomach acid levels due to chronic stress, use of TUMS and PPIs, H. pylori infections, hypothyroid, etc. Furthermore, calcium carbonate can be constipating, and cause gas and bloating. So long story short, it's not ideal for many individuals, especially if you are dealing with digestive issues.
Thirdly, store bought nut milks contain a lot of stabilizers like locust bean gum, gellan gum, guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan, etc. Although these ingredients are deemed safe by the FDA, they may contribute to digestive symptoms such as bloating or discomfort in some individuals. I personally, try to limit gums and additives when possible.
IS THE COST AND TIME WORTH IT??
Heck yes! Why spend so much $$ on commercial non-dairy milks for such little quality?? If you are only getting 5-6 almonds per cup, with a good dose of poorly absorbed calcium carbonate, and a handful of fillers, why not make your own with a variety of nuts and seeds?!?
What is the cost? For organic, raw, sprouted, and fortified Mineral Rich Pumpkin Seed Milk, I spent close to $2.00 for a 48oz serving (including the fortification with supplements). This comes to about 35 cents per cup. Now, who can beat that price for the quality? If I wanted to increase the creaminess with a full cup of pumpkin seeds versus just a 1/2 cup, it would come to $3 for 48oz, or about 50 cents per cup. If you compare that to a commercial equivalent, Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Almonds (which provides 19 almonds per cup and costs about $7), it would cost you about $1.75 per cup....and the nuts are not even organic, nor is there calcium added. So, you definitely come out on top if you make it at home. And if you think it takes too much time, think again. From start to finish it takes about 5 minutes to make homemade nut milk. Much less time than a quick grocery store run.
THE EVER CHANGING MINERAL RICH NUT MILK
So my version of nut milk, is not just any nut milk. Most recipes you see on the web are for almond milk, cashew milk, sunflower milk, etc. Yeah they are great, but why not mix it up a bit? Each nut and seed has unique nutritional benefits. Almonds are rich in vitamin E and magnesium, Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium and zinc, sesame seeds are rich in calcium, and on and on it goes. Why stick with just the same old almond, cashew, or even oat? Why not make a super rich and creamy nut/seed milk that is always changing??
In addition to choosing a variety of different nuts and seeds, I also make sure to add an easily absorbed powdered calcium supplement, either calcium citrate or whole bone meal powder. Calcium citrate is absorbed about 25% better than calcium carbonate and it does not require stomach acid for absorption. Sometimes, I also like to add sunflower lecithin powder for added creaminess and emulsification. Without the sunflower lecithin, homemade nut milks tend to separate. Plus there is an extra bonus because sunflower lecithin is an excellent source of choline! Unfortunately, 90% of Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of choline per day. Foods richest in choline include liver and egg yolks, as well as animal proteins. Some plants provide choline (Brussel sprouts, soy, and broccoli) but in much lesser amounts. Generally, women need at least 425mg per day and up to 550mg if they are breastfeeding. Therefore, sunflower lecithin can be a great tool for anyone limiting the previously mentioned foods.
HIGHLIGHT ON MY CURRENT FAVORITE NUT & SEED COMBO
These nuts are pretty amazing because just one nut meets over 100% of your daily selenium needs. What is selenium? It is a trace mineral that along with iodine, and zinc plays a very important role in healthy thyroid function and helps reduce oxidative stress within the body. A diet low in selenium can thus have far reaching effects on metabolism, energy, and ability to combat free radicals. However, as with everything too much can be harmful to our bodies as well. Since Brazil nuts are the most concentrated source of selenium, limiting yourself to 1-2 per day is all you need.
If you haven’t incorporated pumpkin seeds into your life, you should start now. These tasty seeds are super rich in minerals zinc and magnesium, both of which are very important for optimal health. Interestingly, many people tend to be deficient in magnesium, either due to poor intake of whole grains, nuts and seeds, or also because the soil is becoming more depleted of this mineral. Either way focusing on getting more magnesium into your diet can have far reaching positive effects. Magnesium can help reduce headaches, reduce cramping, increase overall energy, control blood sugar, and just generally help reduce inflammation. Plus, organic pumpkin seeds are very cheap. What more do you want?
So, get out your blenders, purchase a nylon nut milk bag (it makes all the difference, trust me), and get creative! Swap the pumpkin seeds for sunflower seeds for another low cost alternative, or use a variety of different raw nuts and seeds that you have available right now in your home. Either way, mixing it up, is the best. Out with the old, and in with the MINERAL RICH! No more slacking, it's time for a nut milk revolution!!
Fortified Mineral Rich Pumpkin Seed Nut Milk
Makes ~6 cups
1/2 - 1 cup raw organic pumpkin seeds (or whatever variety of raw nuts and seeds you wish to use)
1-2 organic Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons NOW Sunflower Lecithin Powder
3 teaspoons NOW Calcium Citrate Powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Splash vanilla (optional)
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup/honey or 1-2 pitted medjool dates (optional)
Place the nuts and seeds into a bowl and cover with warm water. Allow the nuts and seeds to soak 4 hours or overnight. Strain and rinse the nuts and seeds and put them into the blender. Add 5 cups water and the remainder of the ingredients. Blend on high for 60 seconds or longer.
Line a bowl with the nut milk bag and pour the nut milk into the bag. Squeeze out the milk, leaving behind the nut pulp and fibers. Discard. Add an extra cup of water to your bowl to increase volume to 6 cups if desired. Transfer to a large jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Note: If you want to kick it up a notch you can also add 1 teaspoon of spirulina to the recipe. Read more about spirulina and its' benefits here, here, and here!
Nutrition Facts (per cup)- using 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds: 90kcal, 3.2g protein, 4.5g carbs, 7g fat with 23% of daily value of calcium, 16% of magnesium, 45% selenium, 5% of iron and zinc, and 17% of choline.
Like to read? Then get your evidence based nutrition information here! All posts written by Selva Wohlgemuth, MS, RDN Functional Nutritionist & Clinical Dietitian