Listen up! Cranberries are more than just a tasty side to your turkey! These bright red and tart berries are a wonderful source of polyphenols called proanthocyanidins. Proanthocyanidins, otherwise known as PACs, provide many health benefits including anti-inflammatory benefits and anti-bacterial benefits. Research has found that these PACs can inhibit bacterial adhesion to tissue, impair their motility, and inhibit biofilm formation (1). Plus, these polyphenols help encourage the growth of specific good bacteria that are essential to a thriving gut microbiome. Despite these amazing benefits, cranberries are usually just consumed around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and usually served with a huge blow of sugar. Read on to learn more about why cranberries can be a wonderful addition to a gut healing program, including my favorite cranberry products. Plus, if you make it all the way to the end, you will find a delicious recipe for a raw cranberry chutney, filled with only gut friendly ingredients.
Cranberries have anti-biofilm properties against Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. What are biofilms? They are colonies of bacteria that are hiding under a protective layer made of polysaccharides and therefore can persist even after antibiotic or antimicrobial treatment. Both E. coli and P. aeruginosa are common opportunist gram-negative bacteria that can cause a lot of inflammation in the gut, thriving off of a high animal protein and fat diet. They produce toxic lipopolysaccharides, LPS, that can damage cells of the gut lining and cause leaky gut. High levels may also cause abdominal cramping and loose stools (2).
Cranberry juice can be used to prevent UTI’s and ulcers. How does it help? Cranberries have been found to inhibit E. coli from attaching itself to the urinary tract lining thereby inhibiting E. Coli biofilm formation (3). Similarly, cranberry juice was found to have the same inhibitory effect against H. Pylori, a common culprit to stomach inflammation and ulcer formation (4). How much juice do you need to drink? Most studies have used two cups daily for at least a month if not 2-3 months.
Cranberries encourage the growth of good gut bacteria. Cranberry polyphenols have been shown to increase the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila, a bacteria that is commonly found the in human gut, feeding off of the mucus on our gut lining. Research also suggests that A. muciniphila is inversely associated with obesity, diabetes, and metabolic disorders, likely due to its anti-inflammatory role in the gut. Unfortunately, low levels (which I commonly see in my practice) are associated with a sick gut microbiome and increased inflammation. How do cranberries stimulate A. muciniphila? It seems that PACs help stimulate mucus production and therefore is likely one of the mechanisms why cranberries help encourage Akkermansia to thrive (5,6). Furthermore, cranberries seem to reduce the negative microbiome changes that are seen when humans eat a diet high in animal protein and animal fat, which is consequentially low in fiber (7).
Cranberries support metabolic health. Since cranberries help inhibit the growth of inflammatory gram-negative bacteria, and help support the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria, it comes to no surprise that they may help improve insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic obese humans thereby supporting weight loss efforts (8).
Phew, that's a lot of good reasons to enjoy cranberries this holiday season! But a couple of tips first. For starters, I suggest choosing organic cranberries only, as conventional berries are high in pesticides. Secondly, choosing raw is ideal. The overly cooked sauce or the canned blob, is not going to provide the same benefits. Thirdly, if you are really looking to improve your gut health, consistency is key. Consider adding cranberries to your smoothies, salads, yogurts, etc. And finally, it’s all about the big picture. Cranberries are going to help improve your gut health much more when combined with a whole foods, low sugar, diet. Yes, that means your super sweet Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, is not the same as enjoying my raw cranberry chutney.
Here are a couple of my favorite cranberry products to add into your daily routine:
Raw Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 2 cups
12 oz fresh organic cranberries
1 organic orange, juice and zest
¼ cup organic maple syrup or raw local honey
¼ teaspoon Redmond’s sea salt
1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger root
Rinse cranberries and strain. Pour onto a clean kitchen towel and pick out any soft cranberries.
Add the fresh cranberries into a food processor. Process until finely minced. Be careful not to process it too much, because then it will become too soggy.
Transfer into a large bowl and mix with orange zest and juice. Add your choice of sweetener (honey or maple syrup). Honey is a little sweeter than maple syrup, so it depends on your preference. Add the sea salt and grated ginger root (I used a microplaner). Stir until thoroughly mixed.
Transfer mixture into a glass jar and allow to rest in refrigerator overnight. The chutney gets more flavorful with time. Tastes great tossed in salads, in wraps, sandwiches, mixed into yogurts, added into smoothie, or of course, along with your Thanksgiving turkey.
Note: You can easily double this recipe!
How are you going to start adding cranberries to your life??
Let me know!
Did you know that grazing or snacking every 1-2 hours may be impacting your gut health?? The migrating motor complex (aka MMC) is a periodic electrical current that migrates along the entire length of the small intestine. During the interdigestive state (time between meals/fasting) hormones called motilin and ghrelin (hunger hormone) induce these electrical currents by stimulating the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system and transfers information from the gut to the brain. Cool, right??
The migrating motor complex, MMC, is an essential component to supporting good gut health. These electrical currents help clear away bacteria and debris from the digestive tract, therefore giving the MMC the nickname "intestinal housekeeper". An absent or disordered MMC is associated with SIBO and other functional gut disorders.
The Migrating Motor Complex is broken down into THREE separate phases and incorporates the stomach and the small intestine.
Timing Balanced Meals for Gut Health
Now that you understand what the MMC is, I hope you can understand why snacking and grazing between meals can hinder proper clearance of bacteria and debris (no matter how healthy your choices are). These bacteria and debris need to be moved through and out the gastrointestinal tract via stool. Instead of a three meals per day and three snacks per day routine, aiming for at least four hours between meals, is a good practice to support optimal motility and gut health. Since patients with digestive issues often struggle with blood sugar dysregulation, eating FOUR square meals per day can be a great way to keep blood sugars stable, while supporting optimal MMC function. If you can go longer periods of time between meals without feeling "hangry", lightheaded, or fatigued, then three meals per day (with no snacks) is also a great option.
Eating four square meals is a great starting point to support gut health!! But the next important step is to make sure they are balanced, including some quality protein and fat (often protein rich foods naturally have some fat), some slow carbohydrates (think whole grains, tubers, fruit), and of course veggies. For patients with gut symptoms, usually cooked veggies are better tolerated. Balancing meals helps keep you full longer and helps balance your blood sugars, providing more stable, lasting energy. So if you are looking to start with two simple dietary changes to help support your gut health, aim to space your meals apart by at least four hours and make sure your meals are balanced!
If you want some inspiration, download my FREE handout below to help you time and balance your meals appropriately to enhance your MMC and ultimately your gut health!
Have you noticed a difference in your gut health by supporting your MMC?? Share with me below!
Got uncomfortable gut problems such as painful gnawing (especially on an empty tummy), nausea, bloating, or burping? Consider H. Pylori!! Helicobacter Pylori (aka H. Pylori) is a gram-negative bacteria that can colonize the stomach early in life and damage tissues in the stomach and in the upper part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. It can even colonize the oral cavity. Using an enzyme called urease, H. Pylori is able to attack the mucosal lining of the stomach and small intestine, causing inflammation and weakening the protective mucosal barrier. It can also neutralize stomach acid production, making it difficult to properly break down protein rich foods and absorb vitamins and minerals, including iron, B12, folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, as well as others. Thus H. Pylori can contribute to micronutrient malnutrition which can increase the risk of chronic disease. Interestingly, about 40% of the American population (and ~70% of the developing world) is a carrier of H. Pylori, and most do not even know they are infected. However, H. pylori can impact your health in many ways and can lead to gastritis, peptic ulcers, and even gastric cancer. If you are diagnosed with H. Pylori, it may be that your partner is a carrier as well. H. Pylori can be transmitted by mouth from kissing and can also be passed by having contact with vomit or stool from an infected person.
There are many different strains of H. Pylori, each sensitive or resistant to different treatment modalities. With increasing antibiotic resistant strains, more research has focused on using alternative tools (such as plant compoundsand probiotics) as an adjunct therapy to traditional triple therapy to increase eradication rates. Therefore, having a multipronged approach to treating H. Pylori infection is important. The following foods (and a few more) have been found to increase eradication rate by inhibiting H.Pylori growth and adhesion, while reducing mucosal inflammation.
Garlic & Ginger
Garlic is rich in organosulfur compounds that have potent anti-bacterial properties against H. pylori. The therapeutic amount used in studies can be obtained by eating 1 medium raw garlic clove per day. Ginger consumption eradicated H. Pylori by 50% in a small pilot study of 15 patients tested positive for H. Pylori.
Tip: Mince up raw garlic really fine and mix with raw local honey OR add raw ginger root to a smoothie.
Broccoli sprouts are rich in sulforaphane, which is a powerful antibacterial against H. Pylori. Studies found that patients who ate broccoli sprouts twice a day for 7 days had increased H. Pylori eradication rates. Regular consumption of broccoli sprouts can reduce levels of urease and reduced gastric inflammation.
Tip: Add broccoli sprouts to your sandwich instead of lettuce.
Studies have found that cranberry juice (250ml twice per day) alone may help improve eradication rates of H. Pylori. Along with traditional triple therapy including omeprazole, amoxicillin, and clarithromycin, cranberry juice increased eradication rates in females. The compounds in cranberries have anti-adhesive properties making it difficult for H. Pylori to burrow into the stomach lining and cause inflammation.
Tip: Add in frozen cranberries while you are cooking your oatmeal or add pure cranberry juice to a smoothie.
Inner aloe vera gel expresses antibacterial properties to H. Pylori due to its unique plant compounds including coumaric acid, ascorbic acid, pyrocatechol, and cinnamic acid. Furthermore, the unique polysaccharides (which are mucilaginous) in the aloe vera, directly inhibit H. Pylori adhesion to the gastric cells. Plus, aloe vera helps soothe and heal irritated lesions in the mucosal lining, including gastric ulcers, often caused by H. Pylori.
Tip: Add pure inner leaf aloe vera gel to smoothies or drink straight. Freeze in ice cube tray and add to smoothies all throughout the year.
Fresh raw okra has strong anti-adhesive qualities. Just like aloe vera, the mucilaginous polysaccharides are also soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, healing and soothing irritated or inflamed membranes.
Tip: Add frozen okra to a smoothie, you won’t even know it's there!
In addition to traditional triple therapy or an herbal protocol the smoothie below can help increase eradication rates and hopefully keep H. Pylori from coming back. BUT remember, if you are tested positive for H. Pylori, your partner may be infected too. Therefore, double up on this smoothie and cheers to love and to getting rid of H. Pylori!
“H. Pylori Be Gone” Smoothie
1 cup frozen organic berries
½ cup Lakewood Organic Pure Cranberry Juice
½ cup frozen okra
¼ cup Lakewood Organic Pure Aloe Vera Juice
1-2 inches raw ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 serving plain protein powder
2 tablespoons coconut cream
Blend until smooth and divide into two separate containers. If you have a partner, share this smoothie with them. Drink daily during treatment.
If you want to know if H. Pylori could be contributing to your gut problems, make an appointment today! I offer GI Map PCR stool testing which tests for bacterial (including H. Pylori), fungal, and parasite presence that could be contributing to your gut and other non-gut related symptoms.
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!
Like to read? Then get your evidence based nutrition information here! All posts written by Selva Wohlgemuth, MS, RDN Functional Nutritionist & Clinical Dietitian