Three Simple, Natural Foods that Heal Your Gut Microbiome
SEA CHANGES | GUT HEALTH
Three Simple, Natural Foods that Heal Your Gut Microbiome
Eating processed foods can damage your gut microbiota, leading to inflammation and other serious health problems like obesity and heart disease.
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Your gut health impacts your immune system, mental health, and overall well-being. When you have a healthy gut, your gastrointestinal tract has a good balance of gut bacteria and can adequately digest and absorb nutrients. But when there is an imbalance in your gut bacteria, it may trigger unwanted gastrointestinal problems.
Every time we eat, we feed the trillions of bacteria that make up our gut microbiome. Ideally, we should have 300–400 types of these bacteria.
Consumption of processed food and the lack of fiber can change the gut microbiota and lead to inflammation. These effects can be transferred to later generations via epigenetic change.
Probiotic foods can stimulate gut bacteria. These include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, pickled vegetables, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut. These foods contain beneficial live microbiota that may further balance and correct your microbiome.
Processed foods containing added sugar, sodium, and fat improve the food taste. Still, too many of them lead to serious health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Beyond probiotics, there are other common foods we all love that can also help to increase healthy gut bacteria.
Fruits and vegetables provide the best sources of nutrients for a healthy gut. These foods are high in fiber, which your body cannot digest. However, certain bacteria in your gut are capable of digesting fiber, which stimulates their growth.
This loss of critical microorganisms and the lack of diversity in our microbiome can lead to bloating, constipation, acid reflux, fatigue, brain fog, and even skin rashes. These are among the most common ailments today. No wonder gut health has become such a hot topic in recent years.
To restore balance to our gut microbiome, we need to include plenty of fiber in our diets. Fiber is what good gut bacteria like to feed on; harmful bacteria can outgrow good bacteria if we fail to eat enough fiber, potentially compromising gut barrier function and leading to the symptoms above.
The best way to ensure you get enough fiber is to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, as in a whole food, plant-based diet.
Broccoli, Stalk, branching Arms & the fluffy little Florets, too!
Broccoli | Popular, easy to fix & full of Nutrients
Sulforaphane—a chemical that increases healthy gut bacteria —is found in all cruciferous vegetables but is exceptionally high in broccoli.
Sulforaphane can also aid repairing a compromised gut barrier by stimulating the formation of the junction between the cells that line the gut. These junctions are supposed to be tightly sealed to prevent anything from crossing into our bodies. Still, if your stomach is experiencing inflammation of the intestinal walls, that junction can be more open, allowing for the absorption of unwanted things, like toxins.
Broccoli has two main edible parts, the florets — the dark green forest-y tops which are undeveloped flower buds — and the stalk — the pale green undercarriage like the trunk of a tree.
The dark green broccoli plant has a firm stalk and branching arms that end in the heads of florets. Broccoli heads are groups of buds almost ready to flower; each group is called a floret.
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound and is the inactive form of glucoraphanin.
To activate sulforaphane and gain its incredible health benefits, you must damage (cut, chop, or chew) the plant, as this is when glucoraphanin encounters myrosinase. This enzyme plays an active role when it comes to the defense system of plants.
No Enzyme, no Sulforaphane
Not all cruciferous vegetables have all the compounds needed to make sulforaphane, but few vegetables have the precursor glucoraphanin required to activate sulforaphane.
You’ll find the highest sulforaphane in broccoli, and even more in broccoli sprouts.
Do not heat mature broccoli to more than 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit); myrosinase is sensitive to heat, and anything hotter will kill the enzyme.
Wild Blueberries, a healthy, nutritious Superfood
The popular blueberry is among the healthiest fruits of all. They are full of valuable, health-giving substances. But how healthy are common blueberries found in the store and those picked in the wild?
In addition to having a high fiber content, wild blueberries help with all sorts of ailments, such as digestive problems, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases.
You can’t find a better berry than wild blueberries when it comes to high antioxidant and polyphenol content. These intensely colored berries from the forest are irresistible with their unique and enticing aroma.
Blueberries typically can be harvested between July and September. They can only be kept for a few days, while cultivated blueberries keep a little better. But it’s the wild ones you want, even though they are challenging to pick, and the yield of forest blueberries is relatively modest.
Research has shown that wild blueberries can increase a class of gut bacteria known as Bifidobacterium, which exerts positive health effects on our gut.
Blueberries are low in calories and rich in valuable nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Because they contain little sugar, they are often used in weight loss recipes.
Flavonoids and phenolic acids are particularly beneficial to health. Polyphenols are a group of compounds found in plants that have numerous positive health effects, including improved digestion.
Wild blueberries have twice the antioxidant content of cultivated blueberries, providing even more protection against inflammation.
Nutrition Facts about Blueberries
100 grams of fresh blueberries contain:
- Calories (kcal): 46
- Fat (g): 1
- Carbohydrates (g): 6
- Fiber (g): 4.9
- Potassium (mg): 80
- Calcium (mg): 10
- Magnesium (mg): 2
- Iron (mg): 0.7
- Zinc (mg): 0.1
- Β-carotene (mg): 35
- Vitamin E (mg): 2.1
- Vitamin B1 (mg): 0.02
- Vitamin B2 (mg): 0.02
- Vitamin B6 (mg): 0.06
- Vitamin C (mg): 20
Fiber and tannins:
The indigestible plant parts of blueberries have a positive effect on stomach and intestinal health and can help with minor digestive problems. In addition, the tannins in blueberries have an antibacterial effect and can reduce pathogens that cause diarrhea.
Fresh blueberries tend to have a laxative effect, while dried blueberries counteract mild diarrhea. In addition, the tannins in blueberries are slightly anti-inflammatory, which can, e.g., help with small sores in the mouth.
Why Barley is helpful for the Gastrointestinal Tract
Barley is one of those ancient grains we've heard a lot about because it offers many health benefits. And barley grain has many exciting health benefits compared to wheat and rice.
As a prebiotic grain, barley's soluble fiber provides food for probiotic gut bacteria, reducing inflammation and preventing constipation.
This versatile grain has a chewy consistency and a soft nutty flavor that can complement many dishes. You can find barley in many forms, but the most familiar one is pearled barley, and there is also barley flour, flakes, grits, and more.
Whole grains like brown rice, millet, quinoa, spelt, kamut oats, and wheat berries can be good additions to your diet. Barley may not be on your radar, but it should become a regular part of your diet as it is ideal for the digestive tract.
Like other whole grains, barley is super-good for you—in fact, epidemiological studies say eating barley can potentially reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Barley is used today as animal feed or for beer production, but these days you will need help finding where to get real barley bread or groats.
900% more Dietary Fiber than Brown Rice
Barley contains about three times as much fiber per serving as oats. It is particularly rich in soluble fiber, known as beta-glucan, and recognized for its cholesterol-lowering abilities. Barley is also a good or excellent source of several vitamins and minerals.
Barley contains almost 900% more dietary fiber than brown rice—15.6 gm in barley and 1.6 in brown rice per 100.
Pearl barley benefits include the fact that it takes longer to digest than other grains, making it the perfect choice for weight loss. Meals with barley will always make you feel fuller for longer than brown rice meals.
Barley | Hulled and Pearled
Hulled barley is minimally processed to remove only the tough outer coating (hull). However, pearled barley technically isn't a whole grain because the hull and the seed kernel's outer layer (bran) are removed during processing.
You can add barley to your diet by eating cooked barley on its own as a substitute for rice or adding it to soups, stews, or salads.
However, there are differences between the barley varieties, so comparing dietary fiber content on the nutritional value labels at the grocery makes sense.
“Beta-glucans are soluble fibers from the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and some plants. Due to their ability to expand, beta-glucans are excellent for intestinal health, as they support intestinal movement and thus digestion.”
“The roughage found in barley is also food for the friendly intestinal bacteria the human body requires, and thus stimulates their growth.”
~ Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Barley for Intestinal Bacteria
Barley is rich in dietary fiber beta-glucans, which can lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and is the perfect food for colonizing the gut's friendly bacteria.
Like other grains, barley is also a good source of B vitamins, which are essential for cellular function, helping the enzymes in our bodies perform different functions, such as converting nutrients into energy.
If you have gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten grains like barley is suggested.
Summing Up High-Fiber Foods
Dietary fiber can keep you full, help you to lose weight, and improve your overall health.
Many of us associate fiber with digestive health and bowel function. But eating foods high in dietary fiber can do so much more than keep you regular. Fiber, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans) that the body can't break down.
Foods rich in fiber can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, improve the health of your skin, and help you lose weight. It may even help prevent colon cancer.
Barley is a very healthy grain. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds. It’s also high in fiber, which is responsible for most of its health benefits, ranging from a better digestion to reduced hunger and weight loss.
Equally high in fiber, the indigestible plant parts of blueberries have a positive effect on stomach and intestinal health and can help with minor digestive problems.
Broccoli is a favorite vegetable of many who may not know about its Sulforaphane content—a chemical that increases healthy gut bacteria.  Sulforaphane is found in all cruciferous vegetables, but it is especially high in broccoli and broccoli sprouts.
1.) Jayachandran M, Chen J, Chung SSM, Xu B. A critical review on the impacts of β-glucans on gut microbiota and human health. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Nov; 61:101-110. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.06.010. Epub 2018 Aug 10. PMID: 30196242.
2.) Noelle L Johansson, Charles S. Pavia, and Jen Wei Chia, “Growth Inhibition of a Spectrum of Bacterial and Fungal Pathogens by Sulforaphane, and Isothiocyanate Product Found in Broccoli and Other Cruciferous Vegetables,”Planta Medica 74, no.7 (June 2008): 747-50, https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2008-1074520
3.) “Sulforaphane Normalizes Intestinal Flora and Enhances Gut Barrier in mice with BBN-Induced Bladder Cancer.,” Molecular nutrition & Food Research 62, no. 24 (2018): e1800427, https://doi.org/10/.1002/mnfr.201800427
4.) Vendrame S, Guglielmetti S, Riso P, Arioli S, Klimis-Zacas D, Porrini M. Six-week consumption of a wild blueberry powder drink increases bifidobacteria in the human gut. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Dec 28;59(24):12815-20. doi: 10.1021/jf2028686. Epub 2011 Nov 18. PMID: 22060186.
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