Pasta and salad. Steak and potatoes. Chicken and rice. Are you bored of having the same carb-centric meals over and over again? Cooking with variety can be tough, as can be making sure your meal is healthy and gut-friendly. Fear not! We have suggestions for some unusual ingredients that can spice up your blandest meal and give your gut health a boost.
Chia seeds are tiny (smaller than a grain of rice!), but they pack a huge nutritional punch. They act as a prebiotic, which means that the soluble fiber they provide feeds your “good” gut bacteria1 - fed gut microbes are better able to help with digestion and protect against incoming pathogens, such as “bad” bacteria found in spoiled foods2. And they don’t just provide some fiber. Chia seeds hold more fiber (per 100g) than most foods, making them a champion3. In addition to providing tons of fiber, chia seeds also supply plenty of calcium, iron, magnesium, and several important vitamins. Research has shown that chia seed consumption in rodents may reduce “bad” cholesterol4,5, meaning that chia seeds may be good for heart health.
This little green fruit contains lots of surprises. Inside of these strange pods is a gooey substance called “mucilage”. Though this may seem like a reason to never touch the stuff, it’s actually key to its gut-health magic. This goo is filled with lots of soluble fiber that fuel your gut microbes6. It also may prevent infection from bad bacteria by making would-be homes for these intruders less hospitable7. Research has found that mice that are fed okra extracts have more balanced microbiomes, which is important for digestive health8.
Okra is also packed with nutrients, minerals, and protective antioxidants9. Full of Vitamins A, B1, C, and K, as well as folate and magnesium6, including these pepper-like pods into your meal is a yummy and easy way to be healthy! Throw them in gumbo or stew, fry them solo, or pickle them and munch throughout the day.
Filled with tasty and tart seeds, pomegranates are great for upping the health quality of your next smoothie or salad. Like chia seeds and okra, pomegranates are a good source of fiber5 and may act as a prebiotic, feeding our valuable gut microbe friends10. A recent study suggests that pomegranates may also help limit gut inflammation - “UroA”, a metabolite of the superfood, was recently shown to reduce inflammation markers in mice and improve their gut’s epithelial barrier11 (a gut defense against incoming “bad” stuff like viruses).
These red seeds are also full of antioxidants, and a good source of many vitamins12. Pomegranates are a particularly good source of vitamin K, which helps your blood clot13 and your bones stay healthy14. So, next time you are slow-roasting meat, sprinkle some seeds on as a tangy garnish!
Ok, ok, this isn’t an uncommon food – we just couldn’t resist talking about how awesome ginger is for you. Ginger is thought to help reduce nausea and stomach upset15, which is why you sip ginger ale when you have a stomach ache. Why ginger has this effect isn’t clear, but research shows that a substance in ginger can interact with neurons in the gut16. This flavorful root may also help you digest faster17. Recent research shows that a (different) substance in ginger can change your microbiome makeup, making particular types of “good” bacteria flourish18. Aside from its gut benefits, ginger supplies vitamin B6 (important in cognition19) and magnesium20. So, grate some ginger into your next stir-fry to make your body happy!