Going Plant Based for a Healthy Gut
by Karen Pullen
More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates—the father of modern medicine—suggested that all disease begins in the gut. While he was not completely right, scientists and medical professionals have recently linked a huge number of diseases to the makeup of our gut microbiome.
What is it? Within our intestines, we carry hundreds of trillions of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and other organisms. The average gut microbiome weighs about 4 pounds and is now being considered a separate “organ” with distinct metabolic and immune activity. It has evolved alongside humans to get to where we are today, living in a mutually beneficial relationship. The diversity of the microbiome varies from person to person.
What does it do? Gut bacteria are incredibly important to the optimal functioning of your body and your overall health. They manufacture enzymes, vitamins, hormones, proteins. They produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin that are important for behaviors, mood, thoughts, and other cognitive abilities. They are involved in harvesting energy from food.
Implications for health
There are a huge number of chronic diseases now linked to the health and makeup of our gut microbiome. These range from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, to metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
As well, and surprisingly, scientists are now linking many unlikely conditions such as depression, anxiety and mental health disorders, some cancers and a host of auto immune conditions ranging from asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis—and even autism—with an unhealthy makeup of bacteria and microbes in our gut microbiome.
Maintain a healthy gut microbiome
The healthiest gut microbiome is diverse. It is influenced by antibiotics, aging, and diet.
Antibiotics kill good and bad microbes indiscriminately. It can take a long time—up to two years—for the gut microbiome to recover from a round of strong antibiotics, so be conservative in their use. Consider that antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock—chicken and beef—to increase growth and weight gain. That amount impacts humans who consume those meats.
Aging is associated with decreased microbial diversity, which results in poorer nutritional status, increased inflammation, and frailty. The good news: a healthy and varied plant-based diet can reverse these effects.
Hippocrates also said, “Let food be thy medicine.” And there he was right. Diet seems to be the most powerful determiner of the gut microbiome. Fiber is the key nutrient for promoting fermentation and ensuring diversity. The more diverse, the healthier. Can you aim for 30 different fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts per week?
Miso Noodle Soup is a quick and gut-friendly dish. Everything cooks in a few minutes.
It has two ingredients that might seem unusual: miso and seaweed. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that has a pleasant salty tangy flavor. It has a consistency like peanut butter and keeps in the fridge for a long time, at least a year.
Seaweed is not in everyone’s pantry but it’s a powerhouse food containing vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, omega-3 fats, B12, fiber and certain sugars that help “good” gut bacteria.
Karen Pullen is a mystery writer and an instructor of Food for Life courses in healthy eating, certified in plant-based nutrition and plant-based cooking. Her website is www.everydayplant-based.com.
Miso Noodle Soup
Makes two BIG bowls with some leftover
1/2 cup miso (white or yellow)
4 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups sliced shitake mushrooms (remove the stems)
2 tablespoons seaweed (nori or wakame), soaked in water for two minutes,
drained & rinsed
2 cups chopped greens (chard, kale, or spinach)
8-oz can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 cup cubed firm or extra firm tofu (about half a 15-oz package)
2 cakes of ramen noodles (or substitute 4 servings of soba noodles, pad thai rice noodles, or even angel hair spaghetti)
1 cup chopped watercress
Whisk the miso into one cup of the water until it is smooth with no clumps. Set aside. Bring the broth and remaining 3 cups water to a simmer. Add the mushrooms, seaweed, greens, water chestnut, tofu, and ramen, and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the miso. Serve in a big bowl with watercress sprinkled generously on top.