More Butyrate-promoting microbiome menu ideas.
This post is based on a contest I entered. Now there is a second contest to see if any of my readers make it to a consumer market with a new product first using the information.
To support a healthy microbiome, ingredients that already exist can be repurposed. Other food ingredients could be helpful for health and sustainability by reducing food waste - fruit peels. Citrus peel is already used in a variety of ways around the world as a food flavoring or in a marmalade or chutney. Pomegranate peel specifically is my focus, but mango peel is also mild and beneficial as an anti-inflammatory and fiber rich food.
Food preparation methods already in use can be modified with simple ingredient changes to increase the nutrients that our microbiome needs to support healthy species.
Our microbiome eats a lot and needs good food for healthy species to predominate.
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Menu planning as a gardening task.
Our meals can be like the difference between a gardener using synthetic fertilizer in poor soil or one who uses compost, bone meal and other organic based fertilizers.
Our microbiome grows from what we eat - from our meals. Unhealthy species can tolerate modern processed foods and a lack of trace minerals. Healthy species cannot. That is the simple fact. For a healthy gut, (and brain), eat better food.
Another thing to keep in mind about feeding our microbiome, is that they eat a lot. One capsule or teaspoon of special fiber is not going to feed our billions of microbes. The beneficial species may be consuming as much as 30% of the zinc in our meals.
They can overgrow after someone eats a large apple or pear - fructose supports microbial growth more than human cells. Providing a little glucose/sugar or carbohydrates with a smaller portion of fructose rich foods can help balance microbial growth so fewer of the gassy producing species are flourishing. Moderation helps us be both more comfortable and healthier.
Mother Earth, Father Time - our lives depend on the soil and the sun and rain. Gratitude is a healing attitude.
Probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, and synbiotics.
Probiotics are the microbes themselves. (4) Capsules or fermented foods that retain live culture like yogurt, gives us species that help the upper intestine.
Fermented foods have gained in consumer popularity and sourdough bread is a more fermented version of yeast bread which is a fermented food, just without any live culture remaining after baking. There can be health advantages though in improved digestibility or bioavailability after fermentation and marketing could help educate consumers about those health benefits found in a nice crusty loaf of fresh baked sourdough bread. Consumers will stop by for their favorite products more often if they need to. Sourdough bread would not be recommended for a gluten free diet, but the gluten content is reduced by the longer fermentation/rising period, and may be more digestible for some consumers.
Prebiotics refers to the fiber and other nutrients that microbial species consume. Postbiotics refers to metabolites that are created from the fiber or other chemicals that the microbes use and produce a smaller molecule as waste - that the microbe doesn’t need but which may be helpful to the human. Postbiotic chemicals include the butyrate and other short chain fatty acids that are produced from resistant starches by beneficial butyrate producing species (a few specific types are included later). Synbiotics is a newer term and refers to a product that contains some combination of a prebiotic - food source - and the probiotic beneficial species - synergistic supplements.
IMPORTANT POINT: Butyrate and other short chain fatty acid producing species are anaerobic so are not a candidate for inclusion in probiotic supplements which include aerobic species that can grow in the small intestine. (2)
Any probiotic supplement or live culture fermented food advertised to help our microbiome is not helping the species in the colon. It might be helpful to the species in the small intestine however if the person’s daily menu includes processed food and little fiber, then what are the beneficial species in the supplement or food going to have to eat? If there is not good food for the beneficial species then the supplement may not be enough to help shift the balance in the gut of less helpful or harmful species.
Species we need for colon health need to be grown from the food we feed them.
Our colon needs us to eat well, so that we have butyrate producing species, because our colon cells use the short chain fatty acids for energy and immune function and other support.
The anaerobic butyrate producing species convert resistant starch from our meals into short chain fatty acids including butyrate. These fatty acids are then used as nourishment for our colon cells. Our colon cells need us to eat resistant starch and zinc so the anaerobic butyrate species can flourish and make the food the colon cells use. Butyrate also has immune and mitochondrial signaling functions as it can activate the niacin receptor and help reduce inflammation.
Ideally to support enough food for our colon cells, we need to eat about 10-15% of our total daily calories in resistant starches. That is really more than most people eat in developed nations like the US. Raw produce, a salad and raw apple, would provide more than a cooked tapioca product, so a combination of raw produce and resistant starch cooked and chilled foods are needed each day. The cooked and chilled tapioca product would provide more resistant starch than a wheat or corn product.
We need to feed the beneficial microbes what they need to survive, so they outcompete junk food eating negative species. Avocados are a food that has been shown to help promote the short chain fatty acid producing species and is also helpful for blood sugar control. (3) Substituting avocado for fat in a baked good would be promoting microbiome health and the flavor is mild enough to be well accepted by consumers. Avocado ice cream is available now.
Fiber and Resistant starch are macronutrients - we need grams daily, not capsules.
Types of fiber that support healthy species of the microbiome include Galactooligosaccharides (GOS), Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and Inulin. Americans may get two grams a day of inulin and FOS, with wheat and onions being the primary sources. (10) This doesn’t really suggest wheat is a good source, just that it is a source consumed in great quantities. It does suggest that onions are a very good source of fiber for our microbiome. Three grams or more a day is the consensus recommendation. (6)
Adequate inulin, GOS or FOS fiber in our diet is also protecting against fermentation of protein in our meals by microbes that don’t have enough fiber to eat. Fermented protein is not going to be useful to us and can make metabolites that are inflammatory. (11) The microbes need to eat and if we don’t eat enough at all, malnourishment, the microbes will start munching on our body chemicals - the lining of our gut. That would add to risk of allergies or food related autoimmune antibody creation, (gluten is similar to thyroid tissue, food albumin/egg white protein is similar to human albumin - molecular mimicry is the term used for that type of autoimmune antibodies).
Instead of over-focusing on specific refined fibers used in a research study (because it could be added to a product label as “evidence-based” which is nice…but is it cost effective?) I would encourage testing recipes that simply include a more significant ratio of other flours than just wheat. Consider using a small percentage of dried onion powder in a pizza crust or savory bread or dinner roll, it might be really tasty.
Wheat flour is not that supportive of a healthy gut or microbiome. I use about 8% tapioca flour or arrowroot starch in my gluten free quick breads - ½ cup in a 6-cup dry ingredient batch - and my gut appreciates it - I do have IBS/colitis sensitivities at times and eating more tapioca in pudding or quick breads seems to help prevent problems from returning and is healing and soothing when I am flared up.
When food leaves people feeling good, then they will likely keep buying more and may buy some to give to family or friends too.
Support the microbiome with baked goods by increasing both fiber content and the use of resistant starches, rather than our tendency to overuse wheat flour. Including tapioca or arrowroot flour/starch as part of the flour in a baked good would help feed our beneficial butyrate producing species, which include Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Anaerostipes, Eubacterium, and Roseburia species. The baked goods are then a little denser and moister and ideally should be chilled after baking to further increase the resistant starch content. Shelf life is shorter for that type of product. Or in a dry cracker, chill as they are drying, and then the product would have more resistant starch and be shelf stable. More butyrate being produced in our colon would also help protect us from colon cancer.
Pistachios promote butyrate-producing species. “The effect of pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition was much stronger than that of almond consumption and included an increase in the number of potentially beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria. Although the numbers of bifidobacteria were not affected by the consumption of either nut, pistachio consumption appeared to decrease the number of lactic acid bacteria (P< 0·05).” (15)
*Species types and what they might do for us is complex. This is only a brief summary.
People buy more of what leaves them feeling better.
Consumer acceptance, I’ve found, can rely on how well the product makes them feel, not just a commercial ad or peer pressure. Did the food leave them refreshed, energized, and no painful gut? Then they will buy more of it, they will even seek it out. People can acquire a taste for things when encouraged to try something because it is healthy. But they won’t bother eating enough of it to gain the taste for it, if it doesn’t taste very good and it isn’t leaving them feeling better in some way.
Pomegranate and the peel supports microbiome and human health. The inner peel is milder than the outer rind and can provide some pectin for jams and other phytonutrients. It also has hydrolyzable tannin content which has health benefits in moderation and is an irritant in excess, and a diuretic. The outer peel has a higher tannin ratio and I use it in tea/extract. The inner peel is milder and acts as antioxidant and food preservative and adds to thickening of broths with the formation of humic acid complexes. Pomegranate peel would need more product testing and possibly food regulation approval, but initial consumer acceptance research was positive when it was used as part of the pectin content in jam or added to the breaded coating of meat or fish nuggets (as an antioxidant/preservative).
Phytonutrients are produced in fermentation of pomegranate that protect against brain inflammation, urolithin A and B, and may help promote regrowth of hippocampal cells. This is considered a “postbiotic” product like butyrate and short chain fatty acids. A sourdough bread made with some powdered pomegranate peel might contain some of the urolithin - that would need to be tested. Pomegranate wine used within a recipe might also add some benefits for our microbiome and other anti-inflammatory effects from the urolithin and other nutrients.
Phytonutrients that aid beneficial species of the microbiome also tend to be anti-microbial. They are taking out bad species for us, while leaving the good species alone. That is a superior health benefit to traditional medical antibiotics which kill both good and bad species.
“These results suggest that consumption of pomegranate polyphenols altered the microbiome, making it more resistant to displacement by infection with Cr, indicating that pomegranate polyphenols may mitigate the pathogenic effects of food‐borne bacterial pathogens.” (George et al, 2019) (8)
When we protect our gut, we are also protecting our brain, because they are connected via the large vagus nerve. It can act as a superhighway and allow chemicals to enter the brain from the gut, or enter the gut from the brain. Parkinson’s Disease seems to involve this connection. Pomegranate peel extract helped a brain inflammation condition by modulation of the species in the gut. (Lu, et al, 2020) (9)
“Pomegranate peel extract ameliorates the severity of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis via modulation of gut microbiota.” (Lu, et al, 2020) (9)
Fruit peel is not legally available to buy from the juicing industry in the US for use in other human food production. In order to start using pomegranate peel in research or consumer taste trials, a production facility would need to buy and process the whole fruit and devise markets for all the potential products. The seeds can simply be frozen for use later as a thawed fruit. The inner seeds are a good phospholipid source but are quite hard. Anardana seed powder available on the Indian market has a gritty texture and gives a tangy accent to soup.
Pomegranate peel and fruit is a potent medicinal food, used for thousands of years of human history. When making a functional food product, I have found it helpful to not make it too tasty or overeating may occur. Excess pomegranate peel would not be better than a moderate amount. For a batch of 24 muffins I add ~ 2-4 tablespoons of dried or fresh minced/powdered inner peel. See: Pomegranate - Benefits and Preparation. (12) or page G13. Pomegranate and G10. Nrf2 Promoting Foods.
Zinc is critically important for a healthy microbiome and zinc nanoparticles have been found beneficial. The nanoparticles were made with the herb lavender. (1) Chocolates, pastries, or breads could have lavender zinc nanoparticles added and if resistant starch content could be increased with tapioca or arrowroot starch - then the product would have two probiotic foods that support healthy butyrate producing species. Pomegranate peel is used to make silver or gold nanoparticles for industrial or bio/medtech use, (13), - it would probably work for making zinc nanoparticles also. It is a mineral chelator with antimicrobial benefits. Silver nanoparticles have antibacterial properties and gold nanoparticles are also healing. Higher priced products might stand out with marketing about their beneficial mineral nanoparticles.
While baked goods, pastries and chocolate candies need to have heat stable ingredients, many beneficial phytonutrients can tolerate baking temperatures. Live culture probiotics would not be usable unless encapsulated in a shelf stable liposome that is added to a cooled filling which could be then added to the center of a chocolate or a pastry.
Phospholipids spontaneously form liposomes in aqueous solutions. Phospholipids are rich in leaves and seed coatings. Mustard powder acts as a weak emulsifier. Adding powdered Moringa leaves to a chocolate sauce and stirring a lot - creaming in other words, should form liposomes containing water soluble phytonutrients from the chocolate, Moringa leaves, or other ingredients (essential oils maybe). The liposomes would form as the creamy delectable chocolate sauce or pastry filling is stirred. Liposome mixtures would likely have a short shelf life or would need to be evaluated for stability over time if health benefits are being suggested.
Bay leaves are medicinal, antiviral, and may add phospholipids to a soup broth which could then form liposomes of soup broth phytonutrients. It is such a mild flavor that it might be worth testing in other aqueous mixtures such as chocolate ganache. Gumbo file would also work similarly in how it creates a thickened, creamy Gumbo soup. More info and references regarding liposomes, phospholipids and Bay leaves are in this document - Phytonutrients, Molecular Docking List.
Liquid ingredients can be a place for phytonutrient rich tea/water extracts.
Anywhere water or milk is used, a phytonutrient rich tea could be used instead. Protein content and thickening can be increased with garbanzo bean flour (precooked, then made into flour). If the ratio used is not too great, the flavor is mild and not too noticeable.
Emulsifiers in modern use within commercial and “organic” products may be too strong for a healthy gut and there is also a need for egg replacers in vegan baking. Alternatives in the spice cupboard include Gumbo file, powdered sassafras leaves, which is a fairly strong emulsifier but adds a dark color. It works well with baked goods that contain chocolate or molasses and may be noticeable in lighter colored products. I use it in combination with Golden Flax Meal and find that both work well together, better even than either alone. I use about 3 tablespoons of each with 1 - 1 ½ cups of water to replace ~ 4 eggs, with ~ a 6 cup dry ingredient muffin batch.
Regarding consumer acceptance, my vegan muffins led to a dilemma with making standard wheat/egg muffins. My parents got adjusted to the moist dense texture of my vegan muffins and now complain that the wheat/egg ones are too dry. I need to try the tapioca flour at 8% in a batch of those. With autoimmune disease, I can no longer personally taste recipes made with ingredients that I avoid - making recipe development difficult.
Glyphosate - Avoid it if the goal is health of the microbiome and planet.
Instead of viewing baking as vegan or gluten free or standard, it would be healthier for the standard diner to have more non-wheat foods in their diet too. Organically grown products are also important for the health of our microbiome and our health, as glyphosate is harmful to our mitochondria and gut microbes. (14) The synthetic amino acid being used in the US and elsewhere as an herbicide was originally designed as an antibiotic and mineral chelator. It also is reducing mineral content in commercially grown crops. Europeans are ahead of the US in limiting glyphosate herbicides.
Food is good food! We simply need to have more fiber, resistant starch, and zinc in our diet, if we want healthy species to flourish in our microbiome instead of unhealthy ones!
Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
If interested in more details about some of the topics, please contact me. References for a lot of the information summarized here are from other documents of my work.
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