Gut Check

5-Star Superfoods for your Gut!

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The bacteria in our gut can influence our mental health, weight, liver health, and blood sugar levels. When you nourish your gut microbiome with the right foods, you can change your health from the inside out. There are many foods currently being studied for their ability to positively alter our gut microbiome. Our dietetics advisor, Bibi Chia, gives us a run-down of her 5-star picks.

1. Lentils

What are lentils?

Lentils are part of the legume family. The dried seeds inside the pods of legume plants, such as dal or mung beans, are also referred to as “pulses.”  They are not only good sources of plant protein but are also rich in folate, iron, and prebiotic fibres

Why are they a superfood?

Lentils are chock-full of soluble and insoluble fibres, resistant starch, galacto-oligosaccharides, and polyphenols, all of which promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in your intestines.  For example, red lentils are great for promoting a healthy gut microbiome diversity: they help to reduce the abundance of harmful bacteria and increase the abundance of healthy short chain fatty acid-producing bacteria.  Regular consumption of lentils might also help you with weight control and the reduction of cholesterol. 

Nutrition tip: 1/2 a cup of cooked lentils will give you 7.8g of fibre, which is 30% of your daily fibre needs. Consider replacing part of your meat intake with lentils to protect your heart and gain health but not weight.

2. Longans

What are longans?

The name ‘longan’ comes from the Cantonese term for ‘eye of a dragon’. This small, round Asian fruit certainly lives up to its name, packing a powerful punch of health benefits.  It is rich in antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and contains prebiotic polysaccharides to nourish your gut microbes and keep them happy.  

Why are they a superfood?

Popping a handful of longans a few times a week might improve your gut’s production of succinic acid and short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid. These in turn promote better digestion and can help to prevent diseases.

Nutrition tip: Contrary to popular belief, fresh longans are low in calories with only 18kcal per serve of 10. Guilt-free snacking, here we come!

3. Bok Choy

What is bok choy?

Bok choy or bai cai is a leafy green vegetable that comes from the same family as Napa Cabbage (used to make Kimchi). 

Why is it a superfood?

Bok choy is rich in polyphenols and nutrients such as folate and calcium. Importantly, it also contains glucosinolate, which your gut bacteria break down to produce isothiocyanate, a compound which might protect you against cancer and heart diseases.

Nutrition tip: Bok choy overcooks easily. Just stir-fry a serving for 2 minutes with garlic, soy sauce, and a splash of oil for that delicious crunch!

4. Turmeric

What is turmeric?

Turmeric, or yellow ginger, is a spice that has been used across Asia for centuries and has long been used in traditional Indonesian Jamu and Ayurveda for its medicinal properties. 

Why is it a superfood?

The major bioactive component of turmeric is a polyphenol called curcumin. Curcumin is being studied for its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties – it is listed as one of the possible foods promoting longevity in Okinawa.  Curcumin may alter the ratio between beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms in our gut, and can be broken down by our gut bacteria to produce active compounds that improve overall health.

Nutrition tip: To improve the bioavailability of curcumin (i.e. improve your body’s ability to absorb and use curcumin), add a dash of black pepper to any dish that contains turmeric.

5. Amaranth

What is amaranth?

Similar to quinoa, amaranth is an ancient grain first cultivated by the Aztecs. Asia is now the largest producer of this ‘pseudo-cereal’! Apart from the grain, the stems and leaves are highly nutritious and eaten across Asia in places like Bayam in Malaysia, Chaulai in India, and Kulitis in the Philippines.

Why is it a superfood?

Pseudo-cereals like amaranth can have potential prebiotic abilities to improve dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiome) and maintain overall gastrointestinal health by encouraging a balanced intestinal microbiota.

Nutrition tip: Amaranth can be cooked as a grain, added to porridge, made into patties, and even popped like popcorn.

Graf, D., Monk, J. M., Lepp, D., Wu, W., McGillis, L., Roberton, K., Brummer, Y., Tosh, S. M., & Power, K. A. (2019). Cooked Red Lentils Dose-Dependently Modulate the Colonic Microenvironment in Healthy C57Bl/6 Male Mice. Nutrients11(8), 1853. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081853

Siva, N., Johnson, C. R., Richard, V., Jesch, E. D., Whiteside, W., Abood, A. A., Thavarajah, P., Duckett, S., & Thavarajah, D. (2018). Lentil ( Lens culinaris Medikus) Diet Affects the Gut Microbiome and Obesity Markers in Rat. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry66(33), 8805–8813. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.8b03254
 
Huang, G. J., Wang, B. S., Lin, W. C., Huang, S. S., Lee, C. Y., Yen, M. T., & Huang, M. H. (2012). Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Longan (Dimocarpus longan Lour.) Pericarp. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM2012, 709483. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/709483
 
Zhang, J., Yang, G., Wen, Y., Liu, S., Li, C., Yang, R., & Li, W. (2017). Intestinal microbiota are involved in the immunomodulatory activities of longan polysaccharide. Molecular nutrition & food research61(11), 10.1002/mnfr.201700466. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201700466
 
Narbad, A., & Rossiter, J. T. (2018). Gut Glucosinolate Metabolism and Isothiocyanate Production. Molecular nutrition & food research62(18), e1700991. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201700991
 
Zam W. (2018). Gut Microbiota as a Prospective Therapeutic Target for Curcumin: A Review of Mutual Influence. Journal of nutrition and metabolism2018, 1367984. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/1367984
 
Pluta, R., Januszewski, S., & Ułamek-Kozioł, M. (2020). Mutual Two-Way Interactions of Curcumin and Gut Microbiota. International journal of molecular sciences21(3), 1055. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21031055
 
Caselato-Sousa, V. M., & Amaya-Farfán, J. (2012). State of knowledge on amaranth grain: a comprehensive review. Journal of food science77(4), R93–R104. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02645.x
Gullón, B., Gullón, P., Tavaria, F. K., & Yáñez, R. (2016). Assessment of the prebiotic effect of quinoa and amaranth in the human intestinal ecosystem. Food & function7(9), 3782–3788. https://doi.org/10.1039/c6fo00924g
 
 

About the Author

Bibi Chia is the Principal Dietitian at Raffles Medical Group, with vast experience in the public health, healthcare, and food industries. She is particularly interested in the prevention of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases.

For more exciting food recommendations and recipes, check out Food Tales with Bibi on Facebook and Instagram!

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