vitamins

“Summer is Coming” Salad Medley

Don’t be discouraged by Game of Thrones. Summer is coming, folks. And I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

saladmedleytitle

What’s better for a summer lunch than a hearty and protein-packed salad full of fruits, veggies, and the most underestimated nutritional powerhouse combo, rice and beans? The citrus in this dish keeps it light and fresh, and the rainbow of colors means you’re reaping the benefits of vitamins and minerals across the board. Baking the asparagus and beets beforehand means you’ll get a nice crunch in there, too.

-6

This is great dish to prepare ahead of time if you like to pack your lunch, or if you plan to delight your friends at a potluck. It’s also completely flexible. Don’t like kidney beans? That’s fine, you’re dead to me. I mean, *cough* throw in chickpeas or fava beans! And for the citrus addicts here, you can add some pineapple or strawberry to boost that flavor profile. Mmm, vitamin C!

Fair warning, though: your hands will look like Carrie when you’re done with the beets.

-7

Rice and beans are one of nature’s best combination foods, and serve as a complete protein source — that is, the two of them together provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to survive. And because it’s rice and beans, your stomach won’t be growling for afternoon munchies.

saladmedleyrecipecard

Garnish with your choice: cilantro was a no-brainer for me. And summer…come quickly!

Advertisements

How to replenish your gut flora after taking antibiotics

Well, it’s been a couple weeks since I updated, mainly due to a nasty bout with a kidney infection. Luckily for all of you, my experience made me realize that I should talk about how to replenish your healthy gut flora after it’s been decimated by antibiotics!

Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy that I live in a time where I have quick and easy access to antibiotics when I really, really need them. After all, penicillin was one of the most important discoveries in the history of humankind, and became a modern-day miracle elixir. (Although penicillin is now much less effective than it was in 1928.)

Penicillin

A kidney infection isn’t something to mess with, and refusing to take antibiotics quickly can cause permanent kidney damage. And hey, I like my kidneys. They do lots of important things for me, like control my blood pressure, make red blood cells and keep my bones strong, and remove waste and fluid that I don’t need. So yeah, I’d like to keep them.

But after two weeks of antibiotics, I was feeling the effects. For whatever reason — regular physical activity, daily coffee, a vegan diet high in fiber — I am fairly, ahem, regular. But all that went right down the proverbial toilet.

Antibiotics are just what they sound like: prescribed killers of the biological agents known as bacteria. And while I had to get rid of the bad bacteria in my kidneys, taking them meant that I killed the good gut flora in my digestive tract, too.

There’s some fascinating work being done on why a healthy gut flora balance is so crucial to health. It’s said that beneficial bacteria make up three pounds of our total body weight, so you know they’ve got to be important! A healthy microbiome:

  • Ferments (breaks down) undigested carbohydrates, forming short chain fatty acids that can be used as an energy source
  • Protects against leaky gut syndrome, a widely misunderstood condition in modern-day medicine
  • Synthesizes vitamins B and K
  • Protects the body from disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella
  • Strengthens the immune system

But how and why gut flora is important still largely remains a mystery to researchers. Some scientists have speculated that being born without a healthy gut flora store, or not maintaining a balanced microbiome throughout life, might cause autism spectrum disorders, obesity, allergies and asthma, and even Parkinson’s disease. The research is so important that Michael Pollan himself wrote an op-ed detailing the his voluntary biomapping of his own gut flora, a piece that went viral via the NY Times this year.

Few of the scientists I interviewed had much doubt that the Western diet was altering our gut microbiome in troubling ways. Some…are concerned about the antimicrobials we’re ingesting with our meals; others with the sterility of processed food. Most agreed that the lack of fiber in the Western diet was deleterious to the microbiome, and still others voiced concerns about the additives in processed foods, few of which have ever been studied for their specific effects on the microbiota.

— “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs”

Some hospitals have started to jump on board the beneficial bacteria bandwagon. During my internship at OHSU, I learned that dietitians at OHSU and several other hospitals in the area will automatically order kefir or Nancy’s Yogurt for a patient who is taking antibiotics, as a way to replenish their healthy bacteria. As a dietitian, that’s pretty fascinating to me!

But what about replenishing gut flora by way of vegan foods? Don’t worry, kefir isn’t the only solution for a bare digestive tract. In fact, there are lots of ways to help your gut grow back some of its little helpers.

1. Eat fiber. Any kind. All kinds. Soluble fiber (fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, seeds, oatmeal, psyllium, flax, etc.) will be fermented by bacteria in the colon and synthesized into vitamin K and some B vitamins, and short chain fatty acids. The SCFA will nourish the walls of the colon and may prevent colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, and diverticular disease. Fiber can also decrease triglycerides and cholesterol.

Soluble fiber is what’s known as a prebiotic — the stuff that nourishes the probiotics, or the healthy bacteria. Some prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, whole wheat, and bananas.

2. Enjoy fermented foods. Tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso soup, and kombucha and Kevita are fantastic alternatives to dairy probiotics. Even wine and beer have some probiotics in them (but I would recommend a hearty tempeh stir-fry in addition!). Try namu shoyu, a Japanese soy sauce, drizzled over tempeh and broccoli.

Watch out for fermented foods with vinegar: oftentimes, the vinegar ends up killing the good bacteria. Lacto-fermented products are a better choice.

3. If you’re really worried, try a supplement. GoodBelly, Garden of Life, and RawGreen Organics are just a few of the vegan options I found. However, these supplements tend to be pricey, as most supplements are. A balanced diet with the aforementioned foods should do the trick.

Be aware: the strain of bacteria known as lactobacillus is vegan in and of itself, but is often grown using a dairy food source. Knowing this, I would choose a supplement that does not list lactobacillus in its probiotic arsenal.

Here in Portland, lots of people try their hand at fermenting their own kombucha and pickling vegetables. It’s really not that hard, and making your own food is quite empowering! There are lots of references out there for trying your hand at fermenting foods and beverages safely and effectively. Try this guide!

If you already enjoy a balanced microbiome but are considering having a baby, listen up: as it pertains to healthy gut flora, researchers have found that breastfeeding will promote a more diverse bacterial landscape compared to formula-fed babies. These bacteria work to protect your baby against toxins and other intruders that might cause illness such as colic. These bacteria can influence your baby’s immune system for life, and might mean the difference between allergies, asthma, and other auto-immune conditions.

I hope this brief overview was helpful. I know I’ll be trying my hand at fermenting more of my own foods, especially now that fall is rolling in. I mean, who doesn’t love miso soup on a rainy day? Feel free to comment on this post with questions or comments! And remember to keep growing that garden of gut flora πŸ™‚

Snack Time: Kale Chips with a Kick

I know, I know–kale chips have been done. But I got a huge bunch from my local produce service, and figured it was time to spice things up a little bit around here…can you tell by the site’s new look? πŸ™‚

KaleCard

Kale chips are super easy to make and take just about 20 minutes to crisp up in the oven. But I like them the best because they are a perfect reflection of your personality! I guess I was feeling spicy when I made these because I was pretty liberal with my chili powder and nutritional yeast. Talk about an afternoon pick-me-up!

IMG_0497

So go ahead and put your own spin on these! Minced garlic? Sriracha? A pinch of paprika? It’s your food, and you do what you want.

KaleCard copy

As I noted in the recipe card, it’s best to eat these as soon as you make them. Storing them is tricky and they tend to get a bit soggy in a container if you haven’t used a dehydrator (something I haven’t invested in). Also, be sure to flip them a couple times during the baking process to ensure an even texture.

Kale is a powerhouse ingredient in my diet because it’s full of vitamins and minerals that my body needs to function. It’s a great source of that non-heme (non-animal source) iron, vitamin C (this helps the iron to be absorbed in your body), vitamin A, and calcium. Like most vegetables and fruits, kale will help keep you regular and acts as a natural detoxifying agent because it’s packed with fiber.

A lot of people ask me what nutritional yeast is all about. This delicious product is a flaky add-on to anything that needs aΒ  boost of (vegan) cheesy goodness. In fact, it’s used often in vegan cheeses and sauces to mimic that cheese flavor. If you’re vegan, make sure you pick up a nutritional yeast that is fortified with B12! This can be a difficult nutrient for us to obtain since it comes almost exclusively from animal sources (exception: algae, yeast). I like Bragg’s. At just about $6 a bottle, it’s a real bargain.

So if you’ve got half an hour to spare and a head of kale waiting to be munched on, go ahead and try these chips! You won’t be disappointed.