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Nigella Seeds

What are its benefits?

In addition to their use in cooking in parts of Africa and Asia, nigella seeds have been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of conditions, and research now provides a scientific foundation for some of these uses:

  • One of the primary constituents of Nigella seed oil, thymoquinone, has antioxidant effects.
  • Nigella seed oil was shown to inhibit production of pro-inflammatory molecules called eiconsanoids. This supports the use of nigella seeds for relief of inflammation-related ailments.
  • While pursuing studies of a weak or porous intestinal barrier as a contributor to mental disorders (through failure to keep food antigens or environmental toxins from passing farther into the body), researchers found that Nigella sativa protected the intestinal mucosa and suppressed the growth of potentially harmful gut microbiota.
  • Extracts of nigella seed were found to have antifungal and antibacterial effects in numerous studies.

What is it?

The fruit of an annual herb (Nigella sativa) yields many Nigella seeds, very small black seeds that have a somewhat bitter, pungent flavor. These seeds are also known by other names, such as black seed, black cumin, black carraway, black onion seeds, and kalonji. The plant is grown in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and India, and it has been used in cooking and as a medicine in these areas for centuries.

 

Nigella seeds provide a number of nutrients, including calcium, iron, zinc, copper, thiamin, niacin, phosphorous, and folic acid. They contain a bioactive component called thymoquinone, which has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other therapeutic qualities, such as preventing cell damage.

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Neem Leaf

What are its benefits?

In our intestines, some bacteria are beneficial and some are harmful. Further, some bacteria such as E. faecalis are not a problem in healthy people, but they can become opportunistic pathogens in people with underlying health conditions. Some common bacteria (such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa) are known to form biofilms – aggregates of bacteria held together by a matrix of carbohydrate. Biofilms can form on the surfaces of living tissues, such as those in the human oral cavity and gut.

 

Bacteria within a biofilm are more persistent and less vulnerable than when not part of a biofilm. That is, they are resistant to antibiotics. A 2019 study found that biofilm formation has been implicated in a variety of gastrointestinal diseases. A separate study set out to find medicinal plants that could inhibit or eradicate biofilm. It discovered that an extract of neem leaf was effective in disrupting formation and structure of biofilms, as well as reducing conditions that support biofilm growth.

 

Neem is a plant long used in traditional East Indian medicine, and modern research has found that the leaf shows significant antibacterial activity (against such bacteria as Streptococcus mutans and Enterococcus faecalis) and antifungal activity (against Candida albicans, for example). Thus, neem leaf can support natural gut immunity by contributing to a healthy balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria.

What is it?

Neem (Azadirachta indica) is an evergreen tree used for thousands of years in the traditional medicine systems of India. While neem is bitter and pungent to the taste, all parts of the tree can be consumed. Typically, its twigs and leaves are chewed to support healthy gums and the oral microbiome, and neem oils are used to promote healthy skin and hair. It is the leaves and seeds that are most powerful. The leaves contain a variety of compounds, including:

  • Quercetin (a polyphenolic flavonoid known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties)
  • Nimbosterol (beta-sitosterol)
  • A number of liminoids (nimbin and its derivatives)

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Moringa

What are its benefits?

Moringa leaves are packed with nutrients, containing (by weight) more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, and more protein than yogurt. Notably, its protein provides all the essential amino acids. Moringa’s complex profile also includes other macronutrients (dietary fiber, carbohydrates, fats). While amounts of specific micronutrients vary by sample, the leaves have been found to contain such compounds as vitamin A, iron, folates, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc, phytate, oxalate, flavonoids, carotentoids, and phenols. Its phenols, flavonoids, and other micronutrients are thought to be responsible for some of the health benefits of moringa:

  • A number of human studies have indicated that consuming moringa leaf has anti-diabetic, anti-cholesterol, and anti-obesity effects.
  • A number of other studies point to a range of other benefits such as antioxidant effects, protection of tissues, pain relief, lowering of blood pressure, and immune system support.
  • A 2018 study of obesity in mice suggested that moringa was effective in reducing weight gain and its consequent metabolic disturbance in the obese mice group. The obese mice group was also noted to have an imbalance in their gut microbiota, and after they were fed moringa, this imbalance was improved. The study concluded that moringa may contribute towards the “regulation of weight gain and inflammation associated with high-fat-induced-obesity through gut bacteria modulation.”
  • A separate 2018 study suggests that it may be phenolic compounds that inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria like Escherichia coli, while they promote the growth of friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus.

What is it?

A tree that grows in India and many other tropical and subtropical countries, moringa has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. All parts of the tree, including seeds, bark, roots, sap, and flowers, can be utilized, but the leaves are especially beneficial because of their nutritionally complex makeup. The “Miracle Tree”, as moringa is sometimes called in India, is seen as a promising crop for developing areas due to the plant’s resistance to drought, its rapid growth pattern, and its leaves that retain many nutrients even when dried.

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Matcha

What are its benefits?

Matcha powder packs a healthful punch whether prepared as a unique soothing hot beverage or added to a morning shake. Matcha is one of the richest sources of polyphenols classed as catechins.

  • Catechins act as antioxidants that can head off cell damage and decrease inflammation in the body.
  • One of matcha’s catechins called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) has been shown in lab studies to have strong anti-cancer properties.
  • Other studies show that tea polyphenols have antiviral properties.

Matcha comes from leaves of green tea plants that are specially handled: they are covered to prevent exposure to direct sunlight for 20 to 30 days prior to harvesting. This causes the leaves to boost chlorophyll production and amino acid content, including one called theanine. Theanine has been shown in some animal studies to increase brain serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters that can stabilize mood.

 

Another difference in matcha processing compared to other tea leaves is that it is put through a steaming process instead of an oxidation process. This helps retain its colors, fragrances, and nutritional content. And matcha powder consists of the whole leaf with all of its nutrients, which can then provide more catechins than would come from just steeping green tea leaves in hot water.

What is it?

Matcha powder is ground from tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The special shade-growing process gives the leaves their unique nutrient profile and color. Matcha does not have a lot of vitamins or minerals, but it contains valuable components like chlorophyll, the amino acid theanine, and antioxidant polyphenols.

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Maca

What are its benefits?

Nutritious maca root is a great addition to the diet. It is a good source of carbs, is low in fat, and contains a fair amount of protein and fiber. It’s also high in some important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, copper and iron. Further, it contains various bioactive compounds, including polyphenols and glucosinolates.

 

Various studies have looked at maca’s health benefits:

  • Randomized clinical trials in humans indicate that maca has a positive effect on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety, and may improve sexual desire in men and women.
  • One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca helped alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep.
  • The polyphenols and glucosinolates in maca have an antioxidant effect.
  • A handful of studies show it may boost endurance and performance in sports.

In terms of polyphenols’ effects on the microbiome, recent research is encouraging. Due to the chemical structure of most polyphenols, they are not easily absorbed, so they have a longer time in the intestine to interact with microbiota. Studies support that dietary phenols reaching the gut microbes (along with the metabolites generated) modify and produce variations in the microbiota through their prebiotic effects on beneficial bacteria and antimicrobial action against pathogenic microflora.

  • Specifically, dietary polyphenols can affect populations of bacteria by interfering with their “quorum sensing” ability, membrane permeability, and sensitizing them to chemicals that are seen by the body as foreign. Polyphenols have other effects as well – they can affect gut metabolism, immunity, and can have anti-inflammatory effects.
  • The mechanism is thought to be that the gut microbiome changes polyphenols into bioactive compounds, which then influence the intestinal ecology and affect health. Studies in animals and in humans have shown that prescribed amounts of particular polyphenols may inhibit certain bacterial groups, while others can then flourish in the now-available ecological niche.

What is it?

The maca plant (Lepidium meyenii) is found in the Andes and is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng. It is a cruciferous vegetable with a long history of culinary and medicinal use in Peru. The main edible portion of the plant is the root. It exists in several colors, such as white, golden, red, and black. It is dried and ground into powder and has an earthy, nutty flavor.

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Inulin

What are its benefits?

Inulin is a starchy plant-based substance that provides dietary fiber in soluble form. Extracted from artichokes, chicory root, or other plants, inulin is not digestable by enzymes in the stomach or small intestines, so it moves on to the lower gut. There it becomes food for beneficial gut bacteria, which convert the inulin into short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells lining the colon. This prebiotic effect of inulin has been verified in a number of studies. For example:

  • A 2019 review looked at studies of herbs used in European countries to treat gastrointestinal disorders and which were shown to work via their effect on the microbiome. Among the 28 studies of 15 plants, the strongest evidence existed for the use of inulin as a prebiotic.
  • A study published in 2017 found that inulin-type fructans do affect the human gut microbiota specifically bacteria genera Bifidobacterium, Anaerostipes and Bilophila. The decreased abundance of Bilophila was linked with improved constipation-related quality-of-life reports.

In addition to increasing helpful bacteria in the colon, inulin may offer a number of health benefits, including improvement of absorption of calcium and other minerals from food, supporting a healthy immune system, providing relief to some intestinal problems, and lowering levels of triglycerides (fat in the blood).

What is it?

Inulin is a naturally occurring polysaccharide and belongs to a category of dietary fibers called fructans. One teaspoon of inulin provides 3 grams of dietary fiber. Foods that contain inulin include asparagus, bananas, burdock, chicory, dandelion root, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, and onions.

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Galangal

What are its benefits?

In the same family as ginger, galangal root looks similar but has a different flavor – sharp, citrusy, and piney. It is proving to be a powerful ally in maintaining gut health. Various studies on galangal have identified promising effects of consuming this spice, long used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

  • Anti-inflammatory: Galangin, a polyphenolic compound derived from the galangal root, has been shown in multiple studies to have anti-inflammatory effects. The mechanisms varied based on the specific study but included suppression of proinflammatory gene expression as well as reduced production of components that cause inflammation.
  • Antibacterial: In one study of 68 spices, galangal was one of five that exhibited the highest antibacterial capacity against pathogens Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enteritidis. Another study identified four pathogens against which galangal had an antibacterial effect: E. coli, clostridium, staphylococcus, and salmonella.
  • “Clean up” via autophagy: Galangin has been shown to induce the process of autophagy, which is a natural method by which the body gets rid of damaged and old cells. This process inhibits the malignant transformation of cells, and in the case of the gut, can help maintain the barrier between the small intestine and the gut bacteria.

What is it?

Galangal root is a spice native to Southern Asia. The most commonly used forms are greater galangal (alpinia galanga) and lesser galangal (alpinia officinarum). It is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Used in traditional medicines, it is also used either dried or fresh to flavor savory dishes. Galangal contains some carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamin C. Plus is has compounds methyl cinnamate, eugenol, resins, tannins, starch, gingerol, and flavonoids.

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Flax Seed Meal

What are its benefits?

Flax seeds and ground flax seed meal are considered by many to be a “superfood” for their healthy fats and fiber. Recent studies highlight some reasons for this claim.

 

A 2019 review of scientific literature focused on herbs used in European countries to treat gastrointestinal disorders and that were shown to work via their effect on the microbiome. The review found that the fiber in flax seed meal is fermented by bacteria in the gut into short chain fatty acids (SCFA), providing a prebiotic effect.

  • Evidence indicates that short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are important to gut and metabolic health. It is likely that SCFAs produced by microbial fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates are the intermediators of the benefits measured in the gut microbiome. These SCFAs perform a number of functions: they regulate pH, produce mucous, feed epithelial cells, and support mucosal immune health. They are also believed to affect metabolic processes such as appetite regulation, energy expenditure, glucose homeostasis, and immunomodulation.

A 2015 Danish study of overweight but otherwise healthy post-menopausal women found that consuming flax seed meal had these significant effects:

  • Increased populations of 33 beneficial intestinal bacteria species (including Bilophila wadsworthia, Parabacteroides merdae, and Parabacteroides johnsonii)
  • Decreased populations of eight pathogenic bacteria species (including Eubacterium, Ruminococus, and Faecalibacterium)
  • Increased insulin sensitivity (which allows cells to use blood glucose more effectively)

What is it?

Flax seed (Linum usitatissimum) meal is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid — a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, and it is high in lignans (small water soluble polyphenols found in plants, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables), which contain phytoestrogens. Flax seed meal consists of approximately 42% fat, 18% protein, and about 28% carbohydrate. Almost all of the carbs are fiber, which is composed of 20–40% soluble fiber (mucilage gums) and 60–80% insoluble fiber (cellulose and lignins, which are undigestible complex polymers that are used in cell walls and other support tissues of most plants). Flax seed meal also provides calcium, iron, and potassium.

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Fenugreek

What are its benefits?

An herb long used in traditional medicines and in Indian cuisine, fenugreek is the subject of modern research. The results of human studies suggest that consuming fenugreek improves elevated blood glucose and lipid levels associated with diabetes and obesity.

 

In addition, a 2020 study found that fenugreek had a beneficial impact on the gut microbiome of mice that were on a high fat diet. While improving the metabolism of the mice (measured by lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar), the population and diversity of the gut bacteria were also improved.

 

Results of another study indicate that the extract of fenugreek seeds contains antioxidants and protects cellular structures from oxidative damage.

 

Nutritionally, fenugreek seeds contain a good amount of fiber and minerals, including iron, manganese, and magnesium.

What is it?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual herb with yellow flowers and seed-containing pods. The hard, yellow-brown mature seeds possess an unusual aromatic odor and are used in curry recipes, chutney, spice blends, and some vegetable soups. They have a slightly sweet, nutty taste.

 

Fenugreek seeds are composed primarily of carbohydrates (mainly mucilaginous fibers in the cell walls), proteins, and lipids. Other important components include alkaloids, free amino acids, saponins, and glycosides.

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Cranberry

What are its benefits?

Bright red tart cranberries are as healthful as they are pretty. Research indicates their health benefits are thought to be due to their flavonoid and phytonutrient content. These naturally occurring compounds have antioxidant and antimicrobial benefits that are seen in studies of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and urinary tract.

  • A specific type of flavonoid in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, supports urinary tract health by interfering with the ability of pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) to adhere to cell walls, thereby helping to prevent infections.
  • Studies also show that proanthocyanidins have a similar effect on gut bacteria: they interfere with colonization by pathogenic E. coli and lessen gut barrier dysfunction caused by dietary “insult” (for example, antibiotics).
  • Additional research points to beneficial interaction between cranberry components, the bioactive products of their catabolism, and gut microbiota. For example, mechanisms involving adhesion of bacteria and biofilm formation may contribute to clinical benefits on gastrointestinal tract infections and anti-inflammatory actions that are mediated by the gut microbiome.
  • Growing evidence from other clinical trials indicates positive effects of cranberries on various heart and metabolism markers, such as serum lipid profiles, blood pressure, endothelial function, blood glucose regulation, and measures of inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Cranberries may provide numerous cardiovascular benefits. Research shows they can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-oxidation, maintain or improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, reduce aggregation of platelets, and improve vascular function.

What is it?

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a low-growing woody perennial plant. It produces horizontal stems up to 6 feet long, with vertical branches, 2 to 8 inches high, some of which produce buds, flowers, and then berries. The plants are pollinated primarily via honey bees.

Along with flavonoids and phytonutrients, cranberries also provide fiber and vitamin C.

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