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Black Pepper

What are its benefits?

Long enjoyed around the world for its flavor and pungency, black pepper has caught the interest of scientists in recent decades. While little research has been done so far on black pepper’s effect on the microbiome specifically, many studies indicate that the bio-active compound in black pepper, piperine, may have a wide range of health benefits:

  • Has antioxidant properties
  • May effectively fight inflammation
  • Has been shown to improve brain function in animal studies
  • May improve blood sugar control
  • May lower cholesterol levels
  • Has anticancer and antitumor activity
  • Has been shown to improve depression when consumed with turmeric

What is it?

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a perennial climbing vine and the spice is made from its fruits (the peppercorns). Native to India, it is one of the earliest spices known. Used in cuisine worldwide, pepper is also used in medicine as a carminative (to relieve flatulence) and as a stimulant of gastric secretions. Black pepper is a good source of manganese and vitamin K, among other vitamins and minerals.

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Turmeric

What are its benefits?

Turmeric is one of the herbs used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine as an aid to digestion. Modern researchers have found that it, along with ginger, black pepper, and piper longum, promoted strong shifts in the gut bacteria that are known to regulate metabolism. Other studies have shown that turmeric and one of its active components, curcumin, tended to increase bacterial species richness. Curcumin has also been shown to help prevent multiple inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric is also used to support the digestive system in several ways:

  • Intestines: Curcumin supports digestion by relaxing the smooth muscles on the walls, helping food through the intestines. It also helps to prevent gas and bloating as food is being digested.
  • Colon: Curcumin supports the balance between your microbiota and the immune response by encouraging the glands on the surface to regenerate and heal when harmful bacteria are present
  • Stomach: Turmeric helps the stomach lining by inhibiting harmful enzymes and increases the secretion of stomach mucous, guarding against damage from gastric acid.
  • Liver: Turmeric helps to increase cholesterol elimination by boosting bile production. Combining turmeric with high-fiber foods can help the liver be more efficient at trapping cholesterol and moving it to the colon for elimination.

What is it?

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family and is native to Southeast Asia. Its rhizome (underground stem) is used as a common culinary spice (a major ingredient in curry powder) and a traditional medicine. Curcumin is a major active component of turmeric and is what makes turmeric yellow. 

Turmeric is also rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and other antioxidants. Additionally, it is a good source of:

  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Dietary fiber

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Triphala

What are its benefits?

Triphala is included in the shake base because of indications that it increases longevity. Triphala is a prebiotic, feeding existing beneficial bacteria in the human gut, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. (These are known to have evolved hand and hand with humans since the beginning). Researchers at McGill University studied fruit flies — whose genes are remarkably similar to mammals with about 70% similarity in terms of their biochemical pathways — and found that a combination of triphala and probiotics increased their longevity by 60% and protected them against chronic diseases associated with aging. The mechanism for this was suggested by measurements showing reduced markers of physiological stress, oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial dynamics — all of which cause aging.

 

Ayurvedic practitioners use triphala for detoxification that aids digestion and microbiome health. Triphala is an ingredient in over 400 Ayurvedic remedies. It’s an antioxidant, and it tones and supports the large intestine to improve motility and absorption of nutrients. Triphala contains a number of polyphenolic compounds which give it a broad antimicrobial spectrum.

What is it?

Triphala is an Ayurvedic compound from India, made from three dried fruits – amla, bihara, and harada. It contains vitamin C, flavonoids, polyphenols, tannins and saponins, along with other potent plant compounds.

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Spirulina

What are its benefits?

Research has shown benefits from spirulina’s protein, phycocyanin, may include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and brain-protective effects. It has been shown to block tumor growth and kill cancer cells. It can reduce absorption of cholesterol, lowering cholesterol levels. It reduces triglyceride levels. Spirulina increases nitric oxide production in the body, which can help blood vessels relax. Furthermore, spirulina’s vitamin and mineral content supports a healthy immune system.

 

Specific microbiome studies have been carried out:

    • A recent study showed the prebiotic qualities of algae like spirulina. A sugar in algae, sulfoquinovose, stimulates the growth of very specific key organisms in the gut microbiome. These key organisms include the bacterium Eubacterium rectale, one of the ten most common gut microbes in healthy people. It ferments sulfoquinovose via a metabolic pathway only recently deciphered, producing a sulfur compound, dihydroxypropane sulfonate, which in turn feeds other beneficial intestinal bacteria that eventually produce hydrogen sulfide gas. The delicate balance of these metabolic pathways was also noted: in low amounts, hydrogen sulfide can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the intestinal mucosa. But increased hydrogen sulfide production by gut microbes (typically seen in people with diets high in fat and meat) is associated with chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer.
    • A second study demonstrated that spirulina might help protect against age-related liver inflammation by modifying pathways in the microbiome.

What is it?

Spirulina is a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that is a highly nutritious food component. It is a source of thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), copper, iron, and magnesium. It also contains a protein called phycocyanin.

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Red Reishi Mushroom

What are its benefits?

Used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diabetics, red reishi mushroom is included in the shake base blends based on research that indicates it does reduce body weight, inflammation, and insulin resistance in mice fed a high-fat diet. The study in question concerned obesity, which is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and imbalance in the intestinal microbiota. The results showed decreased Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratios and lower levels of endotoxin-bearing Proteobacteria, indicating that red reishi mushrooms help balance the microbiome. Furthermore, results indicated they help maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier and reduce metabolic endotoxemia.

 

Other research shows red reishi mushroom has antioxidant properties, which helps reduce oxidative stress in cells. In addition, reishi has been shown to help increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy while protecting against some of its damaging effects.

What is it?

Red reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are highly nutritious, containing polysaccharides, proteins, minerals, vitamins (B, D), are low in fat (5%, mostly linoleic acids) and are free of cholesterol.

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Paprika

What are its benefits?

There is a lot of nutrition packed into a small amount of paprika, and its components have been shown to benefit health in a number of ways. Paprika is rich in:

  • Fiber, which helps move food through the digestive tract and feeds good bacteria in the intestines.
  • Carotenoids, specifically capsanthin, capsorubin, beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. Carotenoids have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2013 study showed that carotenoids in paprika contributed to improvement and prevention of obesity-related insulin resistance. Studies on capsanthin indicate that it may raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Carotenoids also contribute to improved night vision and overall eye health.
  • Iron, which helps carry oxygen throughout the body. This can help us feel more energized.
  • Vitamins, particularly vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin B6.

Paprika imparts a sweet, smoky, or somewhat spicy flavor when used in recipes.

What is it?

The spice paprika is ground from dried peppers of the plant Capsicum annuum. It comes in a variety of flavors (sweet, smoked, and hot) and colors (red, orange, and yellow). Paprika is used worldwide to flavor savory dishes.

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Nutmeg

What are its benefits?

Nutmeg is a familiar culinary spice enjoyed for its nutty, sweet flavor. In addition, this spice has been long-used in traditional medicine practices for curative purposes, such as easing digestive ailments and treating skin disorders. Newer applications have included using nutmeg as an antibacterial agent in dentistry, and several studies have proven the antimicrobial activity of various extracts and the essential oil of nutmeg seeds. Even more recently, researchers are investigating the benefits of nutmeg on intestinal health.

  • A 2015 animal study of colon cancer looked at uremic toxins built up in the serum of the test subjects with the cancer. The researchers theorized that the toxins were the metabolites of gut bacteria. The toxins were found to be associated with an increase in proinflammatory proteins released by cells of the immune system and a lipid metabolism disorder.
  • Then the test subjects were treated with nutmeg extract, which resulted in lowered levels of toxins and decreased tumor growth. It was also noted in these test subjects that the metabolism disorder was resolved and the level of inflammatory proteins was reduced. This suggests that the toxins were a contributor to the tumor-related metabolic disorder. The study also indicates a connection between gut microbe metabolism, inflammation, and metabolic disorders, and that modifying the diet (by consuming nutmeg, for example) to affect the gut microbiome and lipid metabolism might help in preventing colon cancer.

Nutmeg seeds and extracts also have been shown in multiple studies to have antioxidant activity. This effect is due to its chemical constituents beta-caryophyllene, eugenol, caffic acid, catechin, among others. Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activity of Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) reported, “After absorption into the body, nutmeg seed lignans and their glycosides are metabolized to produce biologically active compounds containing the catechol structure, which could account for the high antioxidant potential of the nutmeg seeds…”

 

Microbiotic Kitchen uses just a small amount of nutmeg in its shake bases since in large doses it can have a psychoactive effect.

What is it?

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is an evergreen tree native to Asia, Africa, Pacific islands, and America. Mostly nutmeg contains terpenes and phenylpropenes, though its composition does vary depending upon growing conditions. It has a number of nutrients, including fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, zinc, and iron.

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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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Cocoa

What are its benefits?

Cocoa is a treat for our taste buds, and because it is rich in antioxidant flavonols and polyphenols, cocoa also is a real treat for our microbiome. It feeds the organisms that can ferment cocoa fiber into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetic acid that help to fend off harmful microbes and reinforce the gut barrier against antigens and invaders. The polyphenols found in cocoa enhance the growth of other beneficial gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, while reducing the number of pathogenic ones, such as Clostridium perfringens.

 

Studies on cocoa point to additional benefits:

  • Cocoa has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. A study of animals that were fed a high-cocoa diet noted that expression of inflammatory markers was reduced. Another study concluded that the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been associated with anti-inflammatory processes in our intestines, which can help keep the gut healthy.
  • Cocoa is thought to be good for the heart because of fermentation by gut bacteria, creating anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function, including arterial flow. It is known that plant polyphenols promote vasodilating factors such as nitric oxide, and cocoa is one of many foods that can increase the production of endothelial nitric oxide.
  • Cocoa has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. A 2014 study showed that the polyphenols in chocolate improved insulin sensitivity even in people who did not have diabetes.

What is it?

Cocoa is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao. It can be made into a variety of forms.

  • Cocoa liquor is a paste made from ground, roasted, shelled, and fermented cocoa beans, called nibs. It contains both nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
  • Cocoa powder is made by removing some of the cocoa butter from the liquor, leaving nonfat cocoa solids.

Nutritionally, cocoa powder provides:

  • Lots of fiber and protein
  • B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, thiamin)
  • Minerals (manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium)

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