When it comes to supporting our gut health, one easy way is by making positive choices with what we eat. In terms of our microbiome, balance and diversity is key. This ensures that the food we eat supplies a plethora of beneficial microbes and nutrients.
Thinking more specifically, some key elements that add diversity and other benefits to our gut include:
Both animal-based and plant-based proteins have been shown across several studies to increase microbiome diversity (plant & animal proteins increase different kinds of bacteria), though animal-based proteins contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.
Compared to unsaturated fats or a low fat diet, saturated fats such as coconut oil or butter have been observed to increase Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, a bacteria that appears to promote gut health including reducing intestinal disorders in some studies. Unsaturated fats may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, however, so it is best to consume these in moderation.
Digestible carbohydrates (natural sugars):
Digestible carbs are broken down in the small intestine and include glucose, fructose, sucrose, and lactose. Consumption of foods with natural sugar such as fruit and dairy show increases in Bifidobacteria, a type of bacteria that can modulate the gut by preventing inflammation, while also decreasing the population of Clostridia species, a group of bacteria commonly associated with C. difficile.
Unlike digestible carbs, non-digestible carbs undergo fermentation in the large intestine. This type of carb increases the population of a handful of microbes, and it also plays an important supporting role by provide gut microbes with energy and carbon. Non-digestible carbs may also be called prebiotics, and work hand-in-hand with their well-known partner, probiotics.
Probiotics are fermented, making them rich in beneficial microbes. Like non-digestible carbs, probiotics also play a supporting role for the existing microbiome including regulating gut inflammation. Probiotics also decrease counts of harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Helicobacter pylori
Polyphenols, known for their antioxidant properties, have been shown to increase counts of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Polyphenols also have documented gut health benefits such as immune-modulation and inflammatory bowel disease management.
For this recipe, the name of the game is diversity of nutrients. The components of this recipe offer some of these key elements; with the peppers, for example, the plant-based meat (or actual meat depending on your choice) as well as the black beans add protein. The black beans also act as a source of non-digestible, fiber rich carbohydrates. Additionally, the avocado crema contains probiotics from the greek yogurt (yogurt is also protein!).
One last thing before you get to the recipe; for me, the joy of cooking is in experimenting with tastes and textures, which means I am all about improvisation when it comes to recipes. Love onions? Throw some more in your filling! Want spice? Add in a chopped jalapeno or cayenne! Don’t love if your peppers are still a little crunchy? Keep them in the oven longer! The point is, this recipe makes it easy to personalize to your own tastes, and I encourage you to do so.
4-6 bell peppers, any color
1 package vegetarian ground meat or preferred ground meat
1 can black beans
¾ to 1 cup uncooked brown Rice
½ to 1 whole red onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 package taco seasoning or your favorite taco seasonings (I used salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder)
Salsa, shredded cheese, or any other mix-ins you would like.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a baking dish.
Prepare sauces so their flavors can meld while you are making the peppers. For the crema, combine everything in a food processor or blender. For a smoother crema, strain through a mesh strainer or sieve to remove any remaining bits of avocado. Then, refrigerate the mixture.
For the chimichurri, combine everything in a food processor or blender (cleaned after using the crema) and blend until a pesto-like sauce is made. For a stronger taste, add more garlic, lime juice, or salt. If you are working with a small blender, add the ingredients in batches. Pour into a container or jar and refrigerate as well.
Slice the tops off the peppers and remove the ribs and seeds inside.
Place the peppers cut side down in the baking dish. Bake until peppers are mostly cooked, about 20-25 minutes.
While the peppers are cooking, prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
Once hot, add onion and minced garlic, and cook until fragrant and onions are slightly translucent, but do not brown.
Add the ground beef or meat substitute and season to taste, then cook until meat is cooked or until meat substitute is warmed and the onions are soft.
In a large mixing bowl, add rice, beans, and salsa in desired proportions. Season as desired. Stir to combine. You can taste this mixture along the way to adjust the ingredients or seasonings to your liking.
Remove the peppers from the oven and turn the peppers over. Fill each one with the mixture and place back in the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, topping with shredded cheese in the last couple minutes. Bake until peppers are softened and cheese is melted.
Once out of the oven, cool for a few minutes, then top with avocado crema and chimichurri. If you opted not to make these sauces, top with sour cream, salsa, or fresh herbs.
More Info on the link between diet & gut microbiome: