According to two separate studies from Penn State University in the United States, a handful of peanuts and a few pinches of herbs and spices could give your gut a boost.
There are billions of individual microorganisms living in the human stomach and intestines, including hundreds to thousands of species of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Collectively, they are known as the gut microbiota and are so important to our health that scientists consider them a supporting organ.
Diet, exercise and medications are just some of the factors that can influence the composition of a person’s gut, which means that each individual’s gut community is unique.
If your gut microbiota is not nurtured and properly nourished, harmful microbes can proliferate, while synbiotics have a harder time performing tasks such as managing our immune system and breaking down our food.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what characteristics characterize the healthiest gut communities, but as research progresses, they’re starting to get a better idea.
“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health and better diets than those who don’t have a lot of bacterial diversity,” says nutritionist Penny M. Kris-Etherton.
While we generally think of diets in terms of their fundamentals, like green vegetables and meats, a considerable amount of variation in our cultural and personal preferences comes down to how we add spice to our meals.
Kris-Etherton and his colleagues at Penn State are among the first to study the effect of herbs and spices on the composition of the human gut.
In their study, 54 adult participants at risk for cardiovascular disease participated in a four-week randomized controlled feeding experiment.
During the trial, everyone stuck to the same general menu, which was designed to reflect the average American diet. Some participants were asked to add 0.5 grams (about 0.2 ounces) of spices to their meals, while others were asked to add 3.3 grams or 6.6 grams.
The spice mix included cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme. A control group, meanwhile, was asked not to put any of these spices in their food.
Fecal samples taken before and after the experiment reveal that diets containing more spices tend to show greater bacterial diversity.
“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” says Kris-Etherton.
“The average American diet is far from ideal, so I think everyone could benefit from adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way to reduce the sodium in your diet but to flavor food in a way that makes it appetizing and, in fact, delicious!”
The new findings support recent research that suggests herbs and spices are a natural prebiotic that feed healthy bacteria in the human gut.
In 2019, a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot study found that a 5-gram capsule of a spice blend, containing cinnamon, oregano, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, triggered changes in the gut microbiome observed. in a few weeks.
In the most recent study, however, the spice blend was slightly different and incorporated directly into participants’ daily meals.
Those who ate meals with medium and high amounts of spices, equivalent to about 3/4 teaspoon per day and about 1 1/2 teaspoons per day, showed a greater abundance of gut bacteria called Ruminococcaceae. This family of microbes is generally found in greatest numbers in healthy adult humans, although its exact role in the gut is uncertain.
Participants who ate spices in the study also showed lower numbers of pro-inflammatory molecules in the gut, indicating a possible anti-inflammatory effect.
More research is needed to determine exactly which spices affect gut microbes and why, but this isn’t the only dietary supplement that appears to boost certain gut bacteria.
A recent randomized controlled trial, also from Penn State, recently investigated the effect of peanuts on the microbiota for the first time.
The study took place over six weeks and included 50 adults all on the same daily diet. At the end of each day, after dinner but before bed, participants ate either 28 grams of dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts or a small sample of cheese and crackers.
In the nut munching group, as with spices in the previous study, Ruminococcaceae bacteria were significantly more abundant in the participants’ guts at the end of the study.
There’s still so much about the gut microbiome that scientists don’t understand, but for now, adding a pinch of spice to your diet probably won’t hurt. – and it might even help. If nothing else, it will add some flavor.
The spice study was published in The Nutrition Diaryand the peanut study was published in Clinical nutrition.
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