Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, and we are only starting to understand all the functions in relation to human health. We know that the friendly bacteria act in protecting the gut from the ‘bad bacteria’, otherwise known as pathogens. The bacteria also help in extracting nutrients and energy from our food, assist with the digestion of certain foods that the small intestine has not been able to digest, and have a role in maintaining a normal immune system. A healthy gut has been linked to decreased risk of obesity, insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), and may have a role in managing anxiety and depression. Given all the functions of the gut bacteria, some experts consider the gut bacteria a separate organ. So how do we make sure our gut is working at its fullest potential? Here are my top 3 tips to maximizing a healthy gut and a simple prebiotic smoothie bowl recipe with chickpeas to go along with it.
1) Eat More Prebiotics and Fibre Rich Foods
Prebiotics are natural non-digestible carbohydrate fibres that change the bacterial composition in the gut in a positive way. Not all dietary fibres have ‘prebiotic potential’ – to meet the criteria for a prebiotic fibre it must selectively grow beneficial bacteria when metabolized in the gut, whereas non-prebiotic fibres will not necessarily increase the number of beneficial bacteria. Some of the best sources of prebiotic foods include garlic, chicory root, leeks, artichoke, onion legumes (including chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans), chia and dandelion root (1). Bananas are also a good source of the prebiotic fibre inulin.
Tips to increase prebiotics: Add some legumes to your salad, and cook regularly with onion and garlic. Try a dandelion root latte (see recipe here).
Other non-prebiotic fibre foods are also important for gut health, and although they may not show a growth in beneficial bacteria they do provide food for our gut bacteria. When fibre enters our colon, the bacteria will feast on it creating a fermentation processes which releases beneficial metabolites including short-chain fatty acids. These have long been linked to improving immunity and decreasing inflammation.
Tips to increase fibre: Have at least 1 ½ cups cooked vegetables, or 3 cups of salad with lunch and dinner. Berries which have a high surface area of skin and many seeds are very high in fibre.
2) Have One Fermented Food or Probiotic Every Day
The live-active cultures in fermented food (which some refer to as probiotics) can selectively alter the gut environment to create a higher population of beneficial bacteria, achieving the same result as prebiotic foods. By crowding out the harmful bacteria, this can reduce inflammation by stimulating our immune system in a helpful manner. They also work to improve the barrier function of the gut, and by improving the integrity of our gut wall. Some of our best food sources of live-active cultures include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso paste, sour pickles (not vinegar pickles), kimchi, kombucha and apple cider vinegar. Make sure these foods are not pasteurized, or heated, as this process will kill off any of the beneficial bacteria.
Tips To Increase Intake of Fermented Foods: Add miso or unpasteruised apple cider vinegar to salad dressings (see my Tofu Salad Bowl here), or miso to salad dressings (see Japanase Salad Bowl with Tahini Ginger Dressing here). Make a Kefir Chia Pudding or have use yogurt in a Creamy Coleslaw.
3) Limit Stress In Your Life
The ability of stress to weaken our immune system is well recognized, and with 80% of our immune system living in our gut, too much stress can create a dysbiosis or imbalance of beneficial and ‘bad bacteria’. Stress has been linked to many illnesses including type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and obesity. The stress that affects our gut bacteria is not only isolated to a crazy work day, it also encompasses a poor diet, high in refined carbohydrates (2), artificial sweeteners (3), lack of sleep, and lack of self-care.
Tip to manage stress: Take time out for yourself, learn to say ‘no’, surround yourself with people who love you, spend time in nature, limit screen time, meditate, exercise and eat healthy whole-foods.
How To Make This Prebiotic Smoothie Bowl Recipe with Chickpeas
Research is coming out every day on the effects of the gut bacteria on human health. One thing that I suggest to all my clients is to include at least one fermented food per day, and at every meal and snack eat something that will also feed your gut bacteria. Below is a recipe I created specifically for stimulating a healthy gut. The banana, chia, and dandelion root are good sources of prebiotic fibres to stimulate the growth of more beneficial bacteria, while the berries and coconut offer additional fibre for our gut bacteria to feast on.
I used homemade coconut milk in this smoothie bowl recipe which is literally just blended down coconut flakes, nothing fancy. You have the option to strain the coconut milk to remove the pulp but I prefer to keep it in my smoothie, for both ease and added fibre. If you don’t have dandelion root don’t fret, it tastes just as good without it. For this recipe I used canned chickpeas in BPA-free cans, but even better if you can soak and boil your own. Check out my other smoothie bowl recipe, packed full of more greens then you could guess – Banana Free Greens Smoothie Bowl.
I served these smoothie bowls in the beautiful Coconut Bowls which are made from the recycled waste of coconuts used to make coconut oil, water and meat. By repurposing the coconut shells we are saving thousands of coconut shells from being burnt and reducing our CO2 and methane emissions.
Prebiotic Smoothie Bowl Recipe with Chickpeas
This simple recipe uses prebiotic rich chickpeas, dandelion root, chia seeds and banana to feed our friendly and grow our friendly bacteria. The added benefit of the fibre from the berries and coconut helps maximize the gut health-promoting properties of this tasty smoothie bowl.
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut unsweetened
- 1 cup water
- 3 tbsp hemp hearts
- 1 tsp dandelion root
- 2 large bananas frozen
- 1 cup blueberries or blackberries frozen
- 1/2 cup chickpeas cooked or canned and drained
- chia seeds
- hemp hearts
- fresh berries
First, to make the coconut milk blend the shredded coconut and the water in a high-speed blender until smooth. This coconut milk will have some residue, so you have the option to strain it here. I like to leave the leftover coconut residue in the smoothie for ease and to limit waste.
Add all the other ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth. You may need to use the blender mixing apparatus to make sure everything is completely blended and smooth. If the mixture seems too thin, add some more frozen berries or banana. If it is too thick add some more water.
Pour smoothie bowl mixture into two bowls. Top with desired ingredients.
Leftovers can be stored in a sealed container in the freezer. Let defrost slightly before eating.
Don't have chickpeas? Try with leftover white beans or navy beans
Don't like coconut? Use homemade or store-bought almond milk
Nutritional Information for Simple Prebiotic Smoothie Bowl Recipe with Chickpeas
Per 1 bowl topped with 1 tbsp hemp, 1 tbsp chia and 1/2 cup blueberries
Total Fat: 19.2g
References for Simple Prebiotic Smoothie Bowl with Chickpeas
1. The bifidogenic effect of Taraxacum officinale root (2004). Fitoterapia.
2. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health (2017). Journal of Translational Medicine
3. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. (2014). Nature