For those doing a low carb diet, adding in some gut healthy foods is a good idea. Often, a low carb diet can devolve in to a meat-only orgy of sausage, beef, and eggs.
Not that those foods can’t be a part of a healthy overall eating plan. They certainly can. I eat all of the above on a regular basis.
But be that as it may, if gut health is important to you, spreading some love to foods of the plant kingdom is a good idea. Plants contain numerous nutrients not found in meat that are beneficial to your gut.
Additionally, components such as polyphenols, fiber, and butyrate-producing amino acids have beneficial effects on the gut. We covered the various butyrate-producing aminos in a blog you can check out here.
In today’s blog, we discuss some plant-based gut healthy foods that fit nicely into a low carb eating pattern. At the end, you’ll learn why we focused on plant-based foods, specifically with regard to butyrate-producing amino acids.
Gut healthy foods from the kingdom Plantae
Serving size-1/2 cup 95cals Carbs-8g(4g net) Fiber-4g Protein-8g Butyrate-producing aminos-3.6g
Also high in: Vitamin K(25%), Folate(60%), Choline(8%), Magnesium(12%)
Soy often gets a bad rap in the low carb community. Many times, people moving into a low carb diet are coming from diets that eliminate soy such as Paleo or AIP. But look at the diversity of nutrients in soy.
Soy is often nixed from these diets because it is potentially immunogenic. This is based on the notion that soy is a common allergy.
While it’s true that some people have a soy allergy, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for you. Many people have an egg allergy, but low carbers eat them up. Find what works for you and stick with that.
An additional concern for men is that phytoestrogens in soy could increase estrogen or decrease testosterone. Recent studies in humans showed this really doesn’t happen. Check those out here and here.
Ultimately, soy is loaded with high quality protein, fiber, magnesium, vitamin K and folate. Furthermore, the phytoestrogens that everyone is concerned about are not that bioavailable. This means they stick around in the gut where they can do some cool things like bolster beneficial microbes.
But keep in mind, some of these benefits may depend on your personal microbiome.
Consume edamame on its own, in salads, or as part of a stir fry. Fermented forms of soy such as tofu and tempeh are also good options with the added benefit of containing beneficial microbes and vitamin K2.
Serving size-2 tbsp 137cals Carbs-12g(2g net) Fiber-10g Protein-4.4g Butyrate-producing aminos-1.9g
Also high in: Omega 3 FAs(4.9g), Calcium (18%)
Chia seeds are one of the less controversial gut healthy foods. Many people have no problem consuming them, they just rarely come to mind when you think of food.
But take a look at that nutrient profile: Only 2g of net carbs, 10g of fiber, and pretty high in omega-3 fatty acids. Though, it’s important to point out that we convert plant-based forms of Omega-3s into the useful type at a very low rate(~5%).
A particular bonus with chia seeds for the low carb crowd is their calcium content. Low carb diets, specifically those that eschew dairy, are often low in calcium. Grind or mill your chia seeds to make the calcium and other nutrients more bioavailable.
Add chia seeds to fruit bowls, parfait bowls, or make a pudding after letting the seeds sit in water.
Serving size-2 tbsp 75cals Carbs-4g(0 net) Fiber-3.8g Protein-3g Butyrate-producing aminos-0.6g
Also high in: Omega 3 FAs(1.6g), Magnesium(7%)
Flaxseeds are another add on to foods that can provide significant benefit to the gut. They are high fiber, low net carb, and have a treasure trove of benefits to human health.
Human studies find beneficial effects of flaxseed consumption on type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and multiple types of cancer. There are also studies showing beneficial effects on functional gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation and colon cancer.
The best way to prepare flaxseeds is to purchase them whole and mill them as you use them in dishes. This makes the nutrients more bioavailable and reduces the risk of oxidation of the PUFAs it contains.
To read more on the benefits of flaxseeds on human health, check out this review.
Serving size-1/4 cup 187cals Carbs 6g(5g net) Fiber-1g Protein-8.5g Butyrate-producing aminos-3.7g
Also high in: Vit K(22%), Iron(29%), Magnesium(46%), Phosphorus(40%), Zinc(17%), Copper(24%), Manganese(52%)
Pumpkin seeds are one of nature’s most potent sources of magnesium. A single serving of pumpkin seeds provides 46% of your daily magnesium needs. they’re also a great source of protein that contains a heavy dose of amino acids your microbiome converts to butyrate.
Pumpkin seeds are also high in various polyphenols that produce antioxidant effects. Additionally, one study found that pumpkin seeds inhibit calcium-oxalate crystal formation in children.
One property of pumpkin seeds that may give people hesitation is their high content of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Unfortunately, there’s a common myth spread across the low carb community that omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory to humans.
Part of this theoretical problem is the conversion of Omega-6 fatty acids to arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid(AA) is a precursor to pro-inflammatory eiconasoids. In rodents, this increases inflammation.
Fortunately, we’re not rodents. And studies in humans show this simply doesn’t happen. One review finds no evidence that consuming linoleic acid(LA), the most abundant omega-6 fatty acid in our diet, increases tissue arachidonic acid. Even when consuming a garbage Western diet.
Furthermore, higher serum levels of LA are associated with lower levels of the inflammatory marker CRP in men. And a tracer study found that less than 0.2% of LA is converted into AA in men.
Finally, the oft-cited Minnesota Coronary Experiment and Sydney Diet Heart Study that were dug up and reanalyzed were confounded because they used a corn oil high in trans fats known to cause cardiovascular disease.
So if you’re a mouse or rat reading this, it’s probably a good idea to avoid excess Omega-6 FAs. But if you’re a human, it’s probably not something you need to focus on in an otherwise healthy dietary pattern.
To read more on the health benefits of pumpkin seeds, check out this review.
Serving size-1 fruit 365cals Carbs-24g(7net) Fiber-17g Protein-7g Butyrate-producing aminos-2.9g
Also high in: MUFAs(17g), Vit C(88%), Vit E(40%), Folate(27%), Vit B5(28%), Magnesium(18%), Potassium(30%), Copper(47%)
Last but certainly not least on our list of gut healthy foods for a low carb diet is the humble avocado. Avocados are high in fiber, low in net carbs, and contain a significant dose of butyrate-producing amino acids. They’re are also high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fatty acids.
A recent study found that consuming avocados led to beneficial effects on the microbiome. This study found that those who consumed avocados had elevated levels of fecal short chain fatty acids and decreased levels of fecal bile acids.
Eat avocados in a salad, make a hippy tuna-fish with it, or just gobble them up on their own(Or maybe with a good dose of Everything but the Bagel seasoning.
Low carb diets are often meat heavy and ignore plant-based foods. But consuming plant-based foods that are also low in carbs can be of great benefit.
Plants contain nutrients such as polyphenols and fiber that you can’t get from meat. Furthermore, if one hopes to get the benefits from butyrate-producing amino acids, plants are a better option over meat.
Meat protein is more bioavailable to us, meaning we digest and absorb it more efficiently than plants. As a result, very little of it will make its way to the microbiome. Protein from plants, on the other hand, is harder to digest so it’s more likely to lead to butyrate production in the colon.
I like to think of the protein from animals being for me, and that undigested bit of protein from plants being for my microbiome. Add some plant-based gut healthy foods to your low carb diet to take your gut to the next level!