Tuesday, July 29, 2014

PREbiotics—Living on the Right Side of the Tract

Plain white rice is what I often crave—its sweet, earthy fragrance as it steams, soft texture and mildly sweet flavor.
There are so many varieties of white rice: arborio, jasmine, basmati, long grain, short grain, sweet sticky rice—I love them all. Yet we’ve all been told to shun these for their lack of nutrition. White rice is a whole grain that’s been polished to the remove the hull, bran and germ—bran and germ have the most nutrition. Removing the hull and bran prevents spoilage, but much nutrition is lost. A prolonged diet of mostly plain white rice will lead to a neurological disease called beriberi, which is due to a thiamine (B1) deficiency. This is well documented in countries where starvation has left people with nothing more than white rice to sustain themselves during times of war and famine.

Aside from whole grain rice, a healthier option is converted rice (parboiled rice) which is unhulled brown or yellow rice that has been soaked and dry-steamed forcing vitamins and minerals into the body of starch, after which it is polished. This is not to be confused with “enriched rice” which is polished rice treated with powdered vitamins at packaging. 

Most grains and legumes are NOT digestible by nature. They contain phytic acid, saponin and lectin— anti nutrients which prevent our digestive system from absorbing minerals and nutrition. Thus, followers of the Paleo Diet say NAY to beans and grain. But hold your horses, haven’t whole civilizations survived on rice and bean dishes for centuries? The solution is to soak dried rice or beans in water with a little salt, allowing them to slightly ferment overnight. After soaking, rinsing and cooking most of the anti nutrients are broken down.

Cheap good eats have kept much of this world alive. But most importantly they are delicious and nutritious—rice and bean dishes form a simple, complete protein. For people with celiac disease and vegetarians it’s a safe go-to meal that’s easy to make. One jazz legend even signed his letters, praising one of his favorite food: “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours, Louis Armstrong.”

Nice and cold right out of the fridge—kimchee potato salad has both prebiotics and probiotics.


The Prebiotic Precedes a Probiotic
Kimchee is probiotically delicious!
Now enter the recent discovery of prebiotics—a substance that precedes and facilitates an environment that supports organisms. It’s a term that astronomers use to describe an environment in outer space that may potentially be the precursor of life forms.

Gastrointestinally speaking, undigested fiber compounds from plants that bypass the upper intestinal tract collect to form a substrate for probiotic fauna in the colon; bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria ferment and manufacture fatty acids which are then absorbed by the body as nutrients; this is how we metabolize vitamins K, B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine) and B2 (riboflavin) from vegetables. In 1995, probiotic foods were first identified and named by Marcel Roberfroid, a French Professor Emeritus of pharmaceutical medicine. Prebiotics set the stage for probiotic foods—kimchee, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, crock pickles, cultured yogurt, cheese, et cetera; they also nourish the beneficial microfauna that already inhabit our digestive tract. This complex gut-garden is the body’s microbiome.

Raw garlic is rich in prebiotic fiber.
Short-chain prebiotic fibers (oligofructose) are fermented by colonic bacteria in the [ascending] right side of the colon—long-chain prebiotic fibers (inulin) feed beneficial gut bacteria in the [descending] left side. A full-spectrum prebiotic (inulinFOS) feeds both sides of the bowel. Prebioitcs are available in foods we already eat; Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leek and asparagus when eaten raw are good sources of prebiotic-soluble fibers. Cooking will weaken the bond of fibers rendering them less effective. Studies are ongoing as to how our internal organisms react with different prebiotics, but their activity has been proven to be directly responsible for contributing to and maintaining the health of our immune system.

New research has shown that resistant starch, a prebiotic carbohydrate, does not break down into glucose. We have many sources in our daily diet such as green beans, potatoes and rice—cooked and then refrigerated. Heating and cooling changes the molecular structure of carbohydrates; this process is called retrogradation. Resistant starch can be re-heated and cooled again without compromising the retrograded molecules. But cold starch is not as bland as it sounds; think of potato salad, rice or tapioca pudding, cold soba noodles, French green bean salad, red bean mochi, and sushi. Raw bananas are a great source, so is raw potato starch—add these to a smoothie for a boost.

Resistant starch is not the new age cure-all, it’s only a smaller piece of a complicated puzzle of the body’s microbiome. People with healthy gut function usually respond positively. Meanwhile people with a compromised gut might experience bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, heartburn and even malnutrition. These negative symptoms indicate a weaker microbiome—exemplified in the case of  inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis. In less severe cases, low doses of prebiotic supplements are sometimes administered on a regulated basis. One experimental treatment involves transplanting live bifidobacteria from a healthy person into the colon of a person who has a compromised lower intestinal tract. The process is very clinical, but controversial and frankly I find it a bit disturbing, so I won’t go into detail. Use your imagination and scream into your hands.

Probiotically speaking, I’ve never been a fan of brown rice, even in pudding form; brown rice pudding sticks to my... everything. I don’t like brown rice... there I said it. Cue in the screams of 1000 macro-vegans. Despite its higher nutritional value I have some difficulty digesting brown rice; it always makes me feel like I swallowed a brick. So I prefer white rice with my meals, cold or hot. Who knew that eating leftover fried rice right out of the fridge was actually a good thing? Thanks again to my brother Leo for his professional advice and expertise on pathology and anatomy... and all the butt jokes.

Kimchee fried rice made with leftover short grain rice, topped with an egg makes a lazy Sunday even more pleasant.

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