Unless you live in a coastal region, it’s likely that sea vegetables and other tropical plants don’t factor heavily in your regular diet.
And indeed, why would they?
In the past few years, you may have noticed these plants becoming trendy –popping up in health-food stores, in pre-packaged snack varieties, in bottled drinks you can get at the gas station.
Maybe you looked the other way! Maybe you tried them. Maybe they forged a new place in the heralded corner of your heart you reserve for your favorite munchies.
But it’s likely that you didn’t realize these plant-based goodies all have something very important in common…
They can all have a positive and restorative effect on the functionality of your digestive system and the diversity of your gut’s microbiome.
Our Western diets largely don’t consist of gut-friendly foods — here, we’re wheat heavy, dairy heavy, mammalian byproduct heavy, and certainly processed-food heavy.
We’re also less than 250 years old – as a country. We don’t have the same generational influence on traditional foods as countries with much longer histories.
In America, the focus isn’t on eating bioavailable foods. The focus is on manipulating the environment to produce the foods we want to sell and consume. (Otherwise, you’d think we’d see a lot more bison in our diets.)
For millennia, various cultures around the world have been using seaweed, aloe vera, and algae for health purposes…
But for today’s inquiry, we’re going to focus on what they can do for your gut.
Seaweed and the Gut
Let’s consider a few things about seaweed…
First of all, it’s a form of algae. It grows on rocky shorelines and is most commonly eaten in Asian cuisine.
However, you’ll notice that it’s not piled onto dishes the way we include kale, lettuce, and other greens here in the west.
That’s because it’s incredibly nutrient-dense. A little of it makes a huge difference. That’s why it’s often used to wrap sushi, float in ramen, fill up smoothies, and top salads.
Specifically, as it relates to the gut, seaweed's dry weight is made up of 25–75% fiber.
That’s much more than the average vegetable. In fact, 100 grams of seaweed (3.5 ounces) provides between 14 and 35% of your recommended daily intake of fiber.
We know that fiber is a powerful tool in regulating gut health. Since fiber cannot be broken down in the body, it serves to keep bowel movements operating with regularity as well as to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.
But that’s not the only reason seaweed is a boon for gut health. Seaweed contains sulfated polysaccharides, which are a special kind of sugar.
These sugars help populations of beneficial bacteria grow, while also aiding in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that support the health of intestinal lining cells.
Finally, seaweed (nori, in particular) contains a carbohydrate called porphyran. For those unused to porphyran, it’s almost impossible to absorb — our microbiomes just don’t know how to.
However, a new study from Stanford shows that simply including more porphyran-rich seaweed in our diets trains the microbiome to absorb and digest those nutrients.
And aloe vera? We’ve known for millennia how useful it can be.
Aloe Vera — Not Just for Sunburn
You’ve probably been using aloe vera your entire life to treat topical maladies like sunburn.
Although its origins have been the source of some debate, recent research suggests it hails from the Arabian peninsula. Because it grew naturally along a popular trade route, it traveled widely and was used in traditional Ayurvedic medicinal practices in India.
But its recognition as a gut-healer is relatively new.
Because the properties in aloe vera juice help produce mucosal secretions, it’s credited with repairing tears in the intestinal membrane.
Its pulp, contained within the leathery leaves, has more than 200 biologically active compounds, many of which help to relieve spasms, act as natural laxatives, and soothe inflammation, offering relief to those suffering from IBS and other GI issues.
The biodiversity of this world is unfathomable.
And the truth is, most of what ails us can be treated with nutrient-dense plants all over the planet.
If your diet previously didn’t include seaweed or aloe vera, consider introducing them in the form of juices, smoothies, salads, soups, and culturally diverse dishes!
Your gut will certainly thank you for it.
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