Every year, a few new superfoods make their way into our kitchens and our recipes. While coconut oil, chia seeds and kale may have been the stars of years past, the following newcomers are finding their way into our healthy eating palates and are becoming more widely available.
On the heels of what I am calling, the "year of the gut," kefir sits at the top of the list for superfood for gut and overall health. Used initially by the people of the Northern Caucasus mountains, kefir grains were thought to be blessed and were used to mix with milk or water as the nomads of this region traveled from place to place. Kefir, usually a fermented dairy drink, spread in popularity through Eastern Europe, with stories of the fabled drink healing everything from tuberculosis to stomach disease. It was used extensively in the hospitals of Eastern Europe and Russia to heal the sick.
Kefir contains live active cultures, making it a probiotic rich food that can help balance the microbiology of the belly. Kefir can be easy to digest, since it has a smaller curd than yogurt, and is safe for pregnant and nursing moms. Many of my patients report improvement in bloating, abdominal pain or constipation after using kefir. There are non-dairy versions of this drink as well, with many people making their own water kefir or coconut milk kefir.
Ongoing research of kefir shows potential promise in using the drink in wound healing, stomach ulcers, infant reflux and many other conditions.
Another new star is kombucha, a fermented black tea originally from China. The first recorded use of kombucha was in 221 BC. It then traveled to Japan and spread to India and Eastern Europe. Kombucha was first made using a "mother" colony of bacteria from a mushroom, and then allowed to ferment and brew over time. The combination of sugar, tea and water was allowed to ferment resulting in a fizzy, bacteria laden drink, rich in good bacteria and high in glucaric acid. Recent studies show the benefits of kombucha in key functional processes in the body; oxygenation, detoxification and inflammation. Kombucha also boosts glucosamine and hyaluronic acid production, helping to keep your joints mobile and your skin glowing!
I had heard about ghee from my family long before I became a physician. A tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, I abhorred ghee knowing it was a saturated fat and attributing it as a direct cause of the excess weight within my extended family. After years of education and medical practice, I have finally learned that ghee is a healthy fat with a higher smoke point than olive oil or butter. It also much easier to digest.
In the process of making ghee, the milk solids are removed taking away the casein and lactose that most people with dairy issues cannot tolerate. Ghee is also a short chained fatty acid with higher amount of medium chain triglycerides that help both the gut and the brain, while the butyric acid produced by ghee helps good bacteria populate the gut.
4. Bone Broth
With bone broth now available in some cities "to go", this ancient healing food has found a resurgence. A tenet of Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, bone broth, created from simmering meat on a bone for hours, provides another rich source of good bacteria for a weak and depleted gut. Bone broths can be made from chicken, beef or lamb bones and older systems of medicine believed that the marrow contained the key ingredients for healing. The jelly like mass produced while making bone broth contains the important amino acids arginine and glycine, while also boosting collagen production, important for great skin and hair.
5. Coconut Flour
With the number of gluten and wheat intolerant patients rising, the search for an alternative flour has uncovered the merits of coconut flour. Coconut flour contains more fiber than the average wheat based flour — a whopping 5 grams per serving compared to .8 grams! This increase in fiber helps bulks up stools and keeps blood sugar levels stable, helping to lower the risk for inflammation.
Coconut flour also contains lauric acid, a healthy saturated fat that can help with gut bacterial balance and healthy skin and hair. The ability of coconut flour to shift lipid markers in recent studies adds to its credo as a 2015 superfood.