Just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter a day can improve your gut health

A peanut a day keeps the doctor away, according to new research. Peanuts, herbs and spices, even in small amounts, benefit the diversity of our gut bacteria, writes Anna Bartter. 

Many of us are increasingly aware of the link between our gut health and our overallwellbeing. Fromgut diversity to the role the microbiome plays in stress management, we’re all trying to maintain a healthy gut. And new research shows that even small changes can have a positive impact on gut health, and that can be as little as including around 28g of peanuts and around a teaspoon of herbs and spices in your daily diet. 

What is our gut microbiome?

A quick refresher on the gut, for anyone who needs it. “The microbiome is arguably at the centre of human health and biological processes,” explains nutritionist Sam Gold. “The gut microbiome refers to all the microbes in your intestines that are both helpful and potentially harmful. In a healthy body, these microbiotas coexist easily. But if there is a disturbance in the balance of bacteria, as a result of infectious illnesses, certain diets, lack of nutrition or the prolonged use of antibiotics or other bacteria-destroying medications, the body may become more susceptible to disease.”

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Put simply, there can be too much of a good thing. An excess of ‘good’ bacteria creates an immature immune system that can’t recognise or fight off invaders, while an overload of ‘bad’ bacteria has been shown to weaken the gut wall, giving nasties a weak spot through which they can invade our system.

And while our gut microbiome is as unique and individual as our fingerprints, the key to a healthy and well-functioning microbiome is universal: diversity. Anything that increases the amount and range of flora in the gut will be beneficial, and experts are aligned in advising that we eat at least 30 different plant-based foods a week.

The benefits of diverse and healthy gut flora are plentiful, from healthy skin and regular bowel movements to improved mood and stronger immunity. At this time of year, we could all do with a dose of cold-busting immunity and, according to the research, it’s pretty straightforward to achieve.     

How do peanuts help?

Scientists from Evan Pugh University in the US conducted research into the effects of eating 28g (approximately an ounce) of peanuts per day, compared with snacking on crackers and cheese. The six-week study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, revealed that “participants who ate the peanut snack showed an increased abundance of ruminococcaceae, a group of bacteria linked to healthy liver metabolism and immune function”.

Anna Mapson, nutritional therapist and owner of Goodness Me Nutrition, believes that the benefits could be down to different types of fibre: “The two snacks were matched for fibre, but the changes with the peanut intervention could be related to the types of fibre that were introduced. If participants were already eating sufficient fibre from wheat, then the addition of peanuts could be a new fibre for the gut microbes.”

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Mapson goes on to explain that “the gut bacteria species roseburia and ruminococcaceae were increased in the peanut intervention, and these are fibre degrading bacteria which create short chain fatty acids, beneficial for our gut cells. Peanuts can be eaten as a snack, but also include other nuts such as walnuts, pistachio and almonds, which have also been shown to improve gut health.”

Herbs and spices are good too

A separate study, published in The Journal Of Nutrition, examined the impact of adding herbs and spices to the diets of people at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Cinnamon, rosemary, ginger, turmeric and basil, among others, were given to participants in varying doses over four weeks. They showed an increase in gut bacteria diversity at the end of the study, particularly at doses of a teaspoon or more.

“Adding some herbs to your meals not only makes things more interesting but also helps add diversity to your diet,” agrees Mapson. “Use handfuls of fresh green herbs like coriander, parsley or mint to add flavour to roasted vegetables or warm salads with cooked mixed grains and lentils. Boost your omelettes with peppers, mushrooms and spinach – adding variety to our diet has so many benefits.”

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How to make gut-healthy tweaks toyour everyday diet

The research shows even small amounts can have a big impact, meaning it’s relatively simple to incorporate these changes into our everyday meal planning. Gold recommends that you “sprinkle herbs over salads, add to smoothies and always cook with spices and herbs to add depth of flavour to dishes. Spread some peanut butter onto some sliced apples, pears or bananas for a healthy snack.”

Mapson agrees: “Use dried herbs in curries and chillis to add extra flavours. You can also use dried herbs to make digestive-calming tea by steeping fennel seeds in hot water. Add spices like cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg to your porridge for a warming morning treat.”

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Remember variety is key

Mapson extols the virtues of a varied and interesting food map, saying: “I love this approach to health, about adding more foods in, rather than cutting food groups out. In this case, more is more: mix up your standard fruits and vegetables by trying a new type and switch out wheat-based carbohydrates for other grains like spelt, rice, rye or quinoa.”

So go ahead, dive into that jar of peanut butter – your gut will thank you for it. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether the Snickers in your tub of Celebrations counts, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Images: Getty

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