A sensational salad recipe
Gut health is a hot topic these days. And rightly so. Did you know that you have approximately 38 trillion microbial cells living in your gut? Cell-for-cell, that makes you about 50% human, and 50% microbe!
This ecosystem of microbes living in your large intestine (AKA your gut microbiota) plays an active role in the maintenance of health, and prevention of disease.
The 'good' microbes are health-promoting, and we have a mutually beneficial
relationship with them; we feed them, and in return, they do good things for us. They protect us from harmful pathogens that cause sickness, maintain the gut barrier, train the immune system, and contribute to many of our metabolic functions through the production of metabolites called short-chain fatty acids.
Whereas the 'bad' microbes have been implicated in a wide range of chronic illnesses, from the more obvious gastrointestinal illnesses to metabolic conditions, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.
While this is a relatively new and evolving area of research, and we don’t yet know the full extent of the functions the microbiota is involved in, what we do know is that a more diverse range of gut microbes is associated with better health.
So, how can you diversify your gut microbiota? Simply put: eat a wider variety of plants!
The key to microbial diversity in the gut is plant diversity on the plate. Gut health experts recommend that we aim to eat 30 different plants each week. This comes from research done by the American Gut Project, which found that people who ate
more than 30 unique plant foods each week had a more diverse range of gut microbes than those who ate fewer than 10.
What counts? Each fruit, vegetable, whole grain, legume, nut, seed, and even herbs and spices that you eat will score you a plant point, so it’s actually easier than you might think to hit the target.
This quick and easy salad is a stealthy way to sneak more plants into your diet. It’s an excellent meal-prep option, making it a good choice for your lunchbox, and the bright colours ensure it’s appealing to kids. It’s a sensational salad the whole family will enjoy.
For the salad
- 100g dry quinoa*
- 150g edamame beans, shelled (frozen or fresh)
- 1 small red pepper, deseeded and diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 3 spring onions, washed and sliced
- Half a cucumber, washed and diced
- 100g red cabbage, washed and sliced thinly
- 1 avocado, peeled, deseeded, and diced
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- Coriander cress (or fresh coriander)
For the dressing
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 tbsp chilli oil (or cold-pressed rapeseed oil if you don’t want it spicy)
- 1/2 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
*You can use a 250g pouch of ready-to-eat quinoa, available in most supermarkets.
- Pop the quinoa into a sieve and rinse under running water for 30 seconds. Drain well, then add to a small saucepan with 250ml water. Bring the pan to a boil, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to steam for a further 5 minutes, before fluffing with a fork. All the water should be absorbed.
- While the quinoa cooks, boil the edamame according to package instructions (usually 3-5 minutes, depending on whether you’re using fresh or frozen). Once cooked, drain, and set aside to cool.
- Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk (or add them to a jar and give it a good shake).
- Allow the quinoa to cool for 30 minutes before adding it to a mixing bowl with the cooked edamame and chopped vegetables.
- Toss with the dressing, top with the sesame seeds and coriander cress, and enjoy!
This salad keeps well in the fridge for 3 days. I recommend adding the dressing and avocado just before eating to prevent the salad from going soggy, and the avocado from browning.
The healthy bit
We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but we can easily fall into the trap of eating the same ones, week-in, week-out. Making a conscious effort to diversify the plant foods in your diet will help you not only nourish your gut microbes, but also increase the variety of essential nutrients you’re eating.
Take this salad, for example, red pepper is high in vitamin C, while carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, and onions contain prebiotic fibre that your good gut microbes are particularly partial to. Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K, as well as being about 95% water – so great to keep you hydrated – and red cabbage provides impressive nutritional bang for your buck, with one of the highest densities of antioxidants per (monetary) pound.
Then there’s avocado, with its admirable healthy fat content and punch of potassium, as well as vitamins E, K and B9 (folate). Quinoa and edamame are both great sources of plant-based protein and are equally rich in various minerals including iron, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
This salad is also packed with fibre, which your gut microbes thrive on!
While the advice to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day still stands, eating 30 unique plants a week is your new North Star. It’s like five-a-day, but turbo-charged for optimal gut health.
This recipe was originally published in Happiful magazine, June 2022.