Despite prebiotics being much more effective at improving and maintaining gut health (our ‘second brain’), probiotics are all you ever hear about. Not only are bottled probiotics a 77 billion dollar industry and can fund all the studies they want, so you’re constantly hounded by the benefits of taking probiotics, we also live in a consumer culture where people want to take the backseat and rely heavily on products/consumable goods to solve all their woes; where the more expensive something is, the more we want it and the better we assume it’ll work by default. When you tell people to eat a lot more fiber (like a lot lot more), the cheapest foods on earth, and to avoid animal products and sugar as much as possible they’ll likely lose all the interest in gut health they had when they thought it was just related to drinking expensive fermented beverages. Potato starch, or green banana flour, will never have the kind of industry that bottled probiotics do. While probiotics and (to some extent) fermented foods can be helpful after rounds of antibiotics, in general they’re more or less useless and focusing instead on proliferating the bacteria that’s already inside you, feeding it so it can feed you, is the real game changer.
The type of prebiotic I loaded up this gut health forward, vegan queso with is resistant starch. Resistant starch isn’t digested in the small intestine (and therefore also doesn’t raise glucose) so they make it all the way to the large intestine where they are fermented, feeding our good bacteria and increasing microbial diversity. While this queso is really healthy, above all it’s just super, super tasty and satisfying. A large portion of my diet growing up was some form of chips + cheese so I’m really familiar with all sorts of quesos and this one is perfect, something you’d still finish the whole bowl of even if it were unhealthy because it’s just that good. I served this alongside cassava flour tortillas (also really high in resistant starch!) which are mind-blowingly good fresh.
The western diet is starving our microbiomes, which run on fiber, leading to dysbiosis (an imbalance where bad bacteria takes over) and increasing our susceptibility to inflammatory diseases, insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes, hypertension, a weakened immune system, Alzheimer’s, allergies, liver disease, autoimmune diseases and anxiety. 95% of Americans don’t get enough fiber – and that’s just at the recommended daily value of 25g per day! That is already ridiculously low considering humans evolved over millions and millions of years eating 100g per day, it’s only been in the last blink of an eye that we’ve been consuming next to no fiber whatsoever. When ramping up your fiber intake, it’s best to do so slowly. Bloating/discomfort/gas is a sign that you consume so little fiber it’s now foreign to your body. Some tips for going from ~15g a day closer to 70g+ is to consume digestive bitters before and after a meal, prepare your food with lots of spices like ginger, fennel, mustard seed and chase your meal with a cup of peppermint or licorice root tea.
You can use just one of the starches (potato or tapioca), but plant diversity is the key to a healthy gut! Aim for at least 30 different plant varieties/week. People on the human microbiome forums I’m on that eat ridiculous low carb diets see massive improvements by just adding a teaspoon of potato starch to their diet.
Gut Health Vegan Queso
(serves 5 well)
1 cup boiled potato
3/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup oats
1.5 cups boiling water
1/4 cup diced roasted hatch chilis (or any pepper of choice)
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp tapioca starch
2 tbsp potato starch
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground flax
1 tbsp light miso
*for a lower fat/higher fiber version, you can replace some of the raw cashews with an extra oats
*to triple the resistant starch in potatoes, boil then cool overnight in the fridge. I like to make a huge batch at once to grab from throughout the week.
Add all ingredients to a blender cup and blend until smooth, at least 1 minute. Serve immediately.
Cassava Flour Tortillas
(makes 12 street taco sized tortillas)
1 cup cassava flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp warm water
Mix the dry ingredients then pour in the warm water and mix well, forming a tight dough ball. Roll a small piece, slightly less than 2 tbsp, into a ball. Press using a tortilla press between two pieces of parchment paper, then cook over medium heat 1 minute per side in a skillet with no oil.