My husband and I recently had our microbiomes sequenced. The results and implications are fascinating. While working out way through the research on the human microbiome, as well as ancestral and hunter-gatherer diets, it became clear that dietary fiber, and resistant starch in particular plays a critical role in the health of the microflora in our guts.
Modern day hunter-gatherers consume as much as 150 grams of fiber a day, mostly as resistant starch while omnivores hover around 19 grams, paleo dieters around 23 grams and vegans who eat about 43 grams of fiber daily (read more here). On a typical day, as an omnivore who follows the principles of traditional foods pretty closely, I consume about 30 grams daily.
Post-microbiome sequencing, my husband and I decided to go on a Standard Process cleanse, which dramatically increased our fiber intake owing to supplements and shakes. During the cleanse, we began eating between 40 and 50 grams of fiber each day. This was the single-most valuable aspect of that cleanse for us, and when we finished up our twenty-one days, we committed to eating more fiber and more resistant starch.
Adding a handful of tigernuts each day, has made that easy, as a one ounce of tigernuts packs a whopping ten grams of dietary fiber.
What Are Tigernuts?
Despite their name, tigernuts aren’t nuts at all; rather, they’re a member of the nutsedge family. They’re small, wrinkled little tubers, full of resistant starch. They’re not nuts, though they offer a pleasant nutty flavor and texture. They grow just beneath the soil’s surface, like potatoes, and they featured prominently in the diets of paleolithic peoples throughout West and North Africa.
They’re used to produce a naturally gluten-free flour high in resistant starch, as well as tigernut oil with a gorgeous golden color and a sweet, mild nutty flavor similar to chestnuts.
Resistant Starch to Fuel Your Gut
Tigernuts are also particularly rich in resistant starch. Resistant starch is a prebiotic (learn about prebiotics and probiotics here), that is, it helps to support gut health by providing food for the be beneficial bacteria in your gut. The type of starch found in tigernuts is indigestible to us, but it feeds the microbes in our guts, helping them to proliferate and to increase in diversity, and offers a host of benefits (read more here).
Moreover, research shows that resistant starch can help to support optimal body weight, enhance insulin sensitivity, and help to regulate blood sugar (read it here). It provides powerful nutrition for the bacteria that fuel your gut, and your gut bacteria are critical to fueling your health. They work synergistically together. One feeds the other.
You can also find resistant starch in potatoes and sunchokes, but tigernuts remain the best source. Keep in mind that the benefits of resistant starch changes when heat is applied, but they return as soon as food cools down, so if you wish to enjoy the benefits of foods rich in resistant starch, eat them raw or cooked and cooled to room temperature. Me? I like to snack on them raw, straight out of the bag.
Resistant Starch, the Microbiome and Optimal Weight
Last year, I took two rounds of antibiotics for two serious infections. While the antibiotics knocked out my infections, that double whammy left me with worsening asthma and allergy symptoms as well as an extra thirty-five pounds on my frame without any significant changes to my exercise or diet. Yikes.
That leaves me to focus on rebuilding my gut health, as well as working with a physician.
Weight, like many aspects of health, is intricately related to the microbiome (read it here and here), and it’s my hope that by supporting my gut health, post-antibiotics, I might optimize my systemic health, too.
Tigernut Oil is a Source of Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated fat, the same fat found in heart-healthy foods like avocado and olive oil, is the dominant fat in tigernuts. Monunsaturated fat helps to support heart health, good (HDL) cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
When tigernuts are pressed, they release their oil, and that resulting oil is not only a good source of monounsaturated fat, but it is also source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that supports immunity, eye, skin and cardiovascular health (read more here).
Tigernut oil was first pressed and used in ancient Egypt, where tigernuts also played a role in their traditional, ancient culinary heritage. With a higher smoke point than olive oil, tigernut oil is suitable for moderate heat uses like baking, and light sauteing, as well as used fresh and raw.
Where to Find Tigernuts
Nutsedge is relatively easy to grow, if you want to try to harvest some yourself. I work with Organic Gemini, and made a beautiful tigernut milk with their nuts last year. You can find their tigernuts, oil and flour online here as well as in a handful of natural foods stores like Whole Foods peppered throughout the country.
Sweet and Spicy Tigernut Trail Mix
- Toss the tigernuts, raisins and cranberries into a bowl. Drizzle with tigernut oil, and then sprinkle with paprika, cayenne pepper, sea salt and sesame seeds. Toss to coat. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.