Delicious Waffles

waffleby Judy Palken, MNS, RD, LDN

You might not have thought of waffles as being good for your gastrointestinal system – but try this for a wonderful breakfast!

These delicious waffles are actually good for your microbiome! Oats are an excellent prebiotic food, meaning they feed the good bacteria in our GI tract. Oats also help with regularity, and can be soothing to the gut, thanks to their soluble fiber.

Here we use oat flour instead of regular flour. Oat flour is available in some stores, but you can easily make it. Simply put old fashioned, uncooked oats into your blender or food processor, and pulsing a couple of times. Voilà – oat flour! Almond flour also works well in this recipe.

Cultured buttermilk and Kefir are fermented milk products that contain live, beneficial microbes. Both beverages are excellent sources of probiotics when uncooked, and protein, calcium, and great vitamins whether cooked or not!

To make this recipe even more gut-friendly, we omitted baking powder and also use heart-healthy canola oil instead of butter.
Overnight Oatmeal Waffles

1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
1 cup buttermilk or kefir
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup oat flour *see note below
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Stir oats and buttermilk or kefir together, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning add the egg, canola oil, and honey; stir well.

In a separate bowl, mix the oat flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir this into the buttermilk mixture just until blended.

Preheat waffle iron, and cook – waffles are done in about five minutes or when the flow of steam from waffle iron has slowed.

Yield – about two regular waffles of four squares each.

Asthma and the Microbiome

asthma imagesAs has been suspected for a long time, the Microbiome is proving to have an effect on asthma. Several recent papers have studied children with and without four specific types of bacteria, and found that infants with low levels of Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veilonella, and Rothia at the age of three months were at a higher risk of developing asthma by age three than those infants with higher levels of those bacteria. The differences in the bacteria at one year were not noticeable. These findings suggest that children need to have these specific bacteria within the first 100 days of life. It is suggested that diet and microbes are very important in the first year of life, and that there are certain developmental windows where the body trains the immune system.

Many people believe that the rise in anti-bacterial products lessen the number of microbes in the body. Caesarean sections and using formula rather than breast feeding are also believed to limit the bacteria given to a newborn. Antibiotics taken during pregnancy, and even eaten through beef and chicken can affect this as well.

These studies are not at a point where researchers are ready to give infants a cocktail containing the missing four bacteria, but having identified the specific microbes contributing to Asthma will give researchers more clues in fighting this disease.

1: Arrieta MC, Stiemsma LT, Dimitriu PA, Thorson L, Russell S, Yurist-Doutsch S, Kuzeljevic B, Gold MJ, Britton HM, Lefebvre DL, Subbarao P, Mandhane P, Becker A,McNagny KM, Sears MR, Kollmann T; CHILD Study Investigators, Mohn WW, Turvey SE, Brett Finlay B. Early infancy microbial and metabolic alterations affect risk of childhood asthma. Sci Transl Med. 2015 Sep 30;7(307):307ra152. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aab2271. PubMed PMID: 26424567.

2: Dominguez-Bello MG, Blaser MJ. Asthma: Undoing millions of years of coevolution in early life? Sci Transl Med. 2015 Sep 30;7(307):307fs39. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aad2741. PubMed PMID: 26424565.

3: Holt PG. The mechanism or mechanisms driving atopic asthma initiation: The infant respiratory microbiome moves to center stage. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015Jul;136(1):15-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2015.05.011. Review. PubMed PMID: 26145983.

The Microbiome and Neuroimmunology

Korin Albert, PhD student in the Sela Lab (UMass Amherst)
September 1, 2015

Many studies are showing that an individual’s microbiome influences gastrointestinal health. The impact, however, of commensal micrblog korinobes on most other body systems is still emerging. Recently, there have been several discoveries linking the microbiome and the nervous system.

In a paper recently by Erny et al. investigated modulation of microglia by the microbiome. Microglia are the immune cells of the central nervous system, protecting the brain and maintaining healthy neural circuitry. People with microglial deficiencies are susceptible to neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases.

To understand the influence of the microbiome on microglia, the researchers compared mice that had a normal microbiome to special germ-free (GF) mice that are raised without any microbes. Interestingly, several genes important for cell growth and proliferation were turned on in the microglia of GF mice. Examination of the brains of the GF mice showed an increase in a specific type of microglia cell that could lead to inflammation. However, GF mice had normal brain tissue when fed short chain fatty acids normally produced by gut microbes. When the scientists examined the microglia structure they observed anatomical differences between microglia from GF mice versus those from normal mice. Finally, microglia from GF mice are incapable of mounting the appropriate attack against a virus that typically infects neural tissue.

This paper is interesting as it describes a previously unknown interaction of the human microbiome with the both the immune and nervous systems.

Erny, Daniel, et al. “Host microbiota constantly control maturation and function of microglia in the CNS.” Nature neuroscience (2015).

Zucchini – Healthy recipes for you!


August is the time of the year for Zucchini. Healthy and delicious, zucchini is more versatile than you would think! By way of “Chocolate Covered Katie” we would like to share a couple healthy zucchini recipes. Zucchini  has many benefits – they are low in calories, the peel is a good source of dietary fiber (a probiotic) and they are a good source of potassium, carotenoids, vitamins C, E and K and have no saturated fats or cholesterol.

Up first, a “Zucchini Tortilla Wrap it makes 2 burritos

  • 4 medium zucchini, sliced into coins
  • High-quality olive oil (Be sure to store olive oil in a dark container. It loses health benefits when exposed to light)
  • 3-4 tsp minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • add beans or other veggies (optional)
  • 2 warm tortillas

Heat a pan over high heat for about a minute before putting anything in.  Add the oil, quickly followed by the garlic, zucchini and salt (pepper if desired). Try not to stir too often. Once the zucchini has turned translucent, remove from the pan and place in the middle of the tortillas. Roll up and enjoy!

Or try “Raw Chocolate Cream Pie” for a no-bake dessert

  • heaping 1/2 cup coconut meat (about 110g)
  • 1 1/2 cups raw zucchini (250g) (For a pie with a more traditional “coconut cream pie” taste, or if you don’t want the green color, omit the zucchini and add that much more coconut meat.)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cacao or cocoa powder
  • stevia or sweetener of choice, to taste
  • Optional 2 tbsp coconut oil, for a richer taste
  • Optional for a mint chocolate chip pie, add a few drops pure peppermint extract

Mix all the ingredients together and blend very well. If you’re using a Magic Bullet, you might want to blend the zucchini a little first so it doesn’t stay chunky. Transfer your mixture to a pie crust (or pie pan, for a crustless pie) and freeze. If you freeze it more than a few hours, thaw before eating.

Gut Feelings about Immunity

Nature Medicine recently devoted an entire issue, July 2015, to  Inflammatory Disease, which of course caught our eye.  “A gut feeling about immunity”, by Roxanne Khamsi, explores the microbiome influence on the human immune system, and outlines various considerations of working with intestinal microbes to reduce harmful inflammation. Nice quotes from experts highlight the promise of probiotics/prebiotics, and point to the need for more evidence that the currently marketed products deliver on their claims. We’re working in this area, and have projects to help untangle the various factors that are involved, especially for those suffering with IBD and related gastro disorders.


chocolate1by Judy Palken, MNS, RD, LDN

Questions from a Reader:

I like to have chocolate every day. I do choose dark chocolate, which I’ve heard is better for me. Is this okay for my health, and will it interfere with attempts to improve my gut bacteria by diet?


Reader, good questions! You will be happy to hear, the news regarding chocolate is very good, overall, with a caveat which we will get to.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which grows off the Theobroma cacao tree in the rainforest. It is nutrient-rich, containing the minerals copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium. It also contains phytochemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant activity and health benefits.

The health benefits of chocolate come primarily from the cocoa, which is just one component of chocolate. The more cocoa content, the darker and more healthful the chocolate.

The Cardiovascular Benefits –

Chocolate contains a type of polyphenol called flavonols that are potent antioxidants, and seem to help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Chocolate polyphenols may also lower LDL-cholesterol – another cardiovascular benefit.

The Gut Benefits –

Our beneficial gut bacteria actually help us to digest and absorb the polyphenols in chocolate. They ferment them into smaller molecules that can be more easily absorbed and then exert their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In other words, we need to thank our bacteria for helping us to derive the benefit from chocolate!

Cocoa is a prebiotic in its own right – it contains fiber that bacteria feed on and metabolize into short chain fatty acids in the gut – a beneficial end product.

Cocoa-rich drinks have also been shown to increase the proportion of beneficial bacteria in the gut, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, compared to the bacteria we want less of.

So, what should we do with this good news about chocolate? We should enjoy this rich, complex, and wonderful food as people have since ancient times, for its health benefits as well as its unique and delectable flavor. But here is the caveat – besides the cocoa, chocolate also has a lot of fat and sugar. Hence the need for moderation – rich, chocolatey desserts and milk chocolate bars must be viewed simply as indulgent treats. They are not what is meant when you hear those words, chocolate is good for you!

However a couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao) is good for you! Cocoa powder is great!

So is cacao – and what is the difference, besides the spelling? Cacao powder is from cold-pressed, un-roasted cacao beans. Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been chopped up into pieces. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that has been roasted. So cacoa powder is less processed, but cocoa powder is still very good for you, full of polyphenols and minerals, and is less expensive. Just be sure what you buy does not have added sugar – look for cocoa powder, not cocoa mix, with its added sugar and salt!

Anyway, back to your incredibly healthful dark chocolate squares, or cocoa powder – consider joining these with some other prebiotic foods to further feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Here are some delicious chocolate-with-other-prebiotic combinations:

  • Dark chocolate with blueberries, just the two of them together in your best china bowl, or in a smoothie, or on yogurt
  • Banana pieces coated in dark chocolate
  • Cocoa powder on your regular or steel cut oatmeal
  • Oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate pieces
  • Chia seed pudding with cocoa powder (see recipe)
  • For hot cocoa, best to make your own – follow the directions on your package of pure cocoa powder – use skim or low fat milk, cocoa powder, and a bit of sweetener, the advantage being that you can use much less sweetener than in commercially-prepared formulations, and be more generous with the cocoa! (you will always have more control over the ingredients, and can make foods more healthfully, when you do the preparation yourself). 

Recipes using Cocoa Powder

Chia Cocoa Pudding

3/4 cup unsweetened, organic plain soy milk (or another milk, such as almond or hemp)
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (no sugar added)
3 Tbsp chia seeds *
1 Tbsp pure cocoa powder


Add all ingredients to a jar or bowl in the order listed – milk first. Whisk or stir well with a fork until the cocoa powder is well-combined with the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Before eating, mix well again.

The thickness can be adjusted to your taste – for a thicker pudding, use more chia seeds; for a thinner consistency use less. Experiment to see how you like it.

This is great for dessert, breakfast, or a snack.

Cocoa Blueberry Smoothie
3/4 cup unsweetened, organic plain soy milk
1/2 cup frozen unsweetened blueberries
1 Tbsp pure cocoa powder
1 Tbsp oat bran

Directions: Mix all in a blender to desired consistency. Vary amounts of soy milk or blueberries to have your smoothie be more or less thick.

The oat bran gives this smoothie a nice, nutty consistency. Delicious!

You can find more at

Food Emulsifiers and the Microbiome

Experiment by Nora Martin
Experiment by Nora Martin

Beverly Hobbs

                                                                                                                                                                  July 17, 2015

Recently, my niece Nora and I did a science experiment about mold growing on bread that is exposed to various germs from hands that had touched various dirty surfaces. To our surprise, none of our samples grew any mold! See bread. Why was this? What is going on with food additives and what effect do they have on the microbiome and our health? As I browsed through Google, I found a recent article (and lots of press about the research described) linking emulsifiers to inflammatory bowel diseases. The studies were done in mice and the specific emulsifiers used were carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80. Both are commonly used to smooth the texture of foods such as ice cream, mayonnaise, and to keep foods that tend to separate homogenous. Yum!

Benoit Chassaing at Georgia State University fed mice the emulsifiers in large doses (note, the amounts are equal to how much a person would eat if the only thing they ate was ice cream).   Mice fed emulsifiers had less diversity in their microbiome and the microbes had moved closer to the cells lining the gut. These mice also showed more signs of intestinal inflammation. In certain mice that were bred to be more susceptible to gut diseases, the mice developed inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at a rate more frequent and more severe than typical.

In heathy guts, there is a layer of mucus that lines the gut and prevents bacteria from coming into contact with the gut cells. They believe that the heavy mucus is broken down by emulsifiers, allowing the bacteria to get closer to the gut cells and cause inflammation.

In addition to inflammation, feeding healthy mice lots of the emulsifiers lead to increased weight gain and adiposity (more body fat) and decreased ability to regulate blood sugar levels. These kinds of symptoms are similar to what is observed in obesity-associated diseases.

The authors of the study suggest that the use of emulsifying agents in food may contribute to obesity and chronic inflammatory diseases in people. We have a program here at UMass Med that is looking at the relationship between diet and various gastrointestinal disorders. Our dieticians specialize in creating palatable recipes (without additives!) that facilitate gut healing while maintaining nutritional balance for patients with IBD, Crohn’s and Colitis. Watch here as we share with you more of their recipes over time.


Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome: Benoit Chassaing,Omry Koren,Julia K. Goodrich,Angela C. Poole,Shanthi Srinivasan,Ruth E. Ley& Andrew T. Gewirtz Nature 519, 92–96 (05 March 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14232;

Can dietary fiber fight obesity?

produceby Meghan McGillin, UMass Amherst
undergraduate student,

Scientists and clinicians have been interested in studying dietary fiber’s potential in treating or preventing obesity. Obesity is a big health problem, afflicting 500 million adults worldwide.

Familiar such as whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables.are naturally high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber gives plant-based foods their structure fiber-rich foods need more chewing to break up the rigid structure of the plant cell wall. Just think about the work that goes into chewing an apple versus eating a piece of cheese. That extra chewing is important! Chewing takes time and makes more saliva. This helps the chewer take up fewer calories over a longer period and feel more full. Simply eating more fiber can help lower weight gain and thus lower the risk of health complications such as type II Diabetes Mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.

But there’s more! Fiber is a vital component of our diet, and has been linked to preventing a range of illnesses and conditions. Unlike sugar and starch, fiber is unique because our own digestive enzymes are unable to break fiber down into simpler sugars. We need the beneficial microbes living in our guts to break up fiber for us. These microbes have the enzymes to digest fibers and when they do they produce nutrients and byproducts that are helpful for our metabolism and immune systems. In fact, scientists have learned that having certain types of microbes reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases.

To fully understand the anti­obesity effects of fiber, it is necessary to examine the role of our resident gut microbiota as a major contributor to our metabolic well-being. The good news is that it appears diet changes can promote a more protective microbiome. Adding more fiber to one’s diet benefits both the person and their microbes.