I like to imagine my reaction if as a child, you told me there were tiny, living beings inside me, some helping, others conspiring to destroy me. Considering I was terrified of dinosaurs and the sound of toilets flushing, it's safe to say I would have required serious therapy.
What sounds like science fiction is in fact simply our microbiota, the complex community of microorganisms that call our gut home. Living in the average person's intestines are trillions of microorganisms, ten times more than the total number of cells in the human body. Our microflora plays such a major role in how our body functions that many scientists have started to refer to it as an organ. The bacteria in our gut play such diverse roles as extracting and making vitamins, functioning as 70-80% of the immune system, and protecting our gut from pathogenic bacteria like c. diff.
Thanks to the popularity of a certain yogurt, most people are aware of the role gut bacteria plays in digestion. While healthy digestion is the most studied area of microflora research, recent science has linked the health of our gut bacteria to just about every other chronic disease, including depression, diabetes and allergies.
A healthy microflora is needed for good health, and just like us, the bacteria in your gut thrive on a healthy diet. Their favorite food? Plants! They break down and ferment the fiber in plants for food. Feed them lots of plants and they'll thrive. Starve them of plants and they'll die, making room for unhealthy bacteria to colonize.
One recent study showed just how strong and rapid an effect diet has on our microflora. One group of participants were placed on a meat heavy diet, eliminating all plants while another was placed on a vegan diet full of fruits and vegetables. Within one day, the meat eating group developed significantly higher levels of a bacteria linked to chronic inflammation and colitis, bilophilia. Those who followed a plant-based diet also saw similarly rapid changes to their microflora, but theirs was an increase in healthy bacteria and bacterial diversity.
There's no need to go vegetarian or vegan, but this research goes to show how eating more plant based meals can have a pretty quick effect on gut health. Swapping tempeh in place of ground meat is one of my favorite ways to work more plant based meals in. In this dish, I added lots of chorizo spices and potatoes to make these yummy tacos! If you like, you could also make this with tofu. Just make sure it's well drained and press it under paper towels for about 30 minutes to dry it out a bit. I served this with a simple slaw of shredded cabbage, lime juice and olive oil.
Chorizo Tempeh & Potato Tacos
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, in 1/2-inch dice
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 1b tempeh, crumbled
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1 lime, cut in wedges
- Cilantro, for garnish
- Scallion, for garnish
- To make the spice mix, combine chili, paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside
- Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place in a 400 degree oven to warm.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil on medium-high heat. When hot, add potatoes and saute 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add red onion and garlic. Saute an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and potatoes are lightly browned. Add red pepper and saute 3 minutes until all vegetables are tender. Add tempeh and spice mix and stir well to evenly distribute the spices. Saute 3 minutes to heat through.
- Divide filling among warmed tortillas. Serve garnished with lime wedges, cilantro and scallion.
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