Chorizo Tempeh & Potato Tacos

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Have you cooked with tempeh before? Add plenty of spices, liked smoked paprika, cumin and oregano and it taste just like chorizo. You'll love it in this potato and "chorizo" taco.

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 sugary sweet 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.

Obesity

We've long known people who are obese have less diverse bacteria in their gut and different types of bacteria compared to those who are a healthy weight.  Initially, the obvious conclusion was made - food that makes you gain weight alters the bacteria in your gut.  But recent rodent studies show the bacteria itself might cause weight gain.  In one interesting study, healthy mice were transplanted with bacteria from two twins, one obese and one healthy weight.  When both sets of mice were placed on a high saturated fat (i.e. animal-heavy diet), the mice transplanted with bacteria from the obese twin gained significant amounts of weight compared to those innoculated with bacteria from the thinner twin.

Depression

The bacteria in our gut seem to have a mutualistic relationship with our mood.  The bacteria may affect mood and our mood may actually change the bacteria in our gut.  Makes sense, since 90% of our bodies serotonin, or "happy hormone" is located in our gut.  Multiple rodent studies have shown inoculating them with different types of bacteria can actually change their behavior, making them more adventurous or cautious, even mimicking human signs of depression!  On the other hand, rodent studies have demonstrated a stressful environment can alter their intestinal microflora in a negative way.  Although this research is preliminary, it's incredibly important, as there is such a strong relationship between stress and IBS, an incredibly difficult to manage disease.  Is our gut bacteria the missing link?

Diabetes

People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have alterations in their microflora.  It seems bacteria in our gut not only contribute to obesity, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but may also trigger the chronic inflammation thought to be a major cause of the disease.  In fact, researchers have developed a model allowing them to screen people at risk for diabetes simply by looking at their intestinal flora.

Allergies

Anyone with school aged kids knows food allergies are on the rise.  Ever wonder why?  One hypothesis has to do with overuse of antibiotics.  Allergies typically develop in childhood, after a food protein enters the bloodstream through the gut, then is attacked as a foreign invader.  Having a wide variety of protective bacteria in the gut prevents this from occuring, which is probably why children with high intestinal diversity have a lower risk of allergies.  It seems antibiotics, especially when used in childhood, reduce microbial diversity in the gut, increasing the risk of food allergies.

As you can see, a healthy microflora is needed for good health.  And just like us, the bacteria in your gut thrive on a healthy diet.  What's their favorite food?  Plants!

The bacteria in our gut break down and ferment fiber from plants.  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.

So what does this all mean for you?  Because the meat heavy diet was quite extreme, it's hard to say if the changes occurred due to the lack of plants or an excess of meat.  But I think this is good evidence of how rapidly our body can heal when following a plant-based diet.  Although I recommend lifestyle changes versus short term diets, for those who are suffering with poor mood and depression, weight gain, or poor digestion, it may be worth it to experiment with a plant-based or vegan diet for a period of time and see how you feel.

If you're thinking of making the leap, or simply trying to include more plant-based meals, you will love these vegan tacos!  With a hearty filling of potatoes, veggies and tempeh cooked with chorizo-inspired spiced, there is no way you'll miss the meat!

Chorizo Tempeh & Potato Tacos
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: Serves 4
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.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. To make the spice mix, combine chili, paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside
  2. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place in a 400 degree oven to warm.
  3. 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.
  4. Divide filling among warmed tortillas. Serve garnished with lime wedges, cilantro and scallion.