What are the health benefits of parsnips? This Sunday roast staple is one of my favourite winter ingredients.
Parsnips contain a special type of sugar, which is responsible for the sweet flavour, called inulin. It is a potent prebiotic. This basically means that it works as a food source for the good bacteria that live in our gut. These bacteria are involved in so many processes it is almost unbelievable. The most obvious is their role in digestion. They help to regulate peristalsis, breakdown components of our food, and even synthesise certain micronutrients.
Probably the most exciting benefit of healthy gut flora that is now becoming more widely understood is their influence on immunity. Our gut contains a great deal of lymphatic tissue filled with white blood cells. These areas of lymphatic tissue are like surveillance stations, continually monitoring gut contents and then relaying messages, via chemicals called cytokines (chemical messengers), to the rest of the immune system. Our inherent gut flora can interact with this local white cell population and influence the immune system systemically. So, nurturing our gut flora is pretty darn important.
When gut bacteria feed on inulin found in foods such as parsnips, they start to reproduce and increase in numbers. As they feed on it and ferment it, they also secrete compounds that help repair the gut lining and regulate movement through the gut. One of the main byproducts of this fermentation is a substance called butyric acid. This can stimulate repair mechanisms within gut tissue.