Sorghum and the Gut Microbiome: Can this gluten-free ancient grain help nourish your beneficial gut microbes?

If you’ve never heard of sorghum before, chances are you aren’t alone! Sorghum is a grain used for centuries, but it has exploded in popularity over recent years. Traditionally, sorghum is known as a “super grain” that has a multitude of uses in cooking. Today, many people know and love sorghum for its nutritional benefits, along with other unique uses (ex: it can be used as a fuel source). Besides being extremely easy to incorporate into your diet and a fantastic source of nutrients, sorghum has also been linked to potential benefits for the gut microbiome. 

What makes sorghum so special?

Sorghum, just like many other whole grains, is very impressive when it comes to nutritional value. It’s rich in protein, antioxidants, fiber, and iron. Sorghum is also naturally gluten-free, which is a big issue for many people. This makes sorghum a practical alternative to wheat flours, which are typically highly processed, lack nutritional value, and contain gluten. Sorghum is also grown using traditional practices and seeds which have been naturally bred, making most varieties non-GMO (the seeds aren’t engineered in a lab). Additionally, sorghum is slow to digest. This keeps you full for much longer and prevents the rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels that are common when eating refined grains. 

What does the gut microbiome have to do with sorghum?

The gut microbiome is a diverse ecosystem of bacteria and other microorganisms that live along the digestive tract. Just like any other ecosystem, every organism in the gut microbiome has its own unique purpose, and the balance between the organisms is critical for keeping them all healthy. There are many different types of organisms in the gut microbiome, and many of them are important for a healthy body. In fact, the gut microbiome plays a large role not only in digestion but also in regulating mood, behavior, hormone production, and more. However, many types of harmful organisms can cause damage to the body and brain if they are allowed to overpopulate. This makes it incredibly important to maintain a healthy and balanced microbiome: too much or too little of certain organisms can create all sorts of problems from leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome to anxiety and depression. 

Luckily, one of the primary ways in which we can change the composition of our gut microbiomes is through the foods we eat. In general, minimally processed foods and those high in dietary fibers provide a boost to healthy gut bacteria. Highly processed and high-sugar foods, on the other hand, tend to increase the harmful organisms and push out the good bacteria. Sorghum falls into the “minimally-processed, high in nutritional value” category, and emerging research provides evidence that sorghum has a positive impact on microbiome health.

So how does sorghum help the gut microbiome?

Sorghum is also rich in polyphenols, which are compounds produced by plants that can be very beneficial for the body as well as gut bacteria. Polyphenols from other foods have been linked with a healthier gut microbiome, and the ones specific to sorghum are helpful as well. One recent study found that the polyphenols in multiple sorghum varieties encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Both types of bacteria are known to prevent gut issues and help push out harmful bacteria that could otherwise cause problems in the gut microbiome. 

Another study from 2019 found that sorghum both increased the population of beneficial Bifidobacterium and decreased  Firmicutes, which is associated with obesity inflammation. In the study, mice on a high-fat diet (much like a typical diet for Americans) were fed sorghum regularly. The changes to their gut microbiome alleviated some of the issues brought on by their diet including inflammation, oxidative stress, and intestinal dysbiosis (an unbalanced microbiome). 

A similar study investigated the pigment in a red variety of sorghum, aptly named “sorghum red”. In mice, sorghum red helped reverse the effects of metabolic syndrome and reduced body weight by over 26% compared to mice on a high-fat diet. There were also specific changes in the gut microbiome: overall diversity increased, while the amount of Clostridium (another harmful type of bacteria that can lead to infections) decreased. 

These studies only scratch the surface of all the research on sorghum, but they make it clear that most people can probably benefit from eating more of it. Sorghum seems to be a practical way to boost good bacteria while keeping harmful types at bay. 

How can I include sorghum in my diet?

Even though sorghum is becoming more popular, many people aren’t sure about the best ways to incorporate it into their diet. Here are a few suggestions for easy ways to start eating more sorghum today:

  • Use Whole-Grain Sorghum: Whole-grain sorghum is delicious as an add-on for many recipes, salads, yogurts, and more. It’s also great as part of a trail mix. These ideas take almost no work and add extra flavor to your food.

  • Bake with Sorghum Flour: Sorghum flour is becoming popular as a gluten-free alternative to typical wheat flour, and it’s carried in many major grocery stores. Try substituting it for regular flour in your next baking recipe.

  • Try Popped Sorghum: Just like popcorn, popped sorghum is a tasty snack that can be made in just a few minutes on the stove. Try adding it to trail mix, or garnishing fun dishes for lunch or dinner. 

  • Use Sorghum in Smoothies: If you already drink a healthy smoothie every day, try adding sorghum to it. Sorghum bran, which is also widely available at most grocery stores, has a good consistency for mixing into smoothies and shakes.

        While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should give you some practical places to start. Sorghum is easy to incorporate into your regular diet, so experiment with these ideas, or come up with something brand new. At the end of the day, your gut microbiome will thank you for it!

        Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD, CNS

        Licensed Psychologist and Board Certified Nutrition Specialist

        The world’s leading Holistic Child Psychologist, Dr. Beurkens heads a multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment clinic, is a bestselling author, published researcher, award-winning therapist, and devoted mother of four. In her more than 22-year career, she has supported parents with evidence-based strategies that target the root cause of children’s attention, anxiety, mood, and behavior challenges, empowering them to achieve their highest potential. Dr. Beurkens is a licensed clinical psychologist who holds advanced degrees in psychology, education, and nutrition. 

        Collective members are paid sponsors and receive compensation for their content, but all opinions are their own.

      1. Thank You very much for this nice piece of work.

        Klaus Wissemeier
      2. Muy buena nota sobre los beneficios del Sorgo baya mi reconocimiento Dr. que Dios la bendiga

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