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Protect your digestive health with these tasty dishes

March 24, 2022 | Kristina Lindgren
Spinach, mushrooms and poached egg on toast with tahini sauce

This tower of power is a protein-packed, fiber-rich meal to jump-start your day.
Photos by Jessica Van Roo for UCI Health

Want to enhance your digestive health? These colorful recipes aren't just delicious, they deliver a nutritional bounty of these well-known super foods:

  • Spinach
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Mushrooms
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds

Treat your family and guests to these easy-to-make meals, which will pay dividends in gut and heart health, says Katie Rankell, RD, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.

The recipes were created by Chef Jessica VanRoo, assistant director of Culinary Recreation & Experiential Programs at UC Irvine, who teaches students, staff and faculty members how to cook using fresh ingredients to make healthy, low-cost meals. 

Spinach Mushroom Toast with Poached Egg and Yogurt Tahini Sauce

Serves 4 (Total cost: $7.55/$1.89 per serving)
Calories per serving: 236

The bold green color is a tell-tale sign that spinach is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially iron, vitamin K, folate and calcium. A diet rich in spinach is known to lower oxidative stress and blood pressure while promoting eye health. It's also high in insoluble fiber that can help cleanse your digestive track. 

Include a poached egg — a high-quality, low-calorie protein prepared without fat — and you get all the necessary amino acids to nourish your muscles, bones, skin, hair and immune system. Serve with mineral-laden baby portabella mushrooms on whole-grain bread and you have a potent fiber-rich meal to jump-start your day.

Even the sauce delivers health benefits: Yogurt is full of friendly bacteria that aid in digestion, as well as calcium and other minerals needed for bone and heart health. Tahini is made of toasted, ground sesame seeds, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol. They also are rich in phosphorus and manganese, minerals that promote bone health, as well as copper, which helps the body absorb iron.


spinach-mushroom poached egg toast

Spinach Mushroom Toast with Egg

  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon avocado oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz baby spinach
  • 4 oz mushrooms, preferably baby bella,
  • 4 slices whole-grain bread, toasted


  • 2 tablespoon tahini
  • 4 teaspoons mustard
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste



  • Bring large pot of water to a boil (add 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar if desired to help egg whites set faster).
  • Crack an egg into a ramekin or small bowl and set aside.
  • Stir boiling water with a wooden spoon to create a center vortex.
  • Pour egg into the vortex, cook 3 minutes.
  • Immediately remove the egg with a slotted spoon and serve.
  • To make ahead, place each cooked egg immediately in an ice-water bath. To reheat, submerge poached eggs in boiling water for about 30 seconds each and serve.

Spinach and mushrooms

  • In a small bowl, mix sauce ingredients, season to your liking and set aside.
  • Heat a pan over medium-high heat, add oil when hot.
  • When oil is heated, add garlic, onions and mushrooms.
  • Stir and cook until onions release their liquid and start to brown.
  • Add spinach, cook just until leaves wilt.

To serve, spread a bit of sauce on toasted bread, add the spinach and mushroom mix, then top with poached egg, drizzle with extra sauce and enjoy!

Pumpkin Seed/Cashew-Encrusted Salmon and Herbed Cauliflower Rice

Herb-crusted salmon fillet with cauliflower rice

Serves 4 (Total cost: $23.71/$5.92 per serving with salmon fillets; with cod, $19.84/$4.96)
Calories per serving: 512

Salmon not only a great source of protein, it also is rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation in the gut and elsewhere as well as promote healthy cholesterol, heart and brain function. 

Pumpkin seeds are a great year-round addition to many dishes, offering hearty flavor with minimal calories. They also happen to be especially high in vitamin A, which boosts vision and eye strength. They also are full of immunity-boosting antioxidants that help the body fight disease.

Cashews, too, are rich in antioxidants, especially polyphenols and carotenoids, which are thought to play a role in neutralizing cell-damaging molecules known as free radicals.



  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ¼cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup cashews
  • 4 (6-oz) salmon fillets
  • Salt and pepper

  Cauliflower rice

  • 2 teaspoons avocado oil
  • 8 oz riced cauliflower (not frozen) or ½ head of cauliflower “riced”
  • ½ tablespoon minced garlic (about 1-2 large cloves)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or more to taste


Cauliflower rice

  • Heat pan over medium-high heat, adding oil when hot.
  • Add riced cauliflower and garlic, stir and cook until cauliflower begins to brown, about 7-8 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from stove, stir in chopped herbs and lemon juice.


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  • Place salmon fillets on the lined sheet.
  • Combine mustard, oil and honey in a small bowl.
  • In a food processor, blend oats, seeds and cashews just until texture is crumbly.
  • Spread Dijon mixture evenly over fish.
  • Top with crumble mix, pressing down to ensure it stays on the fillets.
  • Bake fish for 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Place fillets and herbed "rice" on plates and serve.

“Healthier” Homemade Chocolate Mint Cookies

make-your-own healthy thin mints

Makes about 16 cookies (Total cost: $4.85/$0.30 per cookie)
Calories per serving (4 cookies): 102

Dark chocolate is one of the most powerful antioxidants, which help fight cancer-causing free radicals. It is also rich in iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Some studies have shown dark chocolate at 60% cacao and higher helps to lower blood pressure, which protects heart health.

Using whole grain or nut flour to make these chocolate delights increases their fiber content, which makes them more filling.

All in all, this recipe has less sugar, fat and calories than its traditional counterpart.


  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour (or use all almond flour for gluten-free cookies)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons Lakanto sugar-free maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine flours with cocoa powder, whisk well. Mix in syrup, coconut oil, salt and peppermint extract using a wooden spoon. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.
  • When dough is chilled, roll it in between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about ¼-inch thick. Cut small 1 ½-inch rounds out of the dough.
  • Bake cookies 10-12 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool on cookie sheet.
  • Combine chocolate chips and oil in a bowl and microwave in 30-second increments until melted. (You can also use a double boiler.)
  • When chocolate is completely melted, stir in peppermint extract.
  • Dip cooled cookies into the chocolate then return to cookie sheet.
  • Refrigerate 30 minutes or until chocolate sets.

Serve or refrigerate until you are ready to enjoy!

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