Eating to Support a Healthy Gut
A healthy gut helps your body get the fuel it needs.
Here are some tips to keep yours in shape.
Taking care of your gut health is an important part of overall wellness. When your gut is healthy, your immune system is stronger, and your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer are lower. And there is growing evidence that the condition of your gut can affect your mental health.
The microbiome of the gut, or microbiota, depends on certain types of bacteria – “good bacteria” – to do its part in the digestive process. When those bacteria are depleted or out of balance, gut health is compromised, digestion is affected, and the body does not get the fuel it needs.
So, the key is to eat foods that promote good bacteria: Probiotic foods put good bacteria back into the gut. Prebiotic foods provide the nutrients necessary to create an environment where those bacteria and the bacteria we already have can flourish.
Probiotic foods include:
- Yogurt (be sure the label says “live and active cultures”)
- Nuts and seeds.
- Fermented pickles, including salted gherkins.
- Brine-cured olives.
- Tempeh, a fermented soybean product popularly used as a meat substitute.
- Miso, a Japanese spice made of fermented soybean, barley or brown rice and the fungus koji.
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Aged cheeses, including traditional cheddars, Gouda and Gruyère
- Cultured buttermilk.
- Kimchi, a Korean dish made of fermented cabbage mixed with seasonings like red chili flakes and garlic.
- Kombucha, a fermented tea.
- Kefir, a fermented dairy product similar to drinkable yogurt. Kefir also can be made with water and juice using starter kefir grains you can purchase from health-food stores or online.
Prebiotic foods come from plant fiber, especially leafy green vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Fiber is the part of plants our bodies can’t digest, but it makes a delicious meal for our microbiota. The good bacteria in your gut digest the plant fibers and create short-chain fatty acids. These, in turn, feed the cells that line your intestines, so they can do their job of absorbing nutrients and keeping out pathogens.
You can get prebiotic fibers in familiar foods like spinach, apples and whole-grain breads, but variety is best. So, try to incorporate different, less-common foods into your diet, like the grains barley, rye, quinoa and farro.
Your gut – and the rest of your body – will thank you.