Eat These Foods for Gut Health
A gut full of fiber and good bacteria is a happy gut! Good bacteria help protect us from illnesses, as well as keep our digestive tract happy. Foods full of probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to promote a greater diversity and number of good bacteria in the gut. The CDC states that over 3 million Americans were diagnosed with bowel disorders in 2015, a catch-all condition including painful gas, bloating, diarrhea and beyond. This largely has to do with the typical American diet, which is high in saturated fat and processed foods, while low in plant foods rich in nutrients and fiber, which help nourish friendly gut bacteria. So, what can we do to help naturally restore your gut balance and improve gut health? Eat! Is there a large variety of plant-based foods that can help encourage gut health? Yes! The options for probiotic and prebiotic foods is constantly expanding, and adding more gut-friendly fiber in your daily diet can be simple and delicious.
Fiber for Gut Health
Dietary fiber—both soluble and insoluble—is the part of plant material that can’t be absorbed or digested in the body and is very important for a healthy gut. Some foods contain both types of fiber, but what’s the difference?
Soluble fiber is the fiber that attracts water. It then turns into a gel, slowing digestion. It’s found in nuts, seeds, some fruits and vegetables, oats, and barley. Soluble fiber has been linked to weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar, and lowering cholesterol because the gel created can help ‘grab’ some of the sugar, fat, and free cholesterol and block it from being absorbed in the body.
Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve, thus, it stays intact throughout digestion. It can help prevent constipation or blockage in the intestines, reducing the risk of some gastrointestinal conditions like diverticulitis or hemorrhoids. Insoluble fiber is mostly found in foods like whole grains, beans, potatoes, and cauliflower.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Probiotic supplements have become a $2 billion industry in the US, and that number continues to rise. They’ve been shown to be effective for some conditions.. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that acts as an energy supply for the good bacteria in your gut, almost like a fertilizer. In contrast, probiotics are the live bacteria found in supplements and some fermented foods. Together, they create a happy balance in the gut, making digestion more efficient and helping to boost immunity and reduce gastrointestinal issues like gas and diarrhea.
Some prebiotic foods include asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, apples, and legumes. For example, this Fava Bean Asparagus Sauté (pictured above) is a great source of prebiotics!
Friendly bacteria can be found in many fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and yogurt (plant-based too).
Here are a few recipes that take advantage of foods with prebiotics and probiotics:
Mason Jar Salad: Chopped Kale and Barley Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Heirloom Bean Cassoulet with Root Vegetables
Banana Coconut Brown Rice Pudding
Cinnamon Apple Crumble
Spicy Hummus Veggie Tacos
Classic French Onion Soup
Farro and White Bean Veggie Burgers
Summer Vegetarian Chili
Berry Quinoa Power Bowl
Written by Kelly Blackburn, Dietetic Intern with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN