Gut health is all the rage. But you knew that already (hence why you popped your probiotic this morning with a swig of kombucha). What you might not know, however, is that a whole host of foods beyond yogurt and fermented tea can boost your microbiome. Here, 14 of the best foods for gut health.
This fragrant allium is rich in prebiotics, types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. (FYI: Alongside probiotics, prebiotics are an important part of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.) Garlic also boasts antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, so grab the breath mints. Ina Garten’s chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for dinner, anyone?
When it comes to probiotics, yogurt is an obvious choice. But did you know that kefir, the tangy beverage made by fermenting milk with bacteria and yeast, is actually an even better source of probiotics than yogurt? “I recommend drinking sheep’s or goat’s milk kefir, as it is easier to digest than cow’s milk,” says Raphael Kellman, M.D., founder of Kellman Wellness Center. “It offers incredible support for your immune system.” Use it the same way you would its creamier cousin (we like ours poured over granola).
“Research published by the Institute of Food Research touts the potential prebiotic properties of almonds as a tool for improving digestive health,” says internist and gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, M.D. According to a study by Norwich BioScience Institutes, almonds significantly increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria strains. And as a bonus, this good-for-you snack is also high in heart-healthy fats, vitamin E and other nutrients. (Just make sure you limit yourself to a handful and not the whole bag, OK?)
4. Bone Broth
“If your gut needs some TLC, then bone broth is your drink,” says Dr. Sonpal. “It has the amino acid glutamine that has been shown to repair and soothe the gut.” He also touts this slow-cooked stock for its ability to help reduce inflammation.
This vegan superfood is traditionally made from cooked whole soybeans that are slightly fermented. And like other fermented foods, tempeh contains probiotics. “A 2014 study published in the Polish Journal of Microbiology showed that this popular protein could increase healthy bacteria, including Lactobacillus,” Dr. Sonpal tells us. Find this tasty meat alternative at health food stores and grocery stores next to the tofu, and use it in burgers, salads, soups, stir-fries, stews and sandwiches.
According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition, this tropical fruit could improve your gut health by helping the good bacteria in your intestines thrive. Scientists hypothesized that this is because these juicy fruits are high in fiber (a known health booster). Mangoes can also help reduce body fat and control blood sugar, Dr. Sonpal tells us. Bring on the mango guacamole.
7. Jerusalem Artichokes
Also known as sunchokes, these vegetables from the sunflower family look a little bit like a lumpy potato. “Jerusalem artichokes nourish the healthy bacteria already in your microbiome with inulin, a prebiotic fiber that decreases the absorption of glucose (a type of sugar) and improves the metabolism of fats,” says Dr. Kellman. Eat these tasty tubers raw or cook them like you would a regular potato—steamed, boiled, baked or sautéed.
This fermented Korean specialty made with cabbage, radishes and scallions is loaded with probiotics. Enjoy it as a delicious side dish for meat, salad or eggs, or mix a spoonful with a bowl of rice to give it a spicy upgrade.
This pickled cabbage dish is so much more than a hot dog topping. Full of probiotics, one study published in World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology found that it could also reduce cholesterol levels. For the best gut-boosting results, opt for the raw, unpasteurized stuff (or make your own) and add it to a salad.
“Besides high amounts of inulin, this root vegetable contains lots of healthy phytonutrients—plant antioxidants that improve cellular health and fight inflammation,” says Dr. Kellman. Pronounced HEE-kah-ma, it’s also rich in vitamin C and magnesium. With a taste that’s sweet and starchy (sort of like if an apple and a potato had a delicious baby), jicama is great tossed into a salad or stir-fry for extra crunch.
11. Some cheeses
Not all cheeses are a good source of probiotics (womp-womp), but some fermented ones like cheddar, Swiss and Gouda contain bacteria that’s hardy enough to survive the journey through the gastrointestinal tract. How can you be sure that you’re getting the good stuff? Look out for “live and active cultures” on the label. Bring on the cheese board.
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Naturally fermented pickles (i.e., those brined in sea salt and water rather than vinegar) contain good-for-you bacteria that can help with digestion. One more benefit to these crunchy spears? They’re dill-icious (sorry).
Remember what we said earlier about inulin? Bananas contain a small amount of this gut-boosting fiber. But another reason this fruit made the list is because unripe (green) bananas boast high levels of resistant starch, which can feed the good-for-you bacteria in your gut.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Microbiology determined that apples contain 100 million bacteria, though most of that good stuff is found in the fruit’s core, stem and seeds. The study also found that organic apples have an advantage over conventionally grown ones when it comes to bacteria diversity. “Freshly harvested, organically managed apples harbor a significantly more diverse, more even and distinct bacterial community, compared to conventional ones,” said the study’s senior author, professor Gabriele Berg. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some very important apple picking to do.