Your gut relies on just the right balance of different bacteria to digest your food and to prevent infection and inflammation. Gut health also affects your mental health, weight, blood sugar, and liver. Prebiotic foods (whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes) act as food for healthy gut bacteria. Probiotic foods like yogurt are full of good bacteria already. Here are the top 10 best foods for gut health.
Sauerkraut is made from cabbage and salt. During the fermentation process, microorganisms eat the sugar present in cabbage and produce carbon dioxide and acids. The probiotics created during fermentation assist with digestion and add good bugs to your gut.
One cup of raw cabbage has 36% of your Daily Value for vitamin C and 56% DV for vitamin K.
Enjoy sauerkraut on a hot dog, substitute it for pickles on a sandwich or burger, add it to potato salad, or put it on a cheese plate and serve your friends something good for their guts.
Kimchi, also fermented cabbage, is the spicy Korean cousin to sauerkraut. It can have scallions, radishes and shrimp added to give it more flavor. Look for it in the refrigerated section near sauerkraut, other Asian sauces and pickles.
Kimchi is delicious added to a fried rice bowl with veggies and an egg.
Kefir is like drinkable yogurt. It’s made when kefir grains, which are colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria, ferment the sugars in milk, giving it a slightly thicker consistency and tart flavor. Similar to yogurt, kefir is packed with probiotics.
Buy plain kefir (instead of flavored) to skip added sugars. Due to fermentation, kefir has a slightly tart and acidic taste, which makes it tasty added to a breakfast smoothie instead of milk. Or try substituting kefir for milk in overnight oats for a healthy combo of probiotics and fiber.
Kombucha is a tart, fizzy tea made by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and sugar to green or black tea. It’s then fermented for a week or more. During fermentation alcohol and gases are produced, giving the kombucha natural carbonation. The amount of alcohol is usually less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (although some have been found to have closer to 2-3%).
Additionally, acetic acid and lactic acid bacteria are produced, the latter of which is known to function as a probiotic. When consuming kombucha made from green tea, you’ll also get the antioxidant properties associated with tea. Keep in mind that some kombuchas, like those made from black tea, contain caffeine. Others have artificial sweeteners, which can negatively alter gut bacteria, so read labels.
Miso is a fermented paste made from soybeans, barley or rice. Similar to other fermented foods, beneficial bacteria are produced in the fermentation process. You’ll also get some protein if you eat miso made from soybeans. A little bit goes a long way, which is good since miso is also high in sodium.
Miso is great added to sauces, dressings and soup bases.
Good old-fashioned yogurt is teeming with probiotics — as long as you choose a variety that contains live and active cultures (such as lactobacillus bulgaricus). That label means it has at least 100 million cultures per gram. And good news — the bacteria in yogurt comes with less lactose content than other milk products, so even if you’re lactose intolerant to other foods, you may be able to eat it without issue, Blatner says.
7. Aged cheeses
If you’re a big-time cheese lover, some aged-cheeses — Parmesan, Swiss, cheddar, Gouda — contain probiotics, Stark says. You don’t want to go overboard, she cautions, but if you’re eating cheese, you might as well choose one that brings some probiotics along for the ride.
Soy sometimes gets a bad rap, Blatner says, but that’s in cases where people are eating soy protein isolates, not the whole food. Tempeh, a tofu-like fermented food made from soy beans, for example, contains probiotics and is also a good source of protein, iron, and copper, and a great meat alternative.
9. Whole Grains
Your body can’t break down fiber on its own. When it gets to your large intestine, gut bacteria get to work fermenting it. This creates acids that feed cells in your intestines while helping to protect your gut from harmful bacteria.
These compounds in foods protect your cells from damage while fighting inflammation and infection. Colorful foods are rich in polyphenols, as are tea, coffee, and red wine. Polyphenols in green tea may help fight “bad” bacteria like E. coli and calm symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and peptic ulcers. Polyphenols can also promote the growth of good gut bacteria.