Gut health is all the rage these days, and for good reason: eating foods with good bacterian helps to balance your gut’s microbiome—the digestive tract’s ecosystem comprising of trillions of live bacteria that interact with virtually every cell—boasts benefits that extend well beyond digestion. According to research from the British Medical Journal, diversifying your gut microbiota can play a role in weight management, and help ward off the likes of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. Most recently, three independent studies have even found that certain gut bacteria species may improve the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs. It’s like, what can’t a balanced gut do?
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While no single food can alter your gut flora or even eliminate your risk of disease, Dr. Niket Sonpal, M.D., an NYC-based internist and gastroenterologist, stocks his fridge with the following foods to optimize gut and overall health.
If you’ve been toying with the idea of embarking on the Activia challenge, let this be your inspo to take the leap. “Live yogurt is an excellent source of so-called friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics,” says Dr. Sonpal. To maximize your yogurt’s health benefits, he recommends adding your own fresh fruit (instead of opting for sugary fruit-on-the-bottom types), as well as avoiding sugar-free or full-fat versions.
You don’t need to wait for your next sushi night to treat yourself to the gut-healing powers of miso, which is a staple in Japanese cooking made of fermented soya beans, and barley or rice. Like Dr. Sonpal, use the paste in dips and dressings or marinades for salmon and tofu. “It contains a range of helpful bacteria and enzymes [and is] suitable if you’re avoiding dairy,” he says.
Who knew one of the most popular hot dog toppings is actually super gut-friendly? “It’s a naturally fermented food that has the microorganisms Lactobacillus bacteria, which crowds out bad bacteria in the gut and allows the beneficial gut flora to flourish,” explains Dr. Sonpal. “This helps to lower irritable bowel syndrome symptoms like gas, bloating, and indigestion.” Plus, that tart taste you get from sauerkraut is an especially beneficial way to add flavor to your meals, since it comes from organic acids that help probiotics do their job, he says.
Sure, you’re bound to reap more gut benefits from salmon than you would, say, red meat, but Dr. Sonpal says you should definitely aim for the wild variety, meaning the salmon was caught with a fishing pole in its natural environment, as opposed to farmed. “Wild salmon has an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is critical for healing an inflamed gut and preventing future episodes,” says Dr. Sonpal.
Whether eaten alone or part of a stew, kimchi is a mainstay in Dr. Sonpal’s diet for its gut-healing properties. “Because it’s made from fermented vegetables, this Korean side dish is a good choice for those who don’t consume dairy, and it’s a great source of dietary fiber, and vitamins A and C,” he says.
None of these ingredients tickle your fancy? Don’t fret. Check out one of these seven gut-friendly breakfasts, or opt for a simple, high-fiber dinner (pizza and burgers included).