Fostering good gut health and an ecosystem of friendly bacteria can improve your health in many ways. So stock your diet (and fridge) with gut-friendly foods today.
You’re constantly eating and drinking, because it serves as fuel for survival. But your diet can be a very impactful tool to help you prevent certain diseases. Here is a short and simple list of 6 inexpensive, plant-based foods to help you maintain a healthy gut, which can help you absorb nutrients to keep your body working properly, as well as improve immune function and brain health.
6 Foods for Gut Health
1. Whole Grains. The term ‘whole’ refers to having all anatomical components of the grain, endosperm, germ and bran, intact. ‘Whole’ is a key word that is crucial when comparing breads and food products. For example, “whole wheat” bread and “wheat” bread are nutritionally different; the wheat bread is likely based on refined wheat instead of whole grain wheat. The most common whole grains are wheat, barley, brown rice, oats, rye and corn—but there is a whole world of whole grains, including amaranth, quinoa, teff, sorghum, buckwheat, and millet. Whole grains contain indigestible fibers called arabinoxylans. These fibers are then fermented into short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are beneficial to your health. One SCFA called butyrate is known to help with the integrity of the gut epithelial layer and to reduce gastrointestinal permeability. Additionally, inflammation can be reduced and satiety increased when consuming whole grains versus refined grains.
2. Black beans. Black beans are rich in the soluble fiber, pectin. Soluble fiber delays gastric emptying, which helps with satiety to keep you feeling fuller longer. Black beans are a great protein source too. In fact, all beans, such as lima beans, garbanzos, and kidney beans, are a great source of soluble fiber and an economical alternative to animal sources of protein. Try cooking beans from scratch and notice the difference between canned and homemade.
3. Flax seeds. Although small in size, flax seeds are packed with protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seeds can help regulate bowel movements, because they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is fermented by the gut bacteria, while insoluble fiber aids in bulking up stools to help prevent constipation and maintain glucose control. To make the nutrients more bioavailable in flax seeds it is best to consume ground flax seeds versus whole. Whole flax seeds can be ground at home using a coffee grinder or they can be bought already ground. For better shelf-life, ground flax seeds can be stored in the fridge. Flax seeds can be a great alternative for eggs in baked goods and used to thicken smoothies.
4. Broccoli. Broccoli is a great source of dietary fiber that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. This veggie is high in glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, which increase antioxidant status to help protect against chemically induced cancers. For better absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, found in green vegetables, it is best to consume them with fats. Try pairing your green veggies with healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado, tahini or nuts and seeds.
5. Bananas. Bananas are a prebiotic food that helps stabilize gut bacteria and fight inflammation. You can top a plant-based yogurt (full of probiotics) with a banana. Bananas are a whole food, naturally easy to take on the go, or added to numerous recipes, such as baked goods as a natural sweetener, smoothies, or your oatmeal in the morning.
6. Tempeh. Tempeh is a traditional fermented soybean food. Similar to tofu, it is plain in flavor and can be seasoned to suit any dish as a tasty meat alternative. The fermentation process makes some nutrients more bioavailable and offers a source of live bacteria, also known as probiotics. Probiotics increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut and can help control the bad bacteria in order to fight against inflammation and improve your immune system.
For other blogs on maintaining a healthy gut, check out the following:
Written by Rhesa Lacanienta with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN on July 22, 2019.