Your body is an incredible specimen! The digestive system breaks food down into nutrients and energy that the body can use. When we hear the word “bacteria” we usually think of being sick and having an infection.
In reality, your body is full of “good” bacteria that it needs to function smoothly. “Good” bacteria can be found everywhere in your body, including the gut, and plays an important role in digestion and overall health.
According to Jennifer Nayor, MD, gastroenterologist with Concord Gastroenterology Associates, “The best way to take care of the good microorganisms in our gut is to nourish them with healthy foods.”
High-fiber foods are a winning choice. “The benefits of fiber include preventing constipation and reducing the risk of developing diverticular disease,” says Dr. Nayor. “You need both soluble and insoluble fiber, a key combination that helps to stimulate digestion.”
Dr. Nayor explains that soluble fiber attracts water and slows digestion, helps add bulk and move food through your gut. Insoluble fiber, which can’t be completely digested, passes through your GI system mostly intact. Dr. Nayor adds, “the benefits include preventing constipation and reducing the risk of developing diverticular disease.”
To maintain good gut health and keep your system in balance, you also want to eat foods that offer probiotics. These living microorganisms work by decreasing the number of harmful bacteria in your intestines.
Here are some foods that will help you keep your gut healthy:
- Yogurt: Yogurt with live and active cultures is an excellent source of “friendly” bacteria, also known as probiotics. Opt for plain yogurt, which has zero added sugars. Mix in fruit for a tasty breakfast or snack. Yogurt drinks can contain high numbers of bacteria that are good for the gut. Do be mindful though as some brands can have a high sugar content.
- Kefir: This probiotic yogurt drink is made by fermenting milk and is packed with good bacteria. It also makes a great addition to smoothies and soups, or you can use it as a base for salad dressing (add lemon juice and seasoning).
- Miso: Miso is made from fermented soybeans, plus barley or rice, and contains a range of goodies such as helpful bacteria and enzymes. A savory paste used in dips, dressings and soup, it can also be used as a marinade for salmon or tofu. It’s a staple of Japanese cooking and suitable if you’re avoiding dairy.
- Kimchi: This Korean specialty of fermented vegetables brings the benefits of probiotic bacteria along with vitamins and fiber. Use it as a lively side dish with meat, salad or eggs.
- Almonds: These are a treat for your gut bacteria — high in fiber and full of fatty acids and polyphenols. A handful of almonds makes an excellent snack when you need an energy boost.
- Olive oil: Boasting fatty acids and polyphenols, studies have shown that olive oil helps reduce gut inflammation. Use it for salad dressing or drizzle it over cooked vegetables. Some studies have also found olive oil to be beneficial in easing indigestion problems and can also benefit your pancreas through lowering its requirement to produce digestive enzymes.
- Kombucha: We all know water is crucial for gut health, but what else can you drink? Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is full of probiotic good bacteria. It has a sharp, vinegary taste and can be used as a refreshing drink on its own or mixed with fruit and spices. It also makes the base for great cocktails.
- Green peas: Peas are full of soluble and insoluble fiber to help keep your system in balance. Add peas to stir-fries, soups or salads. Frozen peas are found year-round in the frozen food section of grocery stores.
- Brussel sprouts: Much more than a festive staple, they contain the kinds of fiber that good bacteria like and sulfur compounds which help combat unhealthy bacteria such as H pylori. Stir-fry with garlic and bacon for a delicious side dish.
- Garlic: With terrific antibacterial and antifungal properties, garlic can help keep “bad” gut bacteria under control and balance yeast in the gut. Use it as a flavoring for savory dishes. The properties within garlic act as a fuel source to allow the bacteria to do their job better which overall improves gut function.
- Ginger: Fresh ginger can help in the production of stomach acid and stimulate the digestive system to keep food moving through the gut. Add fresh grated ginger to soups, stews, smoothies or stir-fries. Pour boiling water on grated ginger to make refreshing ginger tea. Fresh ginger is often found in the produce section of most grocery stores.
Gut Healthy Recipes
- 1 cup brown basmati rice (100g)
- 2 skinless salmon fillets
- 2 heads of bok choy, quartered lengthways
- ½ cup sugar snap peas
- ½ cup baby corn
- 2 stalks of scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. white miso
- 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
- A thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated
- Cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water following instructions. Drain well.
- For the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients with ½ cup of water.
- Heat the grill to high and heat a non-stick, oven-proof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Lightly oil and season the salmon fillets, then cook on one side for 2 minutes until crisp. Turn, remove from the heat, and pour over the miso sauce. Put under the grill for 2-3 minutes or until the salmon is crisp and the sauce reduced and bubbling.
- Meanwhile, boil the bok choy, sugar snaps and baby corn in a large pan of boiling water until just tender, then drain well.
- Divide the rice and veggies between two plates, then add the salmon, spooning over any sauce. Sprinkle with scallions to serve.
Source: Olive Magazine
Kait’s Easy Kefir Smoothie Bowl
- 1 cup low-fat blueberry kefir
- 2 frozen bananas, broken in half
- ¼ cup nut butter of your choice (almond, cashew, peanut butter)
- Almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts
- Unsweetened coconut
- Cacao chips
- Fresh berries: strawberries, blueberries, black berries, raspberries
- Fresh fruit: diced mango, sliced pineapple, peaches, apples, or pears
- Seeds: chia, pepitas, or flax
- Pour the kefir into a blender. Add the frozen bananas and preferred nut butter. Blend until smooth.
- Pour liquid into a bowl and garnish with your favorite toppings.
Nonni’s Pea Pasta Sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups frozen green peas
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, gently packed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Add the garlic and olive oil to a small pot and put on a stove set at medium-low heat. Cook the garlic until it begins to caramelize, around 2-3 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove.
- While the garlic is cooking, set a large pot of water over high heat. When the water is boiling, add peas and cook for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peas. Save the water to cook the pasta of your choice.
- Add the peas, garlic, oil and remaining ingredients to the blender. Blend on the highest settling until you have a smooth puree. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper and lemon, as needed.
- Pour over your favorite pasta. Enjoy!
About the Author
Kaitlin (Kait) Schuster is a first-year student at Cornell University who loves the great outdoors and cooking in her spare time.