9 Essential Foods to Fight Inflammation and Foster a Happy, Healthy Gut
Okay, you've heard about the gut microbiome, the universe of bacteria and other wee critters that live in our guts and help keep us healthy. About 100 trillion bacterial cells call the gut home. Pile all these microbes onto a scale, and they'd weigh about as much as your brain.
We've co-evolved with our microbes, and they're a key component to keeping us healthy. A short list of the mission-critical jobs that they perform ranges from digesting food to regulating metabolism, from calibrating our immune system to helping reduce inflammation. (Left unchecked, inflammation can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, even the common cold.) Microbes chip in to synthesize vitamins and even make serotonin, a chemical that affects mood. They're also security guards, keeping unhealthy pathogens behind the velvet rope.
So caring for the microbiome can be an important way to stay healthy. We can caretake, in part, by eating a variety of fiber-rich whole foods — particularly fruits and vegetables. With greater microbial diversity, so the thinking goes, the microbiome is more resilient, better able to cope with intrusions by potentially harmful pathogens.
Of course, if you like to eat with the seasons, enjoying a diversity of fresh produce is a little trickier in winter. Here, then, are a few whole foods to favor as you put together a healthy, microbe-friendly diet:
These foods bring the fiber and other ingredients that your good bacteria eat. These are the prebiotics, the foods that feed microbes already in the gut. Feed them what they like, and they'll help take care of you.
1. Garlic, Leeks, and Onions
"I tried this recipe, and it was lovely, however the next time I tried it I added leeks, fresh herbs and butter and it was even better!" — Jamie Knifton
Try This: Spicy Pepper and Onion
Sweet onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and garlic are sautéed in a spicy, tangy sauce.
Try This: Mediterranean Style Leeks with Lemon
"Greek-inspired, this is for leek and lemon lovers everywhere. A tasty, full-of-flavor side to accompany a myriad of main dishes." — Hasta Luego
2. Kiwis and Bananas
Try This: Kiwi Salsa
"Great with chips or on top of fish or poultry. I found this recipe in the back of my closet and use it all summer long." — Rio Fantasia
Try This: Hailey's Smoothie
"A healthy drink with kiwis, bananas, blueberries and yogurt. Quick and satisfying for breakfast or any time of day!" — AHMOM
Try This: Carla's Baked Bananas
"Warm bananas covered in a rich sauce with a hint of nutmeg. This quick and easy dessert is a delightful treat any time of year!" — cshrwd
Try This: Mushroom Kabobs
"This is a wonderful kabob for grilling. With more types of mushrooms available in the grocery store, you can now make these year-round using an assortment of button, portabello, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms." — Bob Cody
Try This: Balsamic Mushrooms
"Balsamic vinegary mushrooms, yum! These mushrooms are equally delicious hot or cold so you can prepare them the night before your party or moments before!" — CHRISTYJ
Try This: Black Bean-Mushroom Happy
"A quick and easy chicken recipe with dark meat and a touch of Asian flare — which comes from the fermented black beans. Very good with rice or noodles." — Yan Liu
Try This: Mexican Jicama Snack
"A great snack that is crunchy, has a great flavor, and is very healthy. My kids love this and they can help make it. Happy crunching!" — caztoindy
"A Southeast Asian chopped salad bursting with exotic flavors. Sweet yet tart." — debola
"Sweet and tangy work well together in this palate-pleasing salad." — Seattle Dad
These are foods that are naturally preserved by fermentation, and available year-round.
Fermented cabbage is a nutritional power house. However, to get the probiotic benefits, make sure your sauerkraut is "fresh," in the sense that it contains live cultures. You'll find fresh sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Or make it yourself.
The best kind of pickles for your gut are fermented pickles packed in brine. That's where you'll find the "good bacteria." You can pickle all sorts of veggies: cucumbers, carrots, beets, green beans.
7. Yogurt and Kefir
Things to keep in mind. Not all yogurt is the same. Make sure the label includes the words "live active cultures." These cultures are the critters — the famous probiotics — that can help you stay healthy. Also, try to avoid added sugars, which can actually feed the not-so-healthy bacteria. Kefir is, essentially, drinkable yogurt, also with live active cultures. It's lactose-free, too.
8. Miso Paste
Another fermented food, miso paste is made from soybeans that are aged and fermented. It's healthy stuff, and loaded with probiotics. It's easy to add a small portion of miso paste to stir-fries, baked fish, simple soups, and roasted chicken. Note: when you're adding miso to recipes, watch the salt. It's a salty product.
Like things on the pungent side? Kimchi is fermented cabbage with a twist. Lactic acid fermentation and spices create a pickled pleasure with a spicy, sometimes smelly side.
Explore our top-rated Microbiome Diet Recipes, for eating with your microbes and a healthy gut in mind.