9 Foods that are Good for Your GutWhat to Eat for a Healthy Digestive System
-- By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer
Your digestive tract is full of living organisms that help keep you healthy--around 400 different types of beneficial bacteria and yeast strains that co-habitate in your gastrointestinal system. There are several different kinds of foods and supplements that contain these beneficial bugs (probiotics) or help keep your gut flora functioning optimally (prebiotics).
Probiotics: Beneficial Bugs
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria or yeast strains that provide health benefits by crowding out harmful bacteria, boosting your intestinal health, and strengthening your immune system. Found in fermented foods and in supplement form, here's how to incorporate these health-promoting bugs into your diet:
Yogurt: This is the most common probiotic food that you're probably already eating on a regular basis. Yogurt, as long as it is made with live and active cultures, delivers a tasty dose of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus thermophilus to your system.
Kefir: This cultured milk drink is similar to yogurt but with a more drinkable consistency. Make sure the product you choose contains live cultures. Kefir also contains some helpful yeast strains.
Fermented vegetables: The most common fermented vegetable is sauerkraut. Most sauerkraut you find in grocery stores, however, is pickled rather than fermented, but certain brands are still made the old-fashioned way, which uses salt as a preservative that creates an environment that is inhospitable to bad bacteria but perfect for bacteria like Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus plantarum. Many DIYers are now making their own fermented food products at home. (Visit CulturesforHealth.com to learn about many different types of fermented foods, along with complete instructions for fermenting vegetables at home.)
Olives: Olives that are preserved in brine contain similar strains of bacteria to other fermented vegetables like sauerkraut.
Miso: This fermented soy bean paste is used in Japanese cooking, most commonly to make a flavorful soup by the same name. Read the label carefully to make sure the miso still contains live cultures, and always add miso at the end of cooking time, as boiling kills the cultures. Beyond soup, there are lots of ways to enjoy miso. Check out these recipes!
Tempeh: Tempeh is another product made from fermented soy beans or other legumes. These beans are then pressed into a cake that can be sliced and sautéed to top salads, act as a sandwich filling or take the place of meat in many recipes. Learn more about cooking with tempeh.
Fermented soft cheeses: Cheeses like Gouda, Brie, bleu cheese and aged goat cheese can contain beneficial bacteria.
Kombucha: This fermented tea is made with a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria that eats the sugar from the tea mixture leaving behind a slightly sour, bubbly drink.
- Probiotic supplements: It is important to note that each type of friendly bacteria has a specific health benefit to the body. With more than 400 different types of probiotics identified, researchers are just starting to uncover the health roles and benefits of each. If you're thinking about using a probiotic supplement, talk to your doctor regarding the type of supplement to use based on your signs and symptoms. This will help assure that you are receiving the best treatment option available. Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of forms, such as freeze-dried powder, capsules, wafers and liquids. Take note of the storage information and expiration date. <pagebreak>
Prebiotics are the "food" for the good bacteria that help them grow more strongly. A good prebiotic food substance:
- does not digest in the stomach or small intestine
- can be readily used by the bacteria once it reaches the large intestine and
- can only be used by the good bacteria (not the harmful ones)
The scientific names that are often used to identify prebiotics (and that you might see on some food labels) include:
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Polyols--laculose, lactitol
- Leeks--Try cooking with leeks.
- Asparagus--Discover new asparagus recipes.
- Chicory--You can actually cook with this unusual root.
- Jersusalm artichokes--Also known as the sunchoke, this root veggie is delicious in many recipes.
- Garlic--Discover why you should be adding more garlic to your cooking.
- Onions--Lean more about what makes onions such a healthy vegetable.
- Whole grains--Discover easy ways to add more whole grains to your diet.
- Oats--Find new ways to enjoy this healthy breakfast treat.
- Honey--Learn why honey is a sweet choice you can feel good about.
- Soybeans--Called edamame when they're young, these delicious beans are super versatile.
Although benefits associated with prebiotics and probiotics are favorable, researchers are cautious about drawing firm conclusions because benefits vary, depending on type and amount of probiotic and prebiotic consumed. More human studies need to be done to provide a better understanding of their direct effect on health. For now, consuming foods that add good bacteria to your body (with probiotics) and keeping those bacteria happy once they're there (with prebiotics) is a great way to obtain the health benefit.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, M.Ed., Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
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