Balance Your Gut Microbes With Good-For-You Foods

Amy Hendel | Aug 29, 2016

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Rule 1: what you eat modulates your gut microbe balance.  The foods you choose for each meal and snack can either help maintain the delicate balance between good and bad gut microbes, or they can shift the balance, allowing overgrowth of undesirable organisms.  Here are the foods you should eat to support gut microbe balance.

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Fiber is critical

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Fiber-famished gut microbes have been linked to poor health. Consuming whole grains, fruits and vegetables will help to boost the fiber content of your diet.  Sources of soluble fiber, which absorb water, include legumes, grains like oatmeal, fruit (apples and blueberries), and vegetables and flaxseeds.  Insoluble fiber-rich foods include seeds, skins of fruits, whole wheat bread and brown rice.

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Jerusalem artichokes

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This vegetable contains a very specific kind of natural fiber, inulin, that travels from the small intestine to the large intestine, where it ferments into healthy microbe flora, helping to maintain levels of healthy gut microbes.  Ease into eating this vegetable if you have a “sensitive stomach.”  Asparagus, leeks, and onions are also good sources of inulin.

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Sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh

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Fermented foods are credited with helping to balance gut microbes. These foods are rich in lactic acid-producing bacteria, the “good microbes.”   So rather than taking a probiotic supplement, you can eat these probiotic foods.  Other foods in this category include pickles (fermented), natto, miso and kombucha, which has become a popular tea ingredient.

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Bananas

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Ever suffered with a stomach virus or diarrhea? Then you’re probably familiar with the bland diet recommendations that include foods that are both gentle and binding.  White rice, white toast, tea and bananas are part of that list.  Bananas limit inflammation thanks to high levels of potassium and magnesium.  Bananas also help to balance specific microbes, creating gut harmony.

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Polenta

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Think of your healthy gut microbes as “supreme leaders,” helping to call the shots by helping your body to absorb nutrients, synthesize certain vitamins, fight bacterial invaders (infections, diseases) and regulate basal metabolism.  Polenta has insoluble fiber (from its corn base) that after digestion is transported to the colon where it ferments into healthy gut flora.

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Cruciferous vegetables

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Cruciferous means “related to the cabbage family” and includes vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower and, obviously, cabbage.  These vegetables have sulfer-containing metabolites, called glucosinolates, that when broken down by gut microbes release substances that reduce inflammation.  General inflammation can cause disease and also upset the gut microbe balance.

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Blueberries

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Berries are good for you.  They contain fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals, compounds that support health.  Blueberries’ pigment is in part due to the anthocyanins they contain, and they are considered a superfood because of their antioxidants, vitamin K and fiber.  Blueberries in particular help to diversify our gut microbe flora and , in terms of gut microbe balance, the more diversity the better.

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Beans

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Most of us are familiar with the little song that begins, “Beans, beans they’re good for your heart ….” Let’s face it: gas, when released, helps you feel better.  Fiber is a big part of beans’ worthiness, but beans also contain short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and they help to strengthen intestinal cells.  When digested, beans feed the good gut microbes.

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Yogurt

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Eating yogurt daily means you get the benefits of live active cultures of probiotics which help to support the friendly, good microbes in your gut.  How do you select the best yogurts, from a nutrition standpoint? Choose Greek yogurt for higher protein levels, and try to find yogurt with no added sugar, since sugar encourages overgrowth of less-desirable gut microbes.  Read labels carefully.