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The spear-like green contains high levels of inulin, about 15g per serving. Inulin is an indigestible fiber that acts as a prebiotic, a type of nutrient that nourishes the friendly bacteria living in your GI tract, says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Asparagus also has solid B vitamin levels and inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Like a lot of stalky, crunchy veggies, asparagus has to potential to make you gassy. If you’re prone to digestive distress, start with a few spears.
A mix of fermented milk and live bacteria, yogurt is a potent probiotic, which means it contains the healthy living bacteria that can fight the bad bugs, says Rumsey. Store shelves are crowded with a dizzying array of yogurt these days, so here’s a cheat sheet to cut through the confusion: Make sure the package says “live active cultures” (so you know it hasn’t been pasteurized, a process that kills off the good microbes), and stick with a no-added-sugar type, since excess sugar can feed unhealthy bacteria. Also, go Greek. Greek yogurt has the same probiotic power but twice the protein count (the milk is more concentrated).
The fruit (technically a berry) that comes in its own wrapper packs a nutrient called resistant starch. Your system isn’t able to digest it, but the good bacteria that have colonized your gut can, says Rumsey, and feasting on resistant starch helps the bacteria thrive and keep your microbiome in check. Unlike other foods from the produce aisle, bananas are gentle on your stomach; they’re a main ingredient in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), used to help ease diarrhea and gastro issues.
Think of Kefir as yogurt’s tangy cousin, a fermented milk product native to the Caucasus Mountains of southeastern Europe that boosts gut health a few different ways. First, it’s a probiotic, thanks to its live, active bacteria cultures. But it also does double duty as a prebiotic. “Kefir is made with oligosaccharides, a complex carbohydrate that feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut,” says Rumsey. And since it’s meant to be sipped rather than eaten with a spoon, kefir makes a good on-the-go snack. Look for a low-fat brand or variety with no added sugar, she says, and as with yogurt, make sure the label clearly states that it has live cultures.
As anyone who has ever downed one too many bowls of chili knows, beans are probably the last food that pops in your head for gut health. Fact is, they’re filled with the resistant starch that feeds good bacteria, says Kellman. Black, kidney, pinto — all varieties have strong prebiotic powers, not to mention lots of quality protein. If eating them leaves you bloated or breaking wind, Kellman suggests consuming small amounts at first, so your body has time to get used to them.
Tempeh — and a similar product called miso — are fermented soybean foods with a chewy consistency and more protein and fiber than regular tofu. Smoky and nutty, both are low-fat probiotics that contain beneficial bacteria, says Rumsey. Tempeh is typically sold in blocks or patties that you can add to salads and stir-fries. Miso comes in a thick paste and is used to make the pre-sushi starter dish miso soup.
It doesn’t do any favors for your breath, but garlic is excellent for your GI tract, acting as a prebiotic that fuels healthy bacteria thanks to high levels of the ?indigestible fiber inulin, says Kellman. A 2012 study lends support to garlic’s gut-boosting powers: Researchers writing in the journal Phytomedicine found that garlic powder appeared to promote the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria such as lactobacilli.
The word translates into “sour white cabbage” in German. This ballpark and barbecue condiment is a probiotic powerhouse, says Rumsey. “Just avoid canned sauerkraut as it’s pasteurized, meaning most of the healthy bacteria is killed.” A cup of the stuff only racks up about 30 calories. And cabbage’s naturally high fiber level helps keep your digestive system running smoothly and prevents constipation.
Another reason oatmeal makes an all-star breakfast: Oats contain beta-glucans, indigestible carbohydrates that feed the friendly bacteria in your GI tract, says Rumsey. One 2012 study from the British Journal of Nutrition backs this up, suggesting that whole grain oat breakfast cereals have prebiotic powers. Not a fan of oats Get your beta-glucans from barley, another whole grain with a high beta-glucan count.
This spicy, robust fermented cabbage is a traditional Korean condiment. Like sauerkraut, it delivers lots of good bacteria right to your gut. Kimchi is usually made with onions, which act as a prebiotic feeding the healthy bugs in your intestine, says Rumsey. And garlic is also a popular add-in, further cranking its prebiotic muscle. Just make sure you go for the unpasteurized kind, since good bacteria are killed off during the pasteurization process.
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