In partnership with Activia
Sure, keeping your heart and lungs healthy is key, but scientists say there’s another organ system that’s just as important to your overall health, affecting everything from your mood to your immune function. Turns out, it’s all in your gut.
Your gut is home to 100 trillion micro-organisms (a.k.a. microbiota), including at least 1,000 different species of bacteria. That’s a lot of bugs to feed.
“Research shows that the foods we eat directly affect the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut,” says Vanessa Perrone, a registered dietitian and founder of Motive Nutrition in Montreal. Here are six go-to foods guaranteed to keep your good gut bacteria healthy and happy.
These slender green stalks are loaded with inulin, a prebiotic fibre that’s essential for a high-functioning gut microbiome. “Prebiotics are food for our gut bacteria,” says Andrea Hardy, registered dietitian and owner of Ignite Nutrition in Calgary. They bypass the enzymes in the digestive tract and are broken down in the colon where they nourish good bacteria and keep bad bacteria in check.
2. Dandelion greens
These unlikely gut-health heroes are not only chock-full of immune-boosting antioxidants, but they’re also rich in inulin. Not sure what to do with this once maligned garden green? Add sautéed dandelion leaves to rice bowls and pasta dishes or boil to make dandelion tea.
“Pineapple is wonderful for the gut because it contains bromelain,” says Pamela Fergusson, a registered dietitian in Nelson, B.C. “Bromelain is an anti-inflammatory compound and a natural digestive enzyme that helps your body break down protein.”
4. Fibre in all its forms
“It’s important to eat enough fibre to fuel all the bacteria in the gut,” says Hardy. “And making sure you get a variety is essential because different bacteria perform different functions and like to snack on different fibres.” She recommends treating your microbiota to four cups of multi-hued vegetables a day, along with three different fruits and whole grains and a half cup of pulses (chickpeas, beans, lentils) somewhere in the mix.
While prebiotics are plant fibres that feed your microbiota, probiotics are foods that contain living organisms that add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Finding the right probiotic-rich foods can be tricky. “Not all fermented foods are probiotic,” says Hardy. “They have to be the right types and in the right amounts to classify.” For instance, if you make your own yogurt, it might not contain the right strains or numbers of microorganisms to do your gut any good. Same goes for many brands at the grocery store. When you see “live and active” on the label, you know it’s a gut-friendly fermented food, but it may not be a probiotic. Activia, on the other hand, is a yogurt that’s classified as a probiotic, which means it contributes to healthy gut flora.
6. Jerusalem artichokes
These iron and inulin-rich root veggies are nothing like their leafy green cousins, but they’re great for your gut health. A small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found study participants had a significant increase in their levels of fecal Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus (i.e. good bacteria) when they put Jerusalem artichokes on the menu. Grate them raw into a green salad or serve them steamed or boiled for a gut-healthy side dish.