A diverse diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and good-for-you bacteria will help seal your gut lining and prevent bad bacteria from entering the blood, which causes bloating and gas. How do we get more of these good bacteria in our diet? It's easier—and tastier—than you might think. Click through for the hows, whys, and ways to start building a healthier gut.
Kefir is a liquid yogurt that's naturally effervescent and extra tangy. It's cultured five to eight times longer than yogurt, giving good bacteria more time to multiply. It contains as many as 12 strains (versus about two in yogurt). It's great for smoothies and overnight oats. Another reason we love it: It has 11g protein per cup, and you can use it as a 1-to-1 substitution for buttermilk. Buy the plain variety to avoid added sugars.
We love the crunchy, near-tingly texture and umami-rich flavor of kimchi, a spicy Korean vegetable side dish that's created by mixing cabbage and other veggies with garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and fish sauce. The mixture is then set aside to ferment, a process that adds a belly-full of health benefits to its profile.
Kimchi's spice and puckery tartness make it difficult for some people to eat by itself, so we've blended it with yogurt in this recipe for a tart-tangy combination that does wonders for roasted veggies, eggs, and wilted greens. Bonus: yogurt + kimchi = double the good bugs.
This popular source of probiotics needs little introduction. The active cultures in yogurt not only help with digestion (one reason lactose-intolerant people are able to eat yogurt) but also help us better absorb nutrients from our food. The FDA requires at least two strains of bacteria in all yogurt (L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus), though manufacturers can add more. Check the ingredients list, which often includes the different bacterial strains.
Other reasons we love yogurt: It's packed with protein (14g in 6 ounces of Greek), easy to find, and offers up 30% of your daily needs for calcium, which is more readily absorbed by your body thanks to the probiotics.
This savory, nutty paste is made from fermented soybeans; it's loaded with umami and rich in probiotics. The concentrated salt content (about 400mg to 600mg per tablespoon) helps protect these good bacteria from contamination, and there's a balanced sweetness that makes the flavor much milder than most super-sour fermented products. The longer it ferments, the darker in color (often red) and the saltier and richer in flavor it gets.
Another reason we love miso: It's versatile—a lovely addition to soups, marinades, grains, and dressings, like this Miso Citrus Vinaigrette.
In its most basic form, sauerkraut is just cabbage and salt. Millions of good-for-you bacteria (the same found in yogurt) live on the surface of cabbage. When sealed airtight, they convert the natural plant sugars to lactic acid, which aids in digestion, increases vitamin availability, and gives sauerkraut that pleasantly sour edge.
Choose refrigerated varieties instead of canned; the latter have been pasteurized, which kills all the probiotics. Another reason we love kraut: It's a delicious, lower-in-sodium sub for pickles. Use fresh sauerkraut in place of pickles and you'll cut sodium in half.
Fermented soybeans packed into cakes, this tofu counterpart is not only an anti-inflammatory but also a great source of plant-based protein, with 16g in just 3 ounces. The whole bean is used (making it less processed than tofu), and it has a nutty, slightly sour, savory flavor. Fermentation reduces the amount of phytic acid, a substance found in soy that prevents your body from absorbing good-for-you nutrients.
Another reason we love tempeh: It makes a delicious plant-based riff on a Reuben (see recipe page 72) and packs 9g fiber (a third of your daily needs) into just 3 ounces.
Pleasantly peppery with a bitter edge, these greens are a top source of prebiotics, a specific carbohydrate that feeds probiotics. Prebiotics are high in an indigestible fiber called inulin, which enhances the gut's production of friendly bacteria. Food sources include whole wheat, leeks, cabbage, artichokes, and breast milk.
Dandelion greens make a lovely addition to stir-fries, soups, and pestos (recipe below). Rich olive oil, salty cheese, and buttery pine nuts offset the sharpness of the greens.
Drink up! Kombucha is a fermented beverage made by adding a culture of probiotic-rich bacteria and yeast (called a SCOBY) to lightly sweetened tea. It's fizzy and pleasantly puckery, like a sweet carbonated vinegar with a subtle yeastiness similar to beer. Often made with fruits and herbs, it's like a probiotic-packed soda—cold, bubbly, and sweet—but with 45 fewer grams (about 11 teaspoons) of sugar. We like it extra fizzy (look for GT's brand), with less than 5g sugar per serving.