Lunch your way to better gut health with these RD-approved ideas.
As more research emerges, we’re discovering more about the extent to which gut health and overall health are linked. The health of the gut microbiome is connected to so many different facets of our health and well-being beyond just digestion, and is in turn influenced by several lifestyle factors, including the foods we eat. That’s right, just by incorporating a few gut-healthy lunches into your weekly rotation—or adding some gut-healthy ingredients to your usual favorites—you’re setting up your entire system for success. And here’s why.
The benefits of eating for gut health (at lunch and after)
The gut microbiome refers to the thriving community of more than a trillion microorganisms that live in your colon, consisting primarily of bacteria, but also various types of yeasts and viruses. When the biome is healthy, the ratio of beneficial and harmful bacteria is well balanced and symbiotic. Sleep deprivation, chronic stress, certain medications, inflammation, exercise habits, and our dietary choices are all examples of factors that can affect gut homeostasis.
Our microbiome helps promote healthy digestion and promote regularity, and is vital in the production of certain amino acids, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, while helping to rid the body of any toxins that may be in our food. A thriving gut microbiome supports the immune system by reducing the chances of the harmful microbes wreaking havoc and causing disease, and by regulating the function of many different types of immune cells. You might also be surprised to learn that the gut and brain are constantly “talking”: Scientists have discovered the “gut-brain axis,” the amazing two-way communication pathway between the nerve cells in the gut and our brain. In fact, research shows that an imbalanced gut may underlie mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and have a major impact on stress regulation and overall cognitive function.
Gut-Healthy Food groups to focus on
If you want to start eating for better gut health, you need to know which types of foods (and drinks) support the biome and which ones unfortunately damage the gut when consumed in excess. Here are a few key food groups, nutrients, and guidelines to keep in mind.
Probiotics: Also known as healthy bacteria, probiotics help boost the population of beneficial microorganisms in your biome. Some great food/beverage sources of probiotics include miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, certain types of pickles, buttermilk, and yogurt.
Fiber and prebiotics: All types of fiber are super important when it comes to gut health and digestion. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that is particularly essential for a thriving microbiome, as it feeds your healthy bacteria. Great sources of prebiotics include berries, bananas, apples, flax, garlic, carrots, onions, whole grains, tomato, dark leafy greens, honey, legumes, asparagus, and oats.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods: An important way to maintain your gut health is to reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods are usually those that are packed with vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and plant compounds. Some tasty examples include herbs and spices, nuts, berries, tea, legumes, olives, ginger, onions, garlic, apples, cherries, walnuts, chia seeds, salmon, anchovies, sardines, and soybeans. (For more, here’s everything you need to know about following an anti-inflammatory diet.)
Added sugar and artificial sweeteners
Red meat and cold cuts
In general, these foods can be anti-inflammatory and can upset the balance of your gut, so they are best enjoyed in moderation.
Easy lunches for gut health
With these eating principles in mind, let’s talk about lunch. There are so many delicious dishes you can make to build good habits and support your microbiome. Get inspired by these nutritious, easy-to-adapt lunches for a super-healthy gut.
Miso Soup and Veggie Dumplings
This warming, savory lunch idea will not only satisfy your biome, but also keep it happy and healing. The fermented miso paste used to give miso soup a rich, umami flavor is packed with healthy bacteria. And no matter where you get your dumplings from (extra credit if you make them yourself!), they’ll likely contain a combination of garlic, onion, ginger, carrot, and scallions for the filling. This blend of aromatics and veggies provides fiber, anti-inflammatory compounds, and prebiotics to help the probiotics in your miso soup thrive. Need another protein shake? Top your bowl with a perfect, yummi egg.
Not sure which miso soup base to choose? Make the ginger miso broth shown above and drop your dumplings right in or enjoy it with your favorite dipping sauce. We also love this miso chicken soup or this miso mushroom ramen.
:Try: Miso ginger broth with wilted vegetables
Grain vegetarian salad topped with sautéed tempeh
Grain salads are a perfect healthy lunch and they are easy to prepare in bulk for the week ahead. Start your salad with any whole grain you love: barley, quinoa, bulgar, millet, or whole grain couscous (or a combination) to provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and prebiotics. Then start adding vegetables. Broccoli, baby spinach, garlic, onions, kale, and asparagus are great options that also provide prebiotics. Add a healthy dose of probiotics by topping it off with browned tempeh (which is also a plant-based complete protein and another great source of fiber). Roasted nuts, lentils and beans are also hearty additions to grain bowls.
Other grain bowl recipes to build from: white bean and farro salad, summer squash and farro bowls, mole spiced beans, and quinoa bowls.
:Try: Roasted Veggie Quinoa Bowls
Mediterranean inspired whole wheat pasta salad
Who doesn’t love a pasta salad? Yet another hassle-free dish to whip up on the weekend, pasta salad with a Mediterranean twist also brings gut-stimulating nutrition to the party. Toss together all the favorites you love like olives, sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, chickpeas, basil, red onion, a drizzle of feta cheese, and good olive oil for a well-rounded salad of prebiotics and botanicals. Spring for the whole wheat pasta to boost fiber and firmness.
More pasta salads to get you started: grilled Mediterranean salad, edamame pasta salad, tuna, penne and white bean salad, and Moroccan couscous salad.
:Try: Whole Wheat Penne With Marinated Feta And Arugula
Bibimbap With Kimchi And Fried Egg
This Korean rice dish is a delicious flavor bomb packed with nutrients and gut-healthy ingredients. Opt for a brown rice base for added fiber and prebiotics. Toppings like mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and garlic provide anti-inflammatory benefits and even more prebiotics. Top with probiotic kimchi and an egg sunny side up. If you’re not a carnivore or want to go easy on red meat during the week (your gut will thank you!), omit the flank steak in the bibimbap recipe below and replace it with another vegetable, such as crunchy mushrooms for meatiness, edamame for protein and bean sprouts for a light crunch.
:Try: Steakhouse Bibimbap Bowls
Filled cabbage rolls
If you’ve never had stuffed cabbage rolls, your life is about to change. They’re satisfying, easy to make ahead of time, and can be filled with almost any ingredient you love. Try combining brown rice, sauerkraut and your favorite sautéed veggies together. You can also brown your favorite protein, whether that’s ground turkey, pork, tofu, or tempeh. Wrap these ingredients in steamed cabbage rolls, bake them in your go-to pot tomato sauce and bam– you have a delicious, gut-friendly lunch full of savory flavor. Here sauerkraut provides the healthy bacteria, the vegetables and tomatoes provide the prebiotics, the brown rice provides fiber and the whole dish is full of vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory substances.
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