Let’s talk about why your gut health matters. Your gut health is so important to the rest of your body’s overall health. Chances are if you have a healthy gut you probably also have a healthy body, but if you have poor gut health it might be the root cause behind some of your other health problems, ranging from physical to mental health issues.
So if you find yourself getting sick frequently and you’re not sure why, or you have brain fog and trouble focusing, it might be because you have an unhealthy gut.
Your gut health is affected by a bunch of different factors such as the environment, whether you are taking certain medications, and of course your diet. And because it can be hard to control external factors like the environment, the easiest way to heal your gut is to heal your diet. When it comes to diet, there are two main things I want to talk about.
The first one is probiotics.
You might have heard of probiotics before. They are the healthy gut bacteria that live in your gut microbiome. And foods that are rich in probiotics tend to be fermented foods. And food is fermented usually by leaving it out on the counter for a long enough period of time that it’s exposed to bacteria and yeast. Of course, you can’t ferment every single kind of food. For instance, you can’t just leave a chicken out on your counter and hope that after ten days it’ll be fermented and good for you. It’ll give you Salmonella so don’t try it. On the other hand, you can ferment lots of vegetables and that’s why it’s great for a vegan diet.
The second part of your diet that I want to talk about is fiber.
And dietary fiber acts as food for those probiotics, enabling them to grow. And the reason you want the healthy gut bacteria to grow is because the more you have and the more diverse your bacteria, is the healthier your gut, which means you’re less likely to have chronic illnesses and inflammation. You’ll find dietary fiber in fruits vegetables, whole grains legumes, nuts, seeds. So basically if you’re eating a vegan diet, particularly a whole foods based vegan diet, you’re going to have no problem getting enough fiber.
So now that we’ve talked about probiotics, let’s talk about foods that contain probiotic. Of course, you can take a probiotic supplement, but they can be really expensive particularly the higher- end brands so if you want to heal your gut through food only and save some money, here are some great plant-based foods that are full of probiotics. A really rich source of probiotics is sauerkraut, which is simply fermented cabbage. You might have had sauerkraut on a burger or hot dog before, and my favorite way is actually to pair it with a kale salad and some creamy salad dressing and a bunch of nuts and seeds. The combination of textures and flavors is really delicious.
The next food on our healthy gut list is kimchi. It’s salted and fermented cabbage, usually Napa cabbage and Korean radishes, and it’s then flavored with chili powder and a bunch of other seasonings. It’s really delicious and like sauerkraut you can make it at home and ferment it at home or you can buy it at the store. Typically, I pair kimchi with some Asian flavored food like ramen or rice, but you can put it on a sandwich or burger or really anything.
The next food on our list is tempeh, which is whole fermented soy beans. I talked a lot about the nutritional benefits of this superfood in an earlier video on “where do vegans get their protein from?” so if you want to check that out and learn more about tempeh, I will link to that right here.
Our next source of probiotics are plant-based yogurts and kefirs.
You might have heard that traditional dairy yogurt is a great source of probiotics and it is, but it’s not the diary that’s the source of probiotics. It’s the live active cultures that are used to make yogurt. So most plant-based yogurts and kefirs are also going to have a high source of probiotics. These are two of my favorite plant-based yogurts and kefirs. One is almond milk based the other is coconut milk based. If you look at the ingredients on this, you will see there are live active cultures in here. Just try to stick to the unsweetened yogurts or yogurts that have a low amount of sugar because you want to make sure that the bacteria in your gut is feasting on the probiotics, not on the sugar.
Next up on our probiotic list is miso.
Miso is a traditional Japanese condiment and it’s made of fermented soy beans. Of course, you’ve put miso in miso soup which you’re served at Japanese restaurants, but I also like to put miso in salad dressings, marinades and sauces. I actually put a little of miso in my vegan cheese sauce because it adds that extra umami flavor.
Next up in our healthy gut list are olives.
Once olives are soaked in brine, which is a solution of water and salt, the healthy bacteria causes them to ferment, making them a good source of probiotics. So if you love olives as much as I do, take this as your excuse to eat as many as you want.
Another salty favorite of mine are pickles.
You want to make sure though you’re buying pickles that have been pickled in salt water, not in vinegar. If they’ve been pickled in vinegar, they’re not going to have the fermentation process. And they’ll still be delicious but you won’t be getting any probiotics. Saltwater pickles are typically sold in the refrigerated section, and they might carry a label that says “active cultures”and vinegar pickles are usually sold in the shelf-stable aisle of the grocery store.
Last but not least, my favorite source of probiotics is kombucha.
Kombucha is a black or green tea that’s been fermented by a colony of bacteria and yeast. And you can buy kombucha at the store or you can make it at home. Now that we talked about foods that are rich in probiotics, I want to quickly talk about prebiotics. As I mentioned earlier, probiotics are live microorganisms that need food in order to grow and flourish, and the food they eat usually comes in the form of dietary fiber, but it’s also referred to as prebiotics.
Some of the best sources of prebiotics are onions, garlic artichokes, asparagus, leeks, sweet potatoes, bananas, legumes, whole grains. You get the point: stuff that vegans would eat anyways.
Chocolate is actually a prebiotic food because when you eat chocolate, the healthy gut bacteria in your microbiome ferment the compounds in cocoa.
The last prebiotic I want to talk to you about that might surprise you is red wine.
And you might have heard that red wine is good for your heart, but it’s also good for your gut. Like cocoa, red wine encourages the healthy gut bacteria to grow in your gut. Of course, you should drink responsibly and to not treat red wine as your sole source of prebiotics.
Make sure you also eat vegetables and all that stuff. So the next time you have a glass of red wine and a piece of dark chocolate, or a few pieces of dark chocolate, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re doing your gut and your health a big favor.