Vegan Gut Health 101: Fermented Foods and Probiotics
Lucy Lambriex / DigitalVision / Getty Images
By Michelle Kretzer
Want to get healthier this year? Almost half of Americans resolve to. But you don't have to drastically slash your calorie intake or take up residence at the gym to improve your health. Since we power our bodies through our digestive system, a healthy gut equals a healthy everything else.
The work of turning food into fuel is done by 40 trillion "good guy" gut bacteria. They determine when we feel hungry and how we store fat, communicate with our brain to regulate our moods and help ward off disease. So this year, instead of depriving your body, why not try loading up on foods that feed your digestive system's beneficial bacteria—and help them help you?
Probiotics are the powerhouse microorganisms in healthy digestive systems that make sure that nutrients from food get where they need to go and fight off bad bugs. Foods that are packed with them include apple cider vinegar; kombucha; yogurt made from almond, soy or rice milk; and fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kvass and fresh (not bottled) pickles. (And to see how the "bone broth" fad was debunked, click here.)
While probiotics help fuel us, prebiotics help fuel them. Probiotic bacteria flourish in the presence of foods containing prebiotics, such as garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory and mangoes.
According to the esteemed Food Revolution Network, "Approximately 97% of Americans get at least the recommended amount of protein. But only about 3% of Americans get the recommended 40 grams of fiber they need per day." Fiber lowers cholesterol levels and helps prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and weight gain. You can find it in artichokes, green peas, lentils, almonds, raspberries, apples, oats, whole grains, avocadoes, jicama, flaxseed, chia seed, celery (or celery juice, if you prefer), and black, lima, and kidney beans.
Is there anything a green vegetable can't do? Reach for dandelion greens, broccoli, asparagus, seaweed, Brussels sprouts or kale for a blast of essential nutrients in just a handful of calories.