"We know that our gut microbes absolutely thrive when they are fed prebiotic fiber from real food," Dr. Bulsiewicz says. "The fiber passes through the intestine, unsullied, before it reaches the colon. This sets the healthy microbes into a feeding frenzy. They feast on this delicious meal, and then reward you by releasing what I consider to be the ultimate currency of gut health: short chain fatty acids."
Dr. Bulsiewicz says these short-chain fatty acids can help combat leaky gut, strengthen the immune system, lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes, and protect against colon cancer. (So yeah, they're a pretty big deal.) "They even travel as far as your brain to have their health effects," he says. "And the only way to get them is when fiber meets healthy microbes in your colon and magic ensues."
Having this handy knowledge is one thing, but putting it into practice is a whole other. That's why I asked Dr. Bulsiewicz for the meal idea with gut friendly foods he recommends to all his patients, so people can actually put his intel into practice. Because he's a big believer in starting the day out with gut health in mind, his go-to meal full of gut-friendly foods is of the breakfast variety: oatmeal.
Why the gastroenterologist's favorite gut friendly food is oatmeal
Like many other health experts, "I'm a huge fan of oatmeal," Dr. Bulsiewicz says. "The beauty of it is that it's rich in a prebiotic fiber called beta glucan that's been shown to improve the immune system." He also loves that you can add even more gut-healthy ingredients with toppings and spices. While he advises leaving sugar out of your bowl (bad bacteria have a definitive sweet tooth), fruits such as blueberries (another G.I. doc's fave gut-healthy food), strawberries, and peaches have fiber and add natural sweetness, while nuts increase the fiber content.
As for spices, he loves adding cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric for digestion support. "All three have anti-inflammatory and benefits in their own unique way," he says. "Cinnamon helps to maintain a balanced blood sugar. Ginger has a well-deserved reputation for alleviating digestive symptoms, and has even been shown to help heal the gut. Turmeric contains a phytochemical called curcumin with some extraordinary healing properties, including protecting the liver and suppressing cancer." Plus, they keep your breakfast from tasting bland.
His next runner-up for the best gut friendly breakfast: smoothies
Another a.m. meal Dr. Bulsiewicz recommends: a smoothie. " It's a great way to sneak a wide mix of fruits and veggies into your morning," he says. "This is critically important because we know from The American Gut Project that the single strongest determinant of a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plants in your diet. When you increase your plant diversity, you increase the diversity of your microbiome, and this is a good thing."
He typically puts a base of banana, greens, and a handful of frozen berries in his smoothies, and then relies on other ingredients for additional flavor and fiber. "I increase the diversity of plants in my smoothie by adding ground flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, or almonds," Dr. Bulsiewicz says.
Check out the video below for a registered dietitian's thoughts on gut healthy foods:
What not to eat for gut health
Just as much as Dr. Bulsiewicz recommends foods that boost gut health, he also recommends some major ones to avoid. "It's equally important to reduce our intake of foods that promote inflammatory, unhealthy microbes that fuel leaky gut," he says. His list: saturated fat, refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners. Keep his intel in mind when building your oatmeal and smoothie and your gut will thank you.
The key again comes down to not only starting your day off with a fiber-rich meal, but making sure it's coming from a wide range of sources. (In other words, don't just eat the same old thing every day.) That's why Dr. Bulsiewicz is such a fan of oatmeal and smoothies: Both can be customized to taste different day after day. Variety isn't just the spice of life—it's the key to great gut health, too.
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