Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI, a gastroenterologist, renowned gut health expert, and author doesn’t buy into all the expensive new “super elixirs” and fancy powders that pop up on our screens every other Instagram ad. He instead focuses on whole, organic foods to build a simple yet effective smoothie for healthy digestion—and a slew of other positive health outcomes.
Here's what goes in Dr. Bulsiewicz’s morning smoothie for gut health:
- One banana
- A handful of spinach
- Blueberries (he especially loves wild blueberries, which can be found in the freezer aisle)
- Flax seeds
- Organic soymilk (you can also sub another milk alternative like coconut or almond)
This five-ingredient smoothie may seem a little lackluster when we’re used to seeing smoothie recipes with ingredients in the double-digits on social media. But these five easy-to-find—not to mention, affordable—ingredients are a stellar combination for supporting a healthy gut and digestive tract. Not only does this smoothie pack in a whopping 16 grams of fiber—nearly two-thirds of the daily recommended baseline for women and half for men—but it also offers a slew of other health benefits that will have you craving this fresh start to the day each morning. Learn more on the gut-boosting benefits you'll reap from each of the smoothie's ingredients below.
Yes, bananas are a wholesome tool for sweetening up a smoothie, but they are chock-full of essential nutrients, too. This tropical fruit is a good source of magnesium and potassium, which are critical electrolytes that help nearly every system in the body function at their best (including the digestive system). A medium banana also offers three grams of fiber and is a good source of vitamin B6, which supports a healthy metabolism and immune function.
Dark leafy greens are incredibly nutrient-rich, and spinach in particular is loaded with vitamins A, C, and K. Spinach is also a sneaky source of plant-based iron and protein. Spinach gets its bold, dark green color from chlorella, a green algae that is associated with fighting inflammation by reducing free radical damage in the body. You’ll get a little fiber boost by adding it to your smoothie as well, with about two grams per cup of raw spinach.
Berries are one of the most nutrient-dense foods at the supermarket, boasting high fiber content, longevity-boosting polyphenols, and vitamin C. Blueberries are no exception, and wild blueberries in particular are considered the most gut-friendly and antioxidant-rich of all, which can do wonders for your immune system and inflammation. One cup offers a hefty six grams of fiber, and you can find affordable organic options at Trader Joe’s.
Flax seeds are one of the best sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids and just one tablespoon offers 90 percent of your daily needs. Flax seeds are also a good source of fiber (three grams per serving) and magnesium (they provide 12 percent of the daily value per serving) while offering three grams of plant protein as well. You’ll want to reach for ground flaxseed for smoothies while regular flax seeds are great for topping salads or garnishing your favorite toast toppings. Besides being a gut-friendly pick for Dr. Bulsiewicz’s smoothie, flax seed intake is also linked to better sleep, hormonal balance, and improved mental health.
Soy is a major source of nutrition for two of the five Blue Zones—Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California—and for good reason. One cup of soymilk offers eight grams of protein, two grams of fiber, and it is an excellent source of several vitamins and minerals.
What kind of smoothies are good for gut health?
Of course, Dr. Bulsiewicz’s smoothie concoction is a great baseline for making a gut-friendly smoothie, but according to dietitians, there are plenty of additional ways to make the beverage of your dreams. In fact, according to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, all you need a solid foundation, and, fortunately, it's nearly impossible to mess up. "Most smoothies are good for gut health, especially if they are not made with added sugars and they contain produce," Manaker says.
So, can smoothies improve gut health?
Needless to say, smoothie aren't some sort of magical elixir for gut health, but they can help. According to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices, smoothies that are rich in fiber and probiotics can be great for gut health. "We need both the good bacteria—from probiotics—and prebiotic fiber—which provide food for probiotics—to support a healthy microbiome," Largeman-Roth says. In short, the more fiber you can get in a smoothie, the better.
Meanwhile, Manaker agrees and further expands on this concept. "They can serve as a rich source of probiotics and fiber, nutrients known to improve digestive health. Probiotics, found in yogurt and other fermented foods often used in smoothies, introduce beneficial bacteria into the digestive tract, improving digestion and absorption," she says. Meanwhile, Manaker points out that fiber, abundant in many fruits and vegetables, supports a healthy gut microbiome by serving as food for good gut bacteria. She caveats this, however, by saying that it's essential to note that "not all smoothies are created equal; the health benefits largely depend on the ingredients used." Heard.
What fruit is best for gut health?
Alright, so we know that choosing the right ingredients is imperative when it comes to constructing a smoothie for gut health. So, what fruits do RD's recommend? Manaker says we've got lots of options to choose from. "All fruits are beneficial for gut health due to their high antioxidant content and other beneficial nutrients, but some have more fiber than others. Apples, for instance, are rich in pectin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic and promotes the growth of good gut bacteria," she says. Not in the mood for a Macintosh? No problem. "Bananas are another excellent choice—especially if they are slightly green. Slightly underripe banana contains prebiotic fiber, which helps 'fuel' probiotics, ultimately helping support a balanced and healthy gut microbiome," Manaker says.
On the other hand, Largeman-Roth likes to add figs into her breakfast smoothies. "Figs are an excellent source of fiber. Both dried and fresh figs, which are now in season, can be added to smoothies for a fiber boost. Four dried figs contain four grams of fiber, so including them in a gut health smoothie is an easy and delicious way to increase fiber and add natural sweetness at the same time." Need some gut-friendly smoothie recipe inspiration? Try our coffee peanut butter smoothie, sleep-friendly smoothie, or blackberry avocado smoothie recipes.
Is juicing good for gut health?
While we're on the topic of fruit-forward drinks, let's delve into how juicing stacks up against making smoothies in terms of gut benefits. Largeman-Roth says it's important to keep in mind that juicing removes the fiber in fruit and veggies, so making smoothies is far superior when it comes to gut health. But that's certainly not to say you shouldn't drinking juices ever again. "Any method to consume more fruits and vegetables is great in my book. Sure, smoothies can contain more fiber, but both can be packed with vitamins and minerals that many of us are missing in our diets. Ultimately, whether one is better than the other depends on which specific ingredients are being used to create the smoothie or juice," Manaker adds.
Pro tip: Sipping on a healthy gut tea can help ease digestion ahead of bedtime.
For more expert intel on gut health, check out this dietitian's explainer:
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