The Milky Way is home to over 100,000,000 million stars. There are many, difficult for the human brain to comprehend and imagine. But if we talk about numbers, our own body can beat the galaxy. Holds our courage trillion bacteria, all of which play an important role in maintaining overall health and well-being.
Research suggests that gut health can affect everything from anxiety to bloating to serious digestive conditions, which is why it’s so important to take it seriously. There are many things that can contribute, such as high levels of stress and lack of sleep, but diet also plays a big role.
Here, we’ve helped pick the best vegan foods and recipes for optimal gut health. But first, let’s take a look at what its gut actually is.
What is the intestine?
Although it is commonly referred to as “gut”, this term refers to the gastrointestinal tract. It contains several organs, including the esophagus (the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach), the stomach, and the small and large intestines.
The entire system is full of microorganisms (not to bore you, but these are tiny living organisms), and most of them, about 90 percent, are bacteria. These microorganisms are what experts mean when they refer to the “gut microbiome.”
Collectively, the gut microbiome is larger than our brain and weighs about two kilograms – the equivalent of a standard-sized brick.
Types of gut bacteria
There are many different forms of bacteria, but there are five main types in our gut: Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. They have an important role in the day-to-day functions of our body. They help break down food, for example, providing us with important nutrients.
But the role of gut bacteria is much bigger than just digestion. Too much “bad” bacteria can increase the likelihood of painful and uncomfortable conditions. In 2020, research suggested that there may be a link between bacteria called brachyspira and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is also evidence that people with Crohn’s disease have higher levels of another type of bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae.
Bifidobacteria, on the other hand, are a form of good bacteria. Some strains of it can help protect against bad bacteria and relieve painful IBS symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating. Lactobacillus acidophilus is another helpful genus of bacteria that can help the body absorb nutrients and keep “bad” bacteria in check.
Research suggests that other types of good gut bacteria can also have a big impact on mental health. Lactic acid bacteria, for example, can produce gamma-aminobutyric acid, which can help calm us down. It controls the hyperactivity of nerve cells, which is associated with anxiety and stress.
What is gut health?
Gut health refers to keeping a good balance of these bacteria in the gut. By supporting “good” bacteria in their role of keeping “bad” bacteria in check, we can help support many aspects of our overall well-being.
One of the best ways to support gut health is through diet; Eating nutritious foods supports good bacteria, and helps keep everything balanced and healthy. But supplements are becoming more popular.
Probiotic supplements for gut health
To add more “good” bacteria to your gut, one option is to take probiotic supplements. But scientists are still learning about their benefits.
But there is research to suggest that probiotic supplements can help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut. This balance can be threatened by the use of antibiotics, for example, and supplements, which are often vegetarian-friendly, can help counteract their effects.
However, it is important to be careful when purchasing probiotics, as their production is not regulated or overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“It is unclear whether probiotics purchased at pharmacies and health food stores are high-quality products,” Harvard Health warns in a blog post. “It’s even possible that some low-quality products may not even contain the probiotic bacteria listed on the label.”
If you want to take probiotics in supplement form, the best course of action is to consult a health professional first.
Best Foods for Gut Health
You don’t need to take supplements to support your gut. You can eat foods, many of them vegetarian, that contain probiotics. In fact, eating a diet rich in plant-based whole foods is one of the best ways to support gut health.
According to registered dietitian Jennifer Navaroli Hunter, MPH, RD, LDN, this is partly because plant-based whole foods are high in fiber, which feeds healthy gut bacteria. He recommends eating a “rainbow” of plant-based foods such as berries, kale, chickpeas, oats and brown rice for optimal gut health. “Having a variety of colors in these foods also increases our nutritional diversity,” Hunter told VegNews.
Like dairy yogurt, vegan yogurt is also a good source of probiotics. And fermented plant-based foods, such as kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut, are also great dietary additions for gut health. This is because the fermentation process helps promote the growth of good bacteria. But according to registered dietitian Jennifer Hance, MS, RDN, LDN, you need to be careful about which kind you buy.
“Look in the refrigerated section,” he advises. “Shelf-stable products have likely been cooked, which kills the probiotics, or made using brining or vinegar, which doesn’t necessarily contain probiotics in the first place.”
Hanes also says that many plant-based foods are high in resistant starch, which is also beneficial for gut health. Essentially, resistant starch helps get food through the digestive system without being broken down, so that when it reaches the large intestine, bacteria can use it as fuel.
“It’s found in high amounts in oats, beans, and green bananas,” notes Hanes. “You can also increase resistant starch levels in potatoes, whole grains and rice by chilling them in the refrigerator for four hours after cooking.”
Worst Foods for Gut Health
Just as we can eat foods that support gut health, we can also eat foods that don’t. “Foods like red meat and processed foods (such as bacon, processed lunch meats, and soda) lack fiber, nutritional diversity, and may not be beneficial for gut health in the long term,” says Hunter.
Processed meats are particularly harmful to the gut. Because it contains nitrates and nitrites, two types of preservatives. Although they occur naturally and are also found in fruits and vegetables, nitrates and nitrites present a risk in processed meats. This is because they can become carcinogenic when exposed to protein (inherent in meat) and heat (through cooking).
When they reach the intestine, a nitroso compound can be formed, which can cause cancer. For that reason, the World Health Organization classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen.
Not all plant-based foods are good for the gut either. Refined carbohydrates, such as white pasta, french fries, and white bread, for example, are vegetarian, but they have no dietary fiber. They are good to eat in moderation, but too much can have a negative effect on gut health. (Alternatives like pasta and whole-grain bread, however, have good amounts of fiber.)
Vegan Gut-Healthy Recipes
If you’re feeling motivated to take control of your gut health, we’ve collected a few recipes to help you do just that. And they’re all 100-percent vegan with plant-based whole-food ingredients.
1Gut Healing Vegan Broth
Forget bone broth, this vegan alternative is delicious, nutritious and requires only gut-healthy plant-based ingredients, like garlic, ginger and red cabbage (no bones, marrow or connective tissue). You’ll need to set aside more than an hour to make it, but your body will thank you. This is a great comforting recipe to whip up as the weather cools down, so add it to your list of cozy winter warm meals.
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Gut health doctor
2 Prebiotic Strawberry Mousse
This fruit recipe is ideal for those days when you want something sweet and indulgent. The main ingredients are a tub of prebiotic yogurt (prebiotics help the good bacteria grow), chickpea aquafaba and frozen strawberries. Top with pistachios for a little extra crunch.
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3 Vegan Miso Soup
As a fermented food, studies have shown miso to be beneficial for gut health. This recipe combines miso paste, kombu (edible kelp), mushrooms, tofu, bok choy greens and more to create a delicious and nutritious soup. Enjoy on its own during lunch, or, if you’re planning a dinner party, it’s a great starter choice.
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Holy cow is vegan
4 Vegan Potato Sauerkraut Pancakes
Again, because it is fermented, sauerkraut is considered a gut-friendly ingredient. You can enjoy it by itself out of the jar, but if you like something with a little more substance, add it to this crunchy and creative potato dish.
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Jessica in the kitchen
5 Coconut chickpea curry
Chickpeas are an excellent plant-based gut-healthy ingredient, as they are high in fiber. They’re a bit bland on their own, but they’re incredibly versatile and can form the basis of many delicious recipes, like this creamy vegan coconut chickpea curry, for example.
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