You probably know your intestines house trillions of bacteria. This, however, might be news: what you eat can directly affect which of these bacteria will flourish. It should come as no surprise that a diet high in sugar favors the growth of yeast and other bacteria that aren’t in your best interest. On the flip side are foods that can do a whole lot of good.
Many of the good bacteria in your intestines make vitamins, help detox your system and can support the absorption of food. Not enough of the beneficial bacteria, though, can result in a host of unhealthy symptoms, ranging from skin irritations to headaches to weight gain. However, you can shift your bacterial makeup, or “flora,” by making smart food choices that promote the growth of the good kind.
These five foods are among the best dietary options for supporting intestinal health:
1. Sauerkraut: Top off those organic low-fat hot dogs with some fermented cabbage! Sauerkraut provides beneficial bacteria that help create a healthy intestinal environment. Try to buy sauerkraut that contains live cultures or is freshly made in order to get the most viable bacteria. You can also explore the spicy Asian fermented cabbage condiment called kimchi.
2. Oranges: They contain soluble fiber that your intestinal bacteria ferment, creating a beneficial fat called butyric acid, also known as butyrate. Butyric acid helps intestines heal, decreases inflammation and provides fuel to the cells that line your G.I. tract. (Note that butyrate can also be taken as a supplement. It has an unpleasant smell, so be sure to keep it in the refrigerator or freezer.)
3. Jerusalem artichokes: These starchy, delectable roots are exceptionally high in a probiotic-friendly fiber compound called inulin, which serves as food to healthy gut bacteria. Inulin can also be fermented in your intestines to make butyrate.
4. Kefir: This delicious yogurt-like dairy beverage is loaded with beneficial bacteria. People who are lactose intolerant can often digest kefir without adverse effects. Kefir can be found in many flavors, sometimes with fruit added or plain. It’s best to buy kefir products that are organic and low in sugar, or make your own preservative-free kefir drink.
5. Ghee, or clarified butter: Believe it or not, butter has some health benefits. Because ghee is concentrated, it’s abundant in the intestine-friendly compound butyrate. Ghee is also high in healthy fats and vitamins K, A, D and E. In addition, ghee has a high smoke point, so it can be useful in stir-frying, or you can add it to steamed vegetables and rice. Look for organic ghee or ghee made from grass-fed cows.