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Gut Health

The 5 Best Gut-Friendly Foods to Add to Your Breakfast, According to an RD

For a healthier gut and body, eat these foods in the morning and give your good bacteria a boost.

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Don’t freak out, but your body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These microorganisms are collectively known as the microbiome. In fact, there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. While some of these are worthy of concern, as they can be associated with poor health, many other micro-critters present in the microbiome of your digestive tract are extremely important for your immune system, heart, digestion, and much more.

So, how do you foster a healthy microbiome? It turns out many of the dietary decisions we make every day can have a profound impact on the makeup of the microbiome. And, it turns out, breakfast offers a great opportunity to start taking care of our tummies by incorporating certain foods that science has shown can help the biome bloom. Here’s why you should rise and dine on these items for a little more bug love.

1. Kefir

In a groundbreaking study, scientists from Stanford University determined that a diet high in fermented foods is one of the best ways to increase gut microbiome diversity and decrease molecular signs of inflammation. You can nosh on more fermented foods for better gut health by adding tangy kefir to your breakfast. 

Kefir typically contains a greater overall population of probiotic microorganisms than regular yogurt, giving you more bang for your buck. A digestive benefit attributed to the robust population of bacteria in kefir feasting on and reducing levels of lactose – a natural sugar in dairy that can cause stomach revolt. Kefir also contains valuable breakfast protein and bone-enhancing calcium. 

Kefir is most often sold as a thick drink with a similar consistency to buttermilk. Flavored versions typically have a deluge of sugary calories that can negate some of the health benefits, so it’s best to go with plain. 

How to Use Kefir for a Gut-Friendly Breakfast

  • Use as a base for smoothies
  • Replace buttermilk with kefir when making pancakes and waffles
  • Soak oats in kefir for overnight oats
  • Whisk some into eggs when making a scramble 
  • Use instead of milk for cereal or granola
  • Pour it into a glass and drink it straight up

2. Pumpkin

Keeping a can of pumpkin puree in your pantry can be good news for your microbiome. A recent study in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics analyzed fecal samples from a multi-ethnic population discovered that higher levels of carotenoids including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, cryptoxanthin, and lycopene can increase the bacterial diversity of the gut microbiome. It might be that these compounds serve as a fuel source for the beneficial microorganisms in our guts allowing them to proliferate. 

With this in mind, you should know that sweet pumpkin flesh is one of the best sources of these microbiome-benefiting carotenoids at the supermarket. It’s especially high in beta-carotene. Just want to make sure to shop for 100% pure pumpkin puree instead of canned pumpkin pie filling, which can include high amounts of added sugar. Frozen cubed or pureed butternut squash is another convenient source of these carotenoids. 

How to Use Pumpkin for a Gut-Friendly Breakfast

  • Stir pumpkin puree into a pot of cooked oatmeal
  • Mix pumpkin puree into pancake or waffle batter
  • Blend some canned pumpkin puree into a morning smoothie
  • Add pumpkin to your overnight oat mixture
  • Stir some pumpkin and warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl of Greek yogurt and top with granola and berries 

3. Walnuts

It’s a good idea to go nuts for walnuts at breakfast. In a Journal of Nutrition investigation, healthy adult men and women who were placed on a diet containing 42 grams of walnuts (about ½ cup) experienced a significant uptick in the numbers of beneficial bacteria including Faecalibacterium and Roseburia in their digestive tracks compared to when they consumed an equal calorie diet minus the nuts. The walnut diet also resulted in a drop in LDL cholesterol. It’s likely the nutritional make-up of walnuts, including certain fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, that gives your microbiome a boost. 

But this gut-boosting benefit isn’t limited to just walnuts. Research shows that eating more almonds and pistachios can also positively modify the gut microbiome. For instance, a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests habitual almond consumption can have a positive impact on how the microbiome functions by producing more butyrate – a postbiotic compound thought to have diverse health-promoting powers. 

And according to research published in the journal Nature Medicine, which looked at the microbiomes of just over 1,000 people who had contributed long-term diet information to a major data-gathering effort called PREDICT 1, the gut microbiome tends to thrive when a diet includes plenty of plant-based foods including nuts. 

How to Use Walnuts for a Gut-Friendly Breakfast

  • Sprinkle walnuts over cereal or yogurt
  • Blend the nuts into breakfast smoothies
  • Use them in homemade granola
  • Add walnuts to pancake or bread batter
  • Simmer with steel-cut oats when making porridge

4. Oats

Good news, oatmeal lovers: This breakfast stalwart is a proven way to support a healthy microbiome. A team of researchers from Switzerland reviewed dozens of previously published studies and determined that eating oats can increase total bacterial count, including beneficial Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, in both healthy individuals and those with celiac disease. 

Additionally, consuming oats can increase levels of short-chain fatty acids. These are compounds produced by certain species of bacteria which are thought to result in several of the beneficial health impacts attributed to the microbiome. At this point, we can only speculate as to why rising and dining on oatmeal can serve your microbiome well, but it could be the soluble fiber and bioactive compounds in the grains that spur on the good-for-you bugs. 

How to Use Oats for a Gut-Friendly Breakfast

  • Make homemade granola with rolled oats
  • Use steel-cut oats to make a satisfying creamy porridge
  • Try a baked oatmeal recipe
  • Soak rolled oats in your milk of choice for overnight cereal
  • Stir rolled or quick-cook oats into pancake batter

5. Green Banana

You may not want to let your bananas ripen and get extra sweet; underripe bananas are a source of an unique type of carbohydrate called resistant starch. Unlike other types of starchy carbs, which break down into simple sugars in your small intestine (the place where most food is processed), resistant starch is so named because it “resists” digestion. This starch stays intact until it reaches your large intestine. This is why it’s technically classified as a dietary fiber. 

The reason resistant starch seems to be so uniquely healthy is likely because of the way it’s digested, namely by the microorganisms in your colon. In this way, resistant starch acts as a prebiotic in that beneficial bacteria feed on it to increase their population numbers to improve your gut microbiome, which, in turn, may benefit your digestive and immune health. Also, when the critters in your digestive tract nibble on resistant starch, it results in the production of short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate.

Bananas with green-tinged skin can contain up to 80 percent more resistant starch than do the fully ripened fruit, where the resistant starch has been converted to sugars.

How to Use Green Bananas for a Gut-Friendly Breakfast

  • Blend into smoothies
  • Chop and simmer in a pot of oatmeal
  • Sauté slices with some butter and cinnamon and serve over pancakes, yogurt, cottage cheese or oatmeal
  • Bake into banana bread

Featured recipe: Overnight Maple Pecan Oats