Probiotics Are Great, but There's a Simpler Way to Improve Your Gut Health

If you're looking to improve your gut health, simply add more prebiotic- and fiber-rich veggies to your plate.
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Foods rich in probiotics (like yogurt and miso) aren't the only ones that can support your gut health. There are many other types of foods that are delicious, relatively inexpensive and easy to incorporate into your diet that do your gut some good, too.

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One of these food groups is vegetables. So many veggies — broccoli, mushrooms, kale and beyond — have a positive effect on your gut health, and for a number of reasons.

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Adding more vegetables to your meals is a great plan, especially considering how many of us fail to meet nutritional guidelines. On average, fewer than 9 percent of Americans eat enough vegetables on a daily basis, according to a November 2017 analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not only are we falling short on the vital nutrients and fiber veggies are known (and recommended) for, but we're missing out on these nutrients' health benefits, like improved gut health.

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2 Reasons Why Vegetables Are Good for Your Gut

1. They Pack Fiber

Vegetables are a great source of diety fiber, which benefits the body in so many ways, including keeping you feeling full and regular.

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There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — and vegetables contain a good mix of both. Soluble fiber attracts water into your gut and turns into a gel that helps to slow digestion, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is not soluble in water. This type of fiber adds bulk to your stool and helps keep things moving through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Both of these types of fiber are what keeps your gut healthy and your bowel movements regular.

Most of us could use more fiber in our diets: 95 percent of Americans eat no more than 16 grams of fiber per day — about half of what we need — per a September 2014 USDA report. We should be getting 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories we eat each day, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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By eating more vegetables, we eat more fiber. Some of the highest-fiber vegetables, according to the USDA, include:

  • Peas (one cup, cooked): 9 grams of fiber
  • Acorn squash (one cup, cooked): 9 grams of fiber
  • Artichokes (one medium): 7 grams of fiber
  • Broccoli (one cup, cooked): 5 grams of fiber
  • Kale (one cup, cooked): 5 grams of fiber
  • Carrots (one cup, cooked): 5 grams of fiber

2. They Contain Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a unique type of fiber, and vegetables are one of their richest sources.

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Prebiotics resist digestion in our gut and don't break down until they reach our large intestine, per an April 2013 study in Nutrients. Probiotic bacteria eat prebiotics and use them as fuel, which is why they're so good for our gut health.

Prebiotics are broken down through fermentation; this process releases short-chain fatty acids, which also support your gut. In fact, prebiotics are linked to an improved gut barrier function, increased immunity, lower rates of colon cancer and decreased inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease, according to the ​Nutrients​ study.

While all vegetables contain fiber, only some are rich in prebiotics, per Monash University. These vegetables include:

  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Green peas
  • Garlic
  • Snowpeas
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Sweetcorn
  • Green onion
  • Fennel

3 Easy Ways to Include More Vegetables in Your Diet

Buy in-season produce to discover new veggies and shake up your meals.
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1. Aim to Eat at Least One Serving of Vegetables at Every Meal

Even breakfast deserves some vegetables. Working veggies into an omelet is an easy way to get a morning boost, but if you tend to eat foods that are on the sweeter side, like oatmeal or smoothies, try incorporating something subtle, like riced cauliflower or zucchini.

These vegetables are lighter in flavor so, while they won't overpower your meal, they'll add fiber and help you meet your vegetable quota for the day.

2. Go Plant-Based at Least Once a Day

By cutting out meat, you'll naturally add in more veggies. Red Beet Burgers, Vegetable Pasta Lasagna and Vegetable-Stuffed Acorn Squash are all delicious examples.

3. Swap Refined Carbs for Vegetables

Instead of pasta, try zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash — or mix these veggies into your grains for a delicious combo. Incorporate cauliflower into your pizza crust, fried rice or even a quiche crust.

Use sliced eggplant as burger buns or try collard greens as a wrap substitute.

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