It's exciting times for those looking to manage their weight, with new research coming out every day about how the gut microbiome may very well be the missing element in maintaining your optimal physique.1 But with so much new data, it can be hard to get a handle on exactly what to eat to support your gut so that it can support your best efforts.
Enter Robyn Youkilis, wellness expert, author, and gut health guru––and one of our favorite sources of inspiration for how to love your body and manage your weight by working with your gut! In her book Thin from Within: The Go with Your Gut Way to Lose Weight, she's come up with a super straightforward formula for making any meal more gut-friendly, made up of five simple categories.
The best part? The categories are general enough that you can easily adapt them to any diet, from omnivore to keto to vegan. Here's how her healthy gut formula works.
Robyn's Gut-Healthy "Rule of Five"
Since what you eat has such a huge impact on the composition of your gut microbiome, and since your gut microbiome in turn affects pretty much every other aspect of your health, it's well worth cultivating a gut-friendly diet. Make sure you're covering your bases by following Robyn's "Rule of Five" and including one of each of these five types of foods in every meal.
Kale might be the “celebrity” of the greens group, but collards, mustard greens, spinach, lettuce, and chard are all fantastic sources of gut-friendly nutrition. Their high fiber content helps you feel full and gives your bacterial allies some much-needed nutrition (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are particular fans of dark leafy greens), while their high vitamin C, vitamin K, and beta-carotene content give your body crucial building blocks for energy and keep you feeling satiated.2,3 If you want to get an extra-concentrated shot of nutrition, try adding some microgreens to your meals—their nutrient levels can be up to six times higher than those of mature plants!4
2. Healthy Fats
New research on the health benefits of fats has started to turn the tide of public opinion, but many people still have the old fears about fat being bad for your health. In actuality, your body needs healthy fats to thrive. Certain nutrients––including vitamins A, D, E, and K––are only bioavailable in the presence of fat. What’s more, healthy fats contain much-needed omega-3 fatty acids, which help to regulate your cholesterol levels, encourage your body to manage glucose appropriately, and can even help prevent bouts of damaging temporary inflammation.5,6 Good fats also have gut-specific benefits, helping your body to maintain a strong gut barrier and supporting microbial diversity.7 Be sure to include a tablespoon or two of healthy oils (like avocado oil, flaxseed oil, or extra virgin olive oil) at each meal to enjoy the benefits.
Protein is essential for producing many of the enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters that keep us functioning, plus, it makes you feel fuller longer so you don’t end up falling back on snacks to keep your energy levels stable. Studies show that plant-based proteins like tempeh and sprouted lentils appear to be particularly beneficial for your gut bacteria and are associated with greater microbial diversity, but animal-based proteins like organic, grass fed beef and chicken or wild-caught salmon are important sources of other gut-friendly nutrients, including iron, which many Westerners don't get enough of.8,9 Try to include a palm-sized portion of protein with your meals to make sure you're getting the nutrition you need.
4. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have been staples of various cultures for millennia, and for good reason: they’re excellent sources of probiotic bacteria. The very process of fermentation (called lacto-fermentation) encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibits the growth of harmful strains, all the while increasing the concentration of important nutrients.10 While the taste may be a little unfamiliar to a Western palate, add in a spoonful of kimchi, raw sauerkraut, fermented carrots or radishes, or chutney to your meals and you may be surprised by just how quickly you fall in love with the flavor!
5. Cooked Vegetables
Roasted, steamed, or lightly stir-fried, cooked veggies add a certain warmth and stick-to-your-ribs quality to any meal. They’re also excellent sources of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene. And of course, they’re great for your gut. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage can help maintain a balanced gut microbiome by increasing your numbers of beneficial Bacteriodetes and decreasing less-helpful Firmicutes, and lots of other vegetables are good sources of prebiotic inulin.11 Aim for a handful or two of veggies with your lunches and dinners—your good guys will thank you for it!
With so many healthy dietary options on the market, eating a gut-friendly diet has never been easier, and with Robyn's five simple tips, you've got a great metric for making sure that every meal is good for your gut and your figure. So go forth and grocery shop––and enjoy meals that keep your bacteria happy so they can keep you healthy!
1. Youkilis, R. (2018). Thin from Within: The Go with Your Gut Way to Lose Weight. Kyle Books: London, UK.
2. Kassim, M.A., Baijnath, H., Odhav, B. (2014). Effect of traditional leafy vegetables on the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 64(8), 977-980. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2014.945155.
3. Abuajah, C.I., Ogbonna, A.C., Osuji, C.M. (2015). Functional components and medicinal properties of food: a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(5), 2522–2529.
4. USDA. (2014). Specialty Greens Pack a Nutritional Punch. Agricultural Research Magazine.
5. Rizza, S., Tesauro, M., Cardillo, C., Galli, A., Iantorno, M. . . . Lauro, D. (2009). Fish oil supplementation improves endothelial function in normoglycemic offspring of patients with type 2 diabetes. Atherosclerosis, 206(2), 569-74. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2009.03.006.
6. Warner, J.G., Ullrich, I.H., Albrink, M.J., Yeater, R.A. (1989). Combined effects of aerobic exercise and omega-3 fatty acids in hyperlipidemic persons. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 21(5), 498-505.
7. Menni, C., Zierer, J., Pallister, T., Jackson, M.A., Long, T. . . . Valdes, A.M. (2017). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Correlate with Gut Microbiome Diversity and Production of N-carbamylglutamate in Middle Aged and Elderly women. Scientific Reports, 7. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-10382-2
8. Singh, R.K., Chang, H-W., Yan, D., Lee, K.M., Ucmak, D. . . . Liao, W. (2017). Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of Translational Medicine, 15(73), doi: 10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y
9. Deschemin, J-C., Noordine, M-L., Remot, A., Willemetz, A. . . . Nicolas, G. (2015). The Microbiota Shifts the Iron Sensing of Intestinal Cells. The FASEB Journal 30. doi: 10.1096/fj.15-276840
10. Chun, O. K., Smith, N., Sakagawa, A., & Lee, C. Y. (2004). Antioxidant properties of raw and processed cabbages. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 55(3), 191-199.
11. Jennifer L Kaczmarek, Craig S Charron, Janet A Novotny, Elizabeth H Jeffery, Harold E Seifried, Sharon A Ross, Kelly S Swanson, & Hannah D Holscher (2017). Broccoli Consumption Impacts the Human Gastrointestinal Microbiota. FASEB Journal, 31:965.18
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.