If you feel like you're eating all the right stuff, but to no avail, your microbiome, the newly discovered ecosystem of bacteria living in your gut, may be out of whack. Fuel it and you'll improve digestion, beat bloat, and boost your metabolism.
The traditional hot-dog topping can do serious wonders for your waistline. “Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickled veggies, and kimchi are some of the best sources of probiotics—a form of good bacteria that support healthy digestion and decrease bloat,” says Frank Lipman, M.D., founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. “That’s important, since diets low in probiotics can cause bad bacteria to overtake the good ones, leading to health problems ranging from autoimmune diseases to weight gain.” Try spooning sauerkraut onto sandwiches or grilled pork, or stir it into a warm potato salad with grainy mustard.
Onions and leeks
While probiotics encourage the growth of good bacteria, prebiotics feed the ones you already have. When you eat prebiotic foods like onions and leeks, they produce butyrate, a metabolic wonder drug that improves insulin sensitivity and increases the amount of fat you burn, says Rafael Kellman, M.D., author of The Microbiome Diet. Now that it’s summer, pop either on the grill to bring out their sweetness. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook until golden.
Artichokes and asparagus
Like onions and leeks, these green veggies are prebiotic foods that produce acetate, an acid that turns on the fat-burning activity in your cells by helping them recover from inflammation. To get more greens, roast artichoke hearts and asparagus in the oven with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and a spritz of lemon.
You know that choosing the right types of fats is key, and here’s why: Unhealthy fats, found in processed foods, meats, and cheeses, feed the type of bacteria that spark inflammation and cue your body to store fat, says Lipman. But healthy fats high in omega 3s and 6s—like those in avocado, nuts, olive oil, and salmon—do the opposite. They provide long-burning energy by regulating how quickly glucose enters your cells, keeping hunger at bay. Top a sandwich with mashed avocado, or make a summery side salad with chopped avocado, cherry tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice.
Bok choy, spinach, kale—they’re all winners. Not only are greens high in digestion-helping fiber, they also improve the diversity of healthy organisms in the gut, which needs trillions of good bacteria to function at its best, says Lipman. Look for ways to incorporate greens into every meal: Add sautéed kale to scrambled eggs, eat a spinach salad for lunch, and try a stir-fry with bok choy for dinner.
This Mexican root vegetable contains inulin, a type of fiber that slows down the absorption of blood sugar to help you feel fuller longer, Kellman says. It’s also high in magnesium and manganese, two vitamins needed for digestive enzymes to function at their peak. Add chopped jicama to give salads a nice crunch or shred it in your favorite summer slaw.
To get the most of this natural source of probiotics, seek out yogurts like those by Fage, Dannon, and Oikos, which contain lactobacillus. In a 24-week study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, women who consumed this type of probiotic lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t regularly include it in their diets. Besides eating yogurt at breakfast, try using plain or Greek yogurt in chicken or salads in lieu of mayo or sour cream.
It seems counterintuitive to feed the microbiome foods with antimicrobial properties, but studies show that garlic only goes after bad, inflammation-causing bacteria while leaving good bacteria intact. It’s also rich in inulin, the fiber that helps the body digest food more efficiently and steadies blood sugar. Add fresh chopped garlic to tomato-mozzarella salads and stir-fries, or sprinkle garlic powder onto meats and fish before grilling.
Craving something sweet? This fruit—along with colorful radishes, tomatoes, and carrots—contains arabinogalactans, a plant-based fiber and prebiotic that feeds the friendly bacteria that help your metabolism function optimally. The fiber also kills E. coli and klebsiella—two types of bad bacteria associated with carrying excess weight, Kellman says. Chop kiwi into grilled chicken salads or purée into smoothies for a colorful and sweet kick.
Water with lemon
Lipman suggests sipping it as soon as you wake up and after each meal. “Bitter foods like lemon help stimulate your body’s GI juices and aid the start of the digestion process. When digestion is robust, your body breaks down food better and absorbs more of its nutrients, both of which help you maintain a healthy weight and flat belly.” Arugula, dandelion root, and apple cider vinegar will also do the trick, so munch on a salad with these greens before your main course—bonus if it’s dressed with cider vinaigrette.