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10 Foods to Keep Your Gut Happy

Boost your metabolism and immune system, tame digestive problems

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    Balance Your Gut

    En español | A healthy gut can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol levels, ward off a cold, improve immunity and much more. “To achieve these benefits, you need probiotics, live microorganisms present in food, and prebiotics, dietary fiber that nourishes probiotics,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University. First we give you five prebiotic food sources and then five foods that contain probiotics, which will help keep your gut in harmony.

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    Asparagus

    This nutritionally well-balanced vegetable contains significant amounts of a prebiotic compound called inulin, which serves as food for several probiotics linked with better nutrient absorption and a lower risk of allergy. It’s also a good source of vitamins, minerals, protein and dietary fiber.

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    Bananas

    The fiber in bananas helps dampen appetite, lower blood glucose levels, decrease the risk of heart disease and improve the body’s ability to absorb calcium from food. In addition, bananas are rich in potassium, essential for maintaining normal blood pressure, and also contain small amounts of sterols, a type of fat that blocks cholesterol absorption.

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    Lentils

    Lentils are packed with cholesterol-lowering fiber and rich in the mineral potassium to help regulate blood pressure. Not a fan of lentils? Try black beans, navy beans, chickpeas or white beans instead. Add them to salads or make hummus to use as a dip for raw vegetables.

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    Oatmeal

    Whether it’s steel-cut, old-fashioned or quick-cooking, the fiber in oatmeal helps lower the risk of heart disease and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, notes the American Heart Association. Steer clear of packets of instant oatmeal with added sugar — some varieties pack in more than three teaspoons per serving — and toss in some berries for sweetness and color instead.

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    Tomatoes

    The fiber in tomatoes promotes the growth of good bacteria and discourages harmful bacteria such as C. difficile from gaining a toehold in the gut, according to Canada’s GI Society. Tomatoes are also an outstanding source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of stroke.

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    Kefir

    Kefir, a fermented milk product that contains a mix of beneficial yeast strains and probiotics, is also a rich source of calcium, protein and B vitamins. Kefir has a taste between sour cream and buttermilk along with a slight fizz, and you can drink it as is or use it in a smoothie with fruit and a bit of honey.

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    Kimchi

    A fermented mix of cabbage, spices and seasonings, this nutrient-dense food helps control weight and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, aids digestion and reduces the risk of some types of cancer, notes a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food. Look for kimchi in the refrigerator section of your grocery or Asian market.

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    Sauerkraut

    Fermented shredded cabbage, aka sauerkraut, helps keep your gut in balance. It’s also packed with immune-boosting vitamin C. Look for unpasteurized, refrigerated varieties; the heat necessary for pasteurizing or canning destroys the good bacteria. Sauerkraut has a lot of salt, but rinsing it in cold water reduces the sodium content considerably.

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    Sourdough bread

    Made with flour, water, a pinch of salt and a starter culture, this tangy bread produces a lower surge in blood sugar and is digested more slowly than typical commercial breads, according to research from the University of Guelph, Ontario. In addition, bacteria commonly found in sourdough bread produce antioxidants, which can prevent or delay cell damage.

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    Yogurt

    Yogurt revs up the immune system and has been linked to a lower risk of both high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Yogurt, like other probiotic foods, can also reduce your chances of catching a cold, notes the Mayo Clinic. Look for the words “live and active cultures” on the label. Sweetened yogurt can be loaded with sugar, so opt for plain yogurt and add fresh fruit or a touch of honey for flavor.

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