Best Breakfast Foods for Gut Health
Add these seven foods to your breakfast rotation to keep your good bacteria happy.
Pictured recipe: Spinach-Avocado Smoothie
Your "gut" refers to your small and large intestine, which are lined with millions of bacteria collectively known as the microbiome. Your microbiome isn't static but rather ever-changing, and the type of bacteria in your gut can be changed by what you eat—for better or worse. Emerging research shows associations between different types of gut bacteria and certain chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
But the good news is that you have some control over the type of bacteria in your gut, depending on what you eat. Studies show that changing your diet from mostly animal-based to plant-based can change the type of bacteria in your gut in as little as 24 hours. And when you switch back to an animal-based diet, your bacteria switches back too (and vice versa: similar rapid shifts can occur if you are starting with a plant-based diet and switch to eating more animal foods). And here's the kicker: eating a plant-based diet is associated with having a healthier biome.
But we're not saying you have to give up all animal products for a healthy gut. So what should you eat in the morning for a healthy gut? Focus on fiber, prebiotics and probiotics. We compiled a list of seven breakfast foods that have these good-for-your-gut nutrients, plus we explain how they work.
Yogurt not only contains a nice balance of protein and carbohydrates, but also contains probiotics. "Probiotics are the good bacteria themselves and are also extremely important to ingest to contribute to a robust microbiome," says Dianne Rishikof, M.S., RDN, LDN, IFNCP, a registered dietitian and integrative & functional medicine nutritionist at Health Takes Guts. Common probiotics in yogurt are lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. Choose plain yogurt to nix added sugars, and opt for Greek if you want double the protein.
Kefir is in the same family as yogurt, but is referred to as thin yogurt because it is in liquid form. It has the consistency of drinkable yogurt. It has been consumed for hundreds of years and is said to be a power probiotic with many research-backed health benefits such as antibacterial properties and support for healthy bones and digestion. Kefir has a slightly tart and acidic taste due to the fermentation process. Drink it plain, add it to a breakfast smoothie, or substitute kefir for milk in overnight oats to get the probiotic benefits, plus good-for-your-gut fiber from the oats. Choose plain kefir over flavored kefir to minimize added sugars.
Asparagus probably isn't in your regular breakfast rotation, but it makes the list because it's packed with prebiotics. While probiotics are good bacteria, prebiotics are food for the bacteria (learn more about prebiotics). Rishikof explains, "It is important to include prebiotics in breakfast for the same reason it is important at any meal, anytime: they feed the microbes in your gut. There are hundreds of strains of beneficial bacteria that we cannot get from a probiotic, so we must 'feed' them prebiotics for them to flourish inside of us."
Add leftover asparagus from dinner to eggs in a scramble, omelet or quiche. Top your avocado toast with it. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, make a savory crepe with asparagus, eggs and cheese.
Bananas also contain prebiotics, in addition to vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that is resistant to digestion and therefore passes through to the large intestine where the good bacteria feed on it. Bananas also have pectin, which research shows can feed gut bacteria and slow digestion, helping you stay full longer. Enjoy a banana in your smoothie, on whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and chia seeds, in yogurt, or in oatmeal or cereal.
Related: Healthy Banana Smoothie Recipes
Pictured recipe: Peanut Butter Protein Overnight Oats
Oats contain fiber, in the form of beta-glucans, which have been connected to lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar levels and creating a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber also keeps you full. Make oatmeal—or overnight oats, which can be enjoyed hot or cold the next morning. Oats can also be added to smoothies, pancakes, muffins and homemade granola.
Eat Up: Healthy Oatmeal Recipes
Apples contain pectin, as well as polyphenols, "another category of plant chemicals that are extremely good for the gut," says Rishikof. Polyphenols are antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body and also act as prebiotics, feeding gut bacteria so they can produce more good bugs. And the soluble fiber in apples also helps lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. So, an apple a day might actually keep the doctor away. Apples are easy to grab-and-go if you're rushing out the door—pair with peanut or almond butter for healthy protein and fat. They're also delicious mixed into oatmeal or sliced on toast with nut butter.
Flaxseeds have seen a rise in popularity over the past few years, and for good reason: they are a nutrient-dense food. One tablespoon has 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 2.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. What does this mean in terms of gut health? Flaxseeds are considered a prebiotic food, and their insoluble fiber can function as a natural laxative. Flaxseeds are easy to add to many breakfast dishes, including oatmeal, overnight oats, smoothies, oat muffins, yogurt and cereal.
Related: Healthy Recipes with Flaxseeds