New research shows that certain types of fiber are better for improving your gut health. Find out which foods you should add to your diet.

Laurie S. Herr
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Worked out at the gym? Check. Walked the dog? Check. Fed your microbiome today? Hmmm ...

You may not realize it, but growing research shows that keeping your gut bacteria-aka your microbiome-in balance plays a key role in your overall health. Recent studies suggest those trillions of tiny microorganisms living in your intestines may help keep off extra weight, boost immunity, protect your joints and even help prevent life-threatening conditions like heart disease and cancer.

So, how do you keep those little critters happy? A smart diet usually does the trick, no supplements required. Here's a crash course on the foods you need.

Probiotics

Pictured Recipe: Homemade Kimchi

Think of probiotics as the "good guys," beneficial microorganisms that help fight microscopic bugs (the "bad guys") that cause inflammation and other problems. You can find probiotics in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, pickles and yogurt.

Prebiotics

Pictured Recipe: Artichokes with Lemon & Dill

Prebiotics help keep your gut healthy by feeding your good gut bacteria what they need to thrive. Gut bacteria love to feast on fiber, especially two kinds:

  • Fructans are high-fiber natural carbs found in onions, garlic, wheat and other plant foods. Fructan fibers are more likely to survive longer in your GI tract, and that's good for a healthy gut. Just one catch: heat breaks down fiber, so cook fructan-rich foods as little as possible to get the most benefit.
  • Cellulose is the insoluble fiber your body can't digest. It's found in broccoli stems, carrot peels, asparagus stalks-basically the tough, chewy parts of fruits and veggies we often toss. Finding ways to incorporate more whole fruits and vegetables into your meals-peels, stems and all-will help keep your gut healthy.

Sadly, most of us get only about half the total daily fiber we need, and even less of the super-beneficial fructans. But there's good news: upping your fiber intake can improve your gut bacteria fast-sometimes in as little as five days, according to a study in the journal Nature.

The 10 foods below-all good-to-excellent sources of fructan-can get you off to a great start. Just remember to take it slow. Adding more fiber gradually will help you avoid gas and bloating. Some people have fructan intolerance, so check with your doctor first if you have concerns.

1. Jerusalem Artichokes

Amount of fructan: 47 grams in 1 cup, (regular artichokes clock in with 6 grams per 'choke).

Try this: Toss raw shaved Jerusalem artichokes into salads or slaws.

2. Leeks

Pictured Recipe: Oven-Braised Leeks

Amount of fructan: 10 grams in one leek

Try this: Rub whole leeks with oil and grill briefly; toss with your favorite vinaigrette.

3. Onions

Amount of fructan: 9 grams per cup

Try this: Whip up a fresh fruit salsa with chopped onions, mango, lime juice and cilantro.

4. Raspberries

Amount of fructan: 6 grams per cup

Try this: Top your morning cereal or yogurt with a handful of fresh raspberries or whir them into a smoothie.

5. Beans

Amount of fructan: 6 grams per cup of cooked beans

Try this: Load up a baked sweet potato with canned black beans, chopped avocado and melted cheese.

6. Asparagus

Amount of fructan: 5 grams per 5 spears

Try this: Use a vegetable peeler to shave raw asparagus spears over a green salad.

7. Garlic

Amount of fructan: 3 grams in 6 cloves

Try this: Quickly stir-fry celery with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and peanuts.

8. Bananas

Pictured Recipe: Yogurt Banana Sundae

Amount of fructan: 1 gram per medium banana

Try this: Drizzle melted chocolate over banana slices and freeze. Or pair bananas with peanut butter for a classic snack.

9. Pears

Amount of fructan: 1 gram per pear

Try this: Add a dash of cinnamon to fresh pear slices for a tasty snack.

10. Watermelon

Amount of fructan: 1 gram per cup

Try this: Sprinkle wedges of watermelon with lime zest and flaky salt.

Watch: How to Make a Healthy Smoothie Bowl

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Original reporting by Gretel H. Schueller for EatingWell Magazine