A salad a day keeps the doctor away?

Andrea Mathis, M.A., R.D.N., L.D.; Reviewed by Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 03, 2021
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Did you know that gut health plays an extremely important role in your overall health? Your gut is responsible for carrying out vital bodily functions such as breaking down food and absorbing nutrients to maintain balance, energy production and waste elimination.

Your gut relies on the right balance of different bacteria to digest your food and prevent infection and inflammation. Poor gut health has been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases, decreased immunity and even anxiety and depression. Interestingly, the foods that we eat can greatly affect the types of bacteria that live inside our bodies; especially when it comes to vegetables.

feta kale pear salad

We asked Dr. Brent Acker, M.D. at The Center for Digestive and Liver Health in Savannah, Georgia, to tell us a little bit more about maintaining a healthy gut and the best vegetables to eat for better gut health.

What Contributes to a Healthy Gut?

Having a healthy gut is a daily battle. According to Dr. Acker, it is normal for the human gut to be inhabited by many types of bacteria—both good and bad. For example, individuals with increased amounts of methane-producing bacteria may produce GI symptoms such as gas and bloating. To combat this, Acker mentions that consuming a variety of nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables (and in some cases, taking probiotics), which may increase our "good bacteria" and help decrease these issues.

The Best Vegetables for Gut Health

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For starters, eating more plants (fruits, veggies, beans, etc.) will help improve your overall gut health, since these foods are rich in nutrients and fiber that help feed your good gut bacteria. However, according to Dr. Acker, certain veggies may be the real MVPs.

Acker says better gut health can be achieved by increasing the consumption of vegetables that are high in antioxidants. Some examples of these gut-healthy vegetables include spinach, Swiss chard, kale and others in the "leafy green" family.

There are a few reasons why leafy greens and gut health go hand-in-hand. For starters, research shows that leafy green vegetables contain a sugar molecule called sulfoquinovose that is essential for providing your gut with good bacteria. As the number of good bacteria in your gut increases, they limit the ability of bad bacteria from reproducing and settling in your digestive tract.

Every time we consume these leafy green vegetables, we provide our bodies with a significant amount of sulfoquinovose and a great source of folate, vitamin C and vitamin K. Additionally, leafy greens are also chock-full of fiber, which is linked to improved gut health since it helps to feed your good gut bugs and keeps things moving in your digestive tract (read: fiber helps you poop).

How to Eat More Leafy Greens

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Recipe pictured above: Slow-Cooker Swiss Chard Dressing

Dr. Acker recommends eating a variety of vegetables—including those gut-friendly leafy greens—each day. Some people may find it difficult or inconvenient to increase their vegetable intake, so here are a few ways to easily incorporate them while preparing some of your favorite recipes.

Add them to your favorite soup.

Soups are a great way to consume multiple servings of vegetables at once. You can add a variety of your favorite veggies to a delicious broth, or you can puree the veggies and turn them into a base for your soup. We love tossing extra leafy greens into recipes like our Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup, Easy Italian Wedding Soup or Chicken & Kale Soup.

Toss them into your pasta.

Leafy greens wilt easily and reduce in size, making them the perfect veggie for tossing into pasta (bonus: you'll get a nice nutrient and fiber boost). Try using leafy greens in our Chicken & Spinach Skillet Pasta, Kale, Sausage & Pepper Pasta, or Pasta with Swiss Chard.

Add veggies to sauces.

Adding extra vegetables to your sauces is a great way to increase your vegetable intake. For example, you can choose to add in spinach or kale to a marinara or Alfredo sauce. You can also try pureeing leafy greens into a rich sauce; we're big fans of this homemade kale pesto sauce.