Lunch your way to better gut health with these R.D.-approved ideas.
As more research emerges, the more we uncover the extent to which gut health and overall health are linked. Gut microbiome health is connected to so many different facets of our health and well-being beyond merely digestion, and in turn is influenced by several lifestyle factors, including the foods we eat. That’s right, just by including some gut-healthy lunches into your weekly rotation—or adding in some gut-healthy ingredients into your usual favorites—you’ll be setting up your whole system for success. And here’s why.
The Benefits of Eating for Gut Health (at Lunch and Beyond)
The gut microbiome refers to the flourishing community of over a trillion microorganisms living in your large intestine, made up of mostly bacteria, but also different kinds of yeasts and viruses too. When the biome is healthy, its ratio of helpful to harmful bacteria is properly balanced and working symbiotically. Sleep deprivation, chronic stress, certain medications, inflammation, exercise habits, and our food choices are all some examples of factors that can impact homeostasis in the gut.
Our microbiome helps facilitate healthy digestion and promote regularity, and is vital in the creation of certain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals like calcium while helping to rid the body of any toxins that may be in our food. A thriving gut microbiome supports the immune system by decreasing the chance that the harmful microbes will wreak havoc and cause illness, and by regulating the function of many different kinds of immune cells. You might also be surprised to learn that the gut and brain “talk” constantly: Scientists have discovered the “gut-brain axis,” the astonishing two-way communication pathway between the nerve cells in the intestine and our brains. Research even shows that an unbalanced gut can underlie mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and heavily influence stress regulation and overall cognitive function.
Gut-Healthy Food Groups to Focus On
If you want to start eating for better gut health, you need to know which types of foods (and drinks) support the biome and which types unfortunately damage the gut when consumed in excess. Here are a few important food groups, nutrients, and guidelines to keep in mind.
Probiotics: Also known as healthy bacteria, probiotics help to boost the population of helpful microorganisms in your biome. Some great food/drink sources of probiotics include miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, certain types of pickles, buttermilk, and yogurt.
Fiber and Prebiotics: All kinds of fiber are super-important when it comes to gut health and digestion. Prebiotics are one type of fiber that is particularly vital to a thriving microbiome as it feeds your healthy bacteria. Great sources of prebiotics include berries, bananas, apples, flax, garlic, carrots, onions, whole grains, tomato, dark leafy greens, honey, legumes, asparagus, and oats.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods: One important way to keep your gut health on point is to reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods are typically those full of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant compounds. Some tasty examples include herbs and spices, nuts, berries, tea, legumes, olives, ginger, onions, garlic, apples, cherries, walnuts, chia seeds, salmon, anchovies, sardines, and soybeans. (For more, here’s everything to know about following an anti-inflammatory diet.)
Added sugar and artificial sweeteners
Red meat and processed meats
Generally, these foods can be inflammatory agents and disrupt the equilibrium of your gut, so are best enjoyed in moderation.
Easy Lunches for Gut Health
With these eating principles in mind, let’s talk lunch. There are so many delicious dishes you can make to build good habits and support your microbiome. Get inspired by these nutrient-packed, easy-to-customize lunches for a super-healthy gut.
Miso Soup and Veggie Dumplings
This warming, savory lunch idea will not only satisfy, but keep your biome happy and healing. The fermented miso paste used to bring rich, umami flavor to miso soup is chock-full of healthy bacteria. And no matter where you get your dumplings (extra credit if you make them yourself!), they’re likely to include some combo of garlic, onion, ginger, carrot, and scallions for the filling. This mix of aromatics and veggies offer fiber, anti-inflammatory compounds, and prebiotics to help the probiotics in your miso soup flourish. Need another hit of protein? Top your bowl with a perfect, jammy egg.
Not sure which miso soup base to choose? Make the ginger-miso broth shown above, then drop your dumplings straight into it or enjoy them on the side with your favorite dipping sauce. We also love this miso-chicken soup or this miso-mushroom ramen.
:Try: Miso-Ginger Broth With Wilted Greens
Grain and Veggie Salad Topped With Sauteed Tempeh
Grain salads are a perfect healthy lunch, and they’re easy to whip up in bulk for the week ahead. Start your salad with any whole grain you love: barley, quinoa, bulgar, millet, or whole-wheat couscous (or a combo) to provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and prebiotics. Then start adding veggies. Broccoli, baby spinach, garlic, onions, kale, and asparagus are great options that will also provide prebiotics. Add a healthy dose of probiotics by topping it off with browned tempeh (which is also a plant-based complete protein and another great source of fiber). Toasted nuts, lentils, and beans are also hearty grain bowl additions.
Other grain bowl recipes to build from: white bean and farro salad, summer squash and farro bowls, mole-spiced bean and quinoa bowls.
:Try: Roasted Veggie Quinoa Bowls
Mediterranean-Inspired Whole Wheat Pasta Salad
Who doesn’t love a pasta salad? Yet another fuss-free dish to meal prep over the weekend, pasta salad with a Mediterranean spin also brings gut-boosting nutrition to the party. Toss any favorites you love, like olives, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, chickpeas, basil, red onion, a sprinkling of feta cheese, and good olive oil together for a well-rounded salad of prebiotics and plant compounds. Spring for the whole wheat pasta to bump up the fiber and heartiness.
More pasta salad bases to start with: grilled Mediterranean salad, edamame pasta salad, tuna, penne, and white bean salad, and Moroccan couscous salad.
:Try: Whole-Wheat Penne With Marinated Feta and Arugula
Bibimbap With Kimchi and Fried Egg
This Korean rice dish is a crave-worthy flavor bomb that’s loaded with nutrients and gut-healthy ingredients. Opt for a brown rice base for added fiber and prebiotics. Toppings like mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and garlic provide anti-inflammatory benefits and even more prebiotics. Top with probiotic-rich kimchi and a sunny-side-up egg. If you’re not a meat-eater or want to go easy on red meat during the week (your gut will thank you!), omit the flank steak in the bibimbap recipe below and replace with another veggie, like crispy mushrooms for meatiness, edamame for protein, and bean sprouts for a light crunch.
:Try: Steakhouse Bibimbap Bowls
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
If you’ve never had stuffed cabbage rolls, your life is about to change. They’re satisfying, easy to make ahead, and can be filled with almost any ingredient you love. Try combining brown rice, sauerkraut, and your favorite sauteed veggies together. You can also brown up your favorite protein, whether that’s ground turkey, pork, tofu, or tempeh. Wrap these ingredients up in steamed cabbage rolls, bake in your go-to jarred tomato sauce, and bam—you have a delicious, gut-friendly lunch full of savory flavor. Here, sauerkraut will provide the healthy bacteria, the veggies and tomatoes will deliver on the prebiotics, the brown rice will offer fiber and the whole dish is full of vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
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