The Best Food Products for Gut Health at Whole Foods Marketby Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPNutrition
As a dietitian, I’m always looking for foods that can promote gut health. Just about every grocery store has at least some foods that promote gut health and that’s because countless whole plant foods promote gut health. For example, vegetables like jicama, garlic, onions, and asparagus are rich in prebiotic fiber, which are indigestible fibers that feed the healthy bacteria that live within our gut. Other common foods that nurture our gut include those that contain cultures of bacteria such as yogurt, kefir, and miso. In general, eating a diet rich in whole plant foods will create an internal environment that will promote gut health, however many food products can make eating for gut health all the easier!
I browsed my local Whole Foods Market and found the top food products that are best for your gut health. If you’re looking to optimize the health of your gut, try these out!
Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented vegetable products that contain the healthy bacteria that we need to colonize our gut. These are ancient cultural foods- fermentation was originally used as a way to preserve foods before refrigeration. Research in healthy human subjects shows that diets high in fermented foods resulted in increased microbial diversity in the gut and reduced markers of inflammation (1). Pickled Planet is one of my go-to brands because it’s organic and they keep it really simple with their ingredients. The Great Plain Sauerkraut just contains cabbage and salt. Other varieties are just as simple, but include other herbs, spices, and vegetables for different types of flavors. My Whole Foods Market had several Pickled Planet items, including the Great Plain Sauerkraut, the I-Boost Herbal Sauerkraut, and the Lil Kim Chee Kraut. Sauerkraut and kimchi go with all types of savory foods. Try using sauerkraut on our Probiotic Loaded Avocado Toast or add a scoop of kimchi to our Tangy Vegetable Stir Fry. To be honest, it’s so delicious you can eat these with a spoon right out of the jar!
Like the sauerkraut, pickles are of benefit to the gut because they contain the live bacteria that we need in our gut. And while a mouthwatering pickle or two should be an incredibly easy way to eat a serving of fermented vegetables, unfortunately not all pickles are actually fermented. Many food manufacturers try to create the “pickle” flavor while skipping the lengthy fermentation process that produces the benefit. By using vinegar, cucumbers can taste “pickled” but actually have no gut health benefit. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of pickles that line grocery store shelves normally fall under this quick pickled category. One trick to tell if the pickles you’re buying are fermented and contain healthy bacteria is to check the liquid inside of the jar. If the liquid is really cloudy and it's in the refrigerated section, there’s a good chance it’s fermented- the cloudy residue is the build up of the healthy bacteria. Pickles in clear liquid are likely quick pickled with vinegar and are lacking that healthy bacteria. Bubbies Pickles have a very cloudy liquid and are traditionally fermented, meaning the liquid is very cloudy indicating that there’s tons of healthy bacteria. They are also made without any added sugar, a common additive in pickles.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean products and is also rich in prebiotic fiber that feeds and nurtures the microbes in our gut, so we get a double benefit when eating tempeh. Tempeh is a versatile food and can be used as a meat substitute such as in a Tempeh Bolognese or in a Tempeh Taco Bowl. Buying plain tempeh and seasoning it yourself such as in those recipes is always best because you can control the spices and herbs you use. But in terms of convenience, the Lightlife Tempeh Bacon Strips are a great product that can also benefit your gut health. While they do contain a small amount of cane sugar (2 grams per serving), they are full of flavor and are delicious crumbled over a salad in place of bacon bits, or next to a vegetable packed omelet for a full and hearty breakfast.
The aloe vera plant is well known for its medicinal properties and is probably best known for its uses as a topical agent to treat skin irritations such as sunburns. The juice of the aloe vera plant has been shown to reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (2). It is a safe and well tolerated treatment and is without any of the negative side effects of common over the counter reflux treatments. If you suffer from occasional reflux, adding aloe vera juice into your routine may be very helpful. The problem with aloe vera juice is that they are often loaded with sugar. Finding one without any added sugar can be tricky. The ALO Organic aloe vera juice is sweetened with organic stevia and organic monk fruit. This gives it a pleasant taste without the sugar.
There are tons of dairy yogurts and plant based yogurts on the market and they are all great for gut health. Yogurt contains healthy bacteria needed for gut health. For those who avoid dairy, Coconut Cult is one of my favorite yogurts because of their incredibly simple ingredients. Unlike most yogurts, even the flavors offered (such as Chocolate Mousse and Mangos N’ Cream) are without any added sugar, making these a health conscious choice. The one down side of this yogurt is the price tag- it’s the most expensive yogurt I’ve ever seen (over $10 for 8oz!), but delicious if you can find it on sale.
Jicama is a great source of prebiotic fiber, which keeps our gut microbes healthy and thriving. While you can of course get this benefit by just cutting up a jicama and eating it as is, Xica also makes jicama tortillas. Truth be told, if you’re craving the flavor and texture of a traditional tortilla, these will not satisfy your craving. But they make for a refreshing and fresh alternative if you’re open to it. These tortillas are made from pure jicama- that’s the only ingredient, so they’re full of nutrition and are without any additives. Try these as a crisp wrap with your favorite sandwich fillings or make a modified taco- I like to add guacamole, ground tempeh, and red cabbage!
There are tons of other food products at Whole Foods that promote gut health. And of course, there are even more whole plant foods that keep the health and function of our gut at peak level. These are just some of my favorites when I'm looking for something delicious and convenient. If you have a specific product that you love, let us know!