“Good” and “bad” bacteria are often mentioned in the wellness world when it comes to gut health and digestion — but what does it all mean?
Healthy adults typically have more than 1,000 species of bacteria in their gut, which amounts to over 100 trillion microbial cells and 3 to 5 pounds (yes, pounds!) of bacteria in our digestive system.
There are a lot of these little guys — these bacteria cells outnumber human cells 10 to 1. Bacteria begin to colonize or grow in the gastrointestinal tract at birth, and they remain there throughout the rest of your life.
These trillions of microbes in the gut play a huge role in basic functions that directly affect our overall health, including:
- contributing to metabolism
- controlling inflammation
- helping harvest nutrients from food
- producing vitamins
- protecting our bodies from viruses and infections by “training” the immune system
Long story short: They affect how we feel every day.
A happy and healthy microbiome controls your gut health, so it’s important to nurture it. That’s where these three delicious salads come into play. Each is filled with ingredients to make your gut happy — and you healthy.
Vegan Kale Caesar Salad
Traditional Caesar dressings are loaded with saturated fat and calories, and some use iceberg lettuce as the base, which isn’t as nutrient-dense as its close counterpart romaine — and still not as nutrient-dense as kale!
- 2 to 3 cups massaged kale salad
- 1/2 avocado
- 3 tablespoons hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Garlic, optional
- Dash of apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup chickpeas
- Prepare massaged kale salad and set aside in a serving bowl.
- In a blender or food processor, combine avocado, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, optional garlic, and a dash of apple cider vinegar. Blend together for a thick and creamy dressing.
- Pour over kale and combine. Then top with chickpeas. If you’d like to add another protein source instead of a vegetarian-friendly protein, try grilled chicken. Enjoy!
On the go? If you don’t have a blender, simply mash all of the “wet” ingredients with the back of your fork and then work the mixture into the romaine lettuce or massaged kale.
Basil Pesto Potato Salad
This isn’t your average deli potato salad! This fresh spin on the classic uses pesto as the dressing and ingredients like hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, and walnuts to give your body a boost of omega-3s, protein, magnesium, B vitamins, and potassium.
You may be surprised to learn that potatoes are a gut-friendly food — and one you probably have stocked in your kitchen. Potatoes are known as a rich source of potassium. A single medium cooked potato contains about 900 milligrams (or a little less than 20 percent of the daily value [DV]).
Potassium is an electrolyte that our bodies need to remain hydrated and balance muscle contractions (including the ones in our digestive system), heart rhythm, pH levels, and blood pressure.
- 8 medium red potatoes
For the basil pesto:
- 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic (I used 1 1/2 tablespoons, minced, because that’s all I had on hand!)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 cup hemp seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups good olive oil
- First, chop the cleaned potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Place in a pot of water (enough so that water is up to about 2 inches over the potatoes). Put the lid on and boil the potatoes for 15 minutes or until they are fork-tender. Immediately drain cooked potatoes and rinse with cool water to cool them down. Set aside.
- In the meantime, for the pesto, combine all ingredients — except the olive oil — in a food processor and start to pulse. Then slowly add the olive oil as the food processor or blender is running on low, to combine. Check seasonings and adjust any sea salt or lemon zest at this point.
- In a large mixing bowl, add about 1/2 cup of the pesto to the cooked potatoes. Toss to combine and coat. You will have extra pesto leftover, or you can serve it on the side. Add as much pesto to the salad as you enjoy.
- Store in an airtight glass container for up to 7 days. Serve at room temperature.
Beetroot Pineapple Salad
This beautiful salad may turn you into a beet lover if you don’t already enjoy this nutrient-dense vegetable. Both beets and pineapple are rich in fiber, which we know is vital for regular digestion, not to mention maintaining a healthy gut microbiota.
Pineapples may provide a special boost on digestion since they contain an enzyme called bromelain that may help break down proteins and reduce digestion issues.
This juicy fruit is rich in fiber, hydrating, and can help stimulate healthy digestion — all in a salad that takes 5 minutes to put together.
- 4 cups chopped beets
- 3 cups chopped pineapple
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, to drizzle
- Dash of ground cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1/4 cup mint, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). On a lined baking sheet, evenly spread chopped beets. Roast for about 40 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.
- Chop pineapple in large chunks, about the same size as the chopped beets.
- To serve, plate chopped pineapple and cooled roasted beets and drizzle with olive oil, dust with cinnamon, add a pinch of sea salt, and top with thinly sliced fresh mint.
- Enjoy at room temperature.
Taking care of your digestive system and keeping your gut healthy is a daily practice that involves many pillars of health — including proper nutrition, sleep, stress management, hydration, and exercise.
Above all, if you make a conscious choice to include more fiber-rich whole foods in your diet, then you’re off to a great start for better gut health.
If you have any digestion issues you’d like to work towards making better, always consult a registered dietitian or functional medicine physician who can help you get to the root cause.
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN, is the founder of Nutrition Stripped, a healthy-living website dedicated to optimizing the well-being of women all over the globe through recipes, nutrition advice, fitness, and more. Her cookbook, “Nutrition Stripped,” was a national best-seller, and she’s been featured in Fitness Magazine and Women’s Health Magazine.