A healthy gut sets the foundation for overall health. It's linked to immunity and can even affect your mental health. What you eat plays an important role, and choosing the right snacks can help — or hinder — your microbiome.
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When it comes to taking care of your digestive system, yogurt is typically the go-to snack food thanks to its beneficial probiotics — but it isn't your only option.
If you're looking for a nutritious snack that agrees with your stomach, gastroenterologists have a top choice: carrot sticks and other veggies with a side of hummus for dipping.
This snack may help support gut health because it's high in fiber, offers a variety of nutrients and may even help calm inflammation.
Here's why gastroenterologists choose this snack.
Why Hummus and Veggies Are Good For Your Gut
There's a lot to like about hummus and veggies. This snack is delicious, comforting and nutrient-rich. It's also a great choice for promoting gut health.
1. It Gives You Healthy Fats
Many nutrients play a key role in healthy digestion, and probiotics are often the focus. But it's not the only one to consider when you're trying to get your gut health in check, says Aniruddh Setya, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist.
In addition to probiotics, Setya recommends incorporating sources of healthy fats into your diet. "Hummus, which is typically made with olive oil, is a very good source of fat," he says.
Sources of plant-based healthy fats such as olive oil may help to increase bacterial diversity in the gut, according to April 2022 research in Nature. Bacterial diversity is a marker of a healthy microbiome.
Researchers recommend replacing saturated fats in your diet with more polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Olive oil and tahini, two ingredients commonly used to make hummus, are both sources of these healthy fats.
2. It's High in Fiber
Dietary fiber is another nutrient that's often mentioned when it comes to gut health, and for good reason. It's known for aiding digestion and preventing constipation, but it can also help with intestinal conditions like diverticulosis, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
"Fiber from vegetables can help with both constipation and diarrhea," Setya says. That's because fiber can soften hard stool and also add substance to watery stools.
The recommendations for fiber are 25 grams per day for people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and 38 grams per day for people assigned male at birth (AMAB), per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That means a serving of hummus can give you between 15 and 24 percent of your daily needs for fiber. Pair it with fiber-rich carrot sticks and other veggies, and you're even closer to meeting that goal with just one snack.
3. It Offers Antioxidants
Polyphenols are plant compounds that also act as antioxidants, and they're important because they help fend off free radical damage that can increase your risk of disease.
Many disease-causing bacteria enter the body through the gut, so it's helpful to focus on getting more of these nutrients in your daily diet. "The polyphenols in vegetables like carrot sticks have properties that can be restorative to gut health," Setya says.
Specifically, polyphenols can have prebiotic and antimicrobial effects on the gut, according to September 2019 research in Nutrients. In other words, they may help feed good bacteria and fight the growth of bad bacteria.
Many plant foods contain polyphenols, but the olive oil in hummus is a notable source with a myriad of health benefits, according to a March 2018 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
4. It's Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is your body's natural response to harmful invaders. But when your immune system is overloaded over a prolonged period of time, you can go into a state of chronic inflammation, where it starts to attack healthy cells.
Chronic inflammation is linked to a growing number of health conditions, such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best eating plans to reduce inflammation, per Harvard Health Publishing. That's because foods like hummus and olive oil all contain nutrients that are known to fight it, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
"Inflammation and 'leaky gut' can be caused by eating too many processed foods," Setya says. "Leaky gut" describes a condition where the lining of the digestive tract becomes damaged, allowing harmful pathogens to enter into the bloodstream. "Veggies offer fiber, polyphenols and other nutrients that help an inflamed and 'leaky' gut."
There are also many digestive conditions characterized by inflammation in the gut, like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Lifestyle factors, altered gut bacteria and leaky gut can all contribute to IBD but a balanced diet rich in plant foods can help, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Hummus is usually made with legumes like chickpeas, which are a potent source of protein. High-protein snacks can increase satiety, so you feel satisfied between meals.
Hummus Recipes for Digestive Health
During your next trip to the grocery store, keep your eye out for the many different varieties of hummus. Some are made with the classic combination of chickpeas, tahini and olive oil while others offer additional flavor and nutrients from ingredients like red bell pepper, garlic and beets.
For more control over the ingredients going into your hummus, try making it at home. It's easy to do and won't contain the additional saturated fat and sodium that you might find in store-bought hummus.
To make hummus at home, you can add the following ingredients to a food processor, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Garlic cloves
- Black pepper
- Mayo Clinic: "Hummus"
- National Library of Medicine: "Fiber"
- MyFoodData: "Hummus Plain"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Plant Polyphenols"
- Nutrients: "Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Inflammation"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Chronic gut inflammation: Coping with inflammatory bowel disease"
- Nature: Gut microbiome responses to dietary intervention with hypocholesterolemic vegetable oils
- Harvard Health Publishing:The best anti-inflammatory diets