These 3 Ingredients Will Make Your Soups Way More Gut-Healing (And Delicious!)
Megan Fahey, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medicine Nutritionist and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Bastyr University, where she was trained to artfully blend eastern and western healing modalities.
Soups are one of winter's silver linings: Yes, your toes may be frozen, and yes, you might have forgotten the feeling of sunshine on your skin, but at least you can make one of the world's easiest, healthiest dinners most nights—and you can feel fully justified in curling up in a pile of fluffy blankets to eat it.
Soup's wonder stems from its simplicity of definition; it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be, as long as it's liquid-ish in consistency and served in a bowl. You can blend it. You can leave it chunky. You can fill it with noodles, or veggies, or tiny grilled cheese bites that you fry up like croutons. The limits of soup lie only in the limits of your imagination.
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This winter, I decided, after a spate of colds that left my nose flaky and raw, that I needed to amp up the gut-healing qualities of my soups. A healthy gut is one of the keys to a healthy immune system, meaning that a healthy gut is the kryptonite to your sneezing co-worker and the subway pole you had to begrudgingly grab this morning.
Rather than just give you a gut-healing soup recipe, I'd like to lean into the flexibility of soup and give you three ingredients that can be used to make hundreds of variations of better-belly bowls. Here's what I rely on in my own kitchen:
Miso is one of those ingredients that chefs love, but home cooks often shy away from. A fermented soybean paste that's a staple in Japanese cuisine, miso is the base of—quelle surprise!—miso soup, but its possibilities extend far beyond. I like to use the probiotic-packed paste to add a note of umami and depth to many of my blended vegetable soups (you can get my basic blended veggie soup recipe here). The result doesn't taste particularly miso-y but rather just like a richer, fuller, more nuanced version of the original. Be sure to use the miso as a finisher, as boiling it will kill the beneficial bugs.
2. Bone broth
You've likely heard us healthy food folk wax on about how good bone broth is for the gut—it is one of the best natural sources of collagen, a crucial element of the gut lining. What I love about it, though, is how easy it is to use in almost any soup recipe—just sub it for the broth or stock that any recipe calls for. A chicken bone broth is great in veggie-based blends (and, of course, chicken noodle), while a beef bone broth works wonderfully in pho, chilis, or any heartier soups. I love Bonafide Provisions, EPIC, and Kettle & Fire broths for their robust flavor and health benefits.
3. Fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables offer a one-two punch of gut-healing benefits: They're rich in probiotics, which help your microbiome flourish, and they contain fiber, which serves as food for a healthy microbiome and helps keep things moving along smoothly in your digestive tract. From a culinary perspective, I love how the sour, pungent flavor plays a role similar to acid in dishes, balancing salt, sweetness, and fat to make any dish more complex and crave-worthy. Sauerkraut is the most famous ferment, but there are quite a few varieties of vegetables available in grocery stores these days (or you could always make your own!). I'll spoon fermented carrots on a Thai veggie soup, or add some fermented blueberries to a roasted root veg soup (a trick I learned from the chef at Noma, one of the world's best restaurants). Like the miso, you'll want to add fermented vegetables right at the end, so you don't overheat them and destroy their benefits.