I like to say the gut is your internal garden. And like any garden, it requires careful attention to the health of the soil and the produce you want to grow in it. In the case of your gut, we’re talking about the microbiome—the almost 100 trillion little critters in your digestive system, which can be good or bad for your health. Like weeds, the "bad bugs" need to be de-weeded while you promote the growth of the "good guys."
Gut balance starts with maintaining the health of the microbiome while nourishing your one-cell-layer-thick gut lining with the key nutrients it needs to function optimally. When you support your gut with balanced meals, you’ll feel the health ramifications throughout your body with improved digestion, mental clarity, clear skin, and boundless energy.
My gut-focused dinner always starts with a prebiotic-rich salad that takes less than five minutes to make. Anyone who can’t cook can still easily make a salad. All you need is a cutting board and a chef’s knife. It’s just as important to note what is included in this meal as it is to note what is left out (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and added sugar—all foods that damage the gut lining and feed the unfavorable bugs in your gut’s microbiome).
Dark leafy greens, in this case romaine, are rich in insoluble fibers and cleansing chlorophyll. The prebiotic fiber feeds the favorable gut flora and helps clear the path by pushing food down the digestive tract to keep you regular. The pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped in a tiny package. They contain a variety of very important minerals—like manganese, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Zinc, along with its roles in boosting immunity and testosterone production, is also needed to maintain a healthy stomach lining and proper acid secretion, which is very important for protein digestion. Pumpkin seeds also add a healthy dose of fiber, free-radical scavenging antioxidants, and phytosterols (which have an added benefit of helping to lower your cholesterol levels).
The salad dressing includes extra-virgin olive oil, which is rich in anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids and phenolic antioxidants. The best type to buy is extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) because it is extracted without the use of harsh chemicals and is the purest, most standardized form. Beware of "refined or light" olive oils, which may have been extracted using solvents and possibly diluted with cheaper (unhealthy) vegetable oils, like soybean or canola. I usually go for an organic version and love to find a peppery artisanal EVOO to add to salads.
The benefits of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the "mother" are extensive. That murky disc at the bottom (the "mother") is rich in protein, enzymes, and probiotic bacteria. Among its potential benefits include reducing acid reflux, improving protein breakdown and digestion, seeding the gut with healthy Lactobacillus, and killing Candida to promote a healthy balance of gut flora. It also benefits the skin and immune health.