The #1 Snack for Better Gut Health

These days, going with your gut means practicing the habits that support your gut health. Taking care of the trillions of bacteria that reside in your gut benefits your digestive system, immune system, metabolism and more. 

One of the most important things you can do to feed the good microbes that reside in your gut is to maintain a healthy diet, including incorporating gut-friendly foods into your everyday meals. 

Of course, that might include fruits, veggies and probiotic-packed foods like yogurt. But what about when it’s 3 p.m. and you’re looking for a salty snack? GI docs say that it can be easy to find the best snack for your gut health—as long as you know exactly what to look for.

We spoke with Janese Laster, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist, an expert in nutrition and obesity medicine, and the founder of Gut Theory Total Digestive Care in Washington, D.C. Her solution for a gut-healthy snack is simple: look for plant-based protein.

What to Look For in a Gut-Healthy Snack

If you want to choose a snack with your gut microbiome in mind, Laster recommends looking for one that is high in plant-based protein. Think nuts (pistachios, walnuts, almonds), dried edamame, hummus and vegetables, fruit with nut butter, and protein shakes.

Why plant-based protein? Laster says that this type of snack provides two important nutrients important for a healthy gut: protein and fiber. “[Snacks] high in plant-based protein and fiber help feed colonic cells and diversify the microbiome,” she explains. A diverse mix of bacteria in your gut helps keep your body healthy and resilient. Lower bacterial diversity, on the other hand, is associated with inflammation and chronic disease.

What’s more, microbes in your colon ferment the fiber in these plant proteins, producing short-chain fatty acids, which maintain your gut barrier, suppress inflammation and regulate your metabolism. By choosing a snack that is high in plant-based protein, you are getting the best of both worlds. 

The Best Snack for Gut Health

Ready? It’s nuts! They are an ideal combination of the gut-healthy nutrients that GI docs recommend. Both nuts by the handful and nut butter make great between-meal bites. What’s more, you can eat them in so many ways.

Nuts are a perfect combo of protein and fiber. Good high-protein snack options should have 6 to 20 grams of protein, and you should look for at least 3 grams of fiber in a high-fiber snack. For example, 2 tablespoons of almond butter has about 7 grams of protein and more than 3 grams of fiber. (Add an apple to this and you’ll get even more fiber.) One quarter-cup of shelled pistachios contains about 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

Nuts can be prepared in different ways, such as roasted and salted or flavored. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, consider looking for unsalted, plain nuts to limit sodium intake. Similarly, when choosing nut butters, look for those that contain nuts and salt or nuts only, which will limit added sugars. 

The more minimally processed, the better. Laster explains that processed foods with added sugars, sodium, emulsifiers and additives—such as chips, cookies, candy and soda—aren’t the best snacks for long-term gut health. While all foods can fit in a healthy eating plan, when you have gut health specifically in mind, go for less-processed options.

Other Plant-Based Protein Snack Ideas

Thankfully, choosing a snack that is high in plant-based protein isn’t that difficult of a task. There are plenty of snacks easy to grab on the go, such as bags of nuts or pre-portioned hummus cups. But if you’re looking to prepare a few gut-friendly snacks at home, here are some of our favorites that are packed with plant-based protein.

The Bottom Line

To make the most of your snack time and take care of your gut health, gastroenterologists recommend finding a snack that is high in plant-based protein and fiber, nutrients that help feed and diversify the good bacteria in the gut. The foods that fit the bill are nuts and nut butter. Other good-for-your-gut snacks include hummus and vegetables, and protein shakes made with plant-based protein.