Grow a healthy 'gut garden'

Doctor says food instead of pharmaceuticals could help tame your tummy

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – It hits tens of millions of people right in the gut, literally! Chronic intestinal distress, like irritable bowel syndrome, can make life miserable. However, one doctor says food, instead of pharmaceuticals, could help make your stomach feel better.

"The intestines are not a sewerage system. They're a garden and we need to be good gardeners," explained Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, integrative medicine physician, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Plotnikoff says what happens in your stomach can impact your entire body.

"Gut health is the foundation for all health. Our gut bacteria regulate our mood, our energy, our immune system, and even our metabolism," he explained.

Bad gut bacteria leads to, "Gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. The things that no one wants to talk about," Plotnikoff said.

A gut full of good bacteria, called probiotics, can help prevent those problems.

The doctor says they're like seeds in your gut garden that flourish with the help of prebiotics, a special form of dietary fiber.

"These are like Miracle-Gro for our internal garden. I prescribe foods that are actually going to support the friendly bacteria in our gut," Plotnikoff said.

He says cultured products, like tofu and yogurt, are great for your gut and so are fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir (fermented milk), and kombucha.

Asparagus, artichokes, and carrots are packed with prebiotics.

"Apples and organs are also very good," Plotnikoff said.

Plotnikoff believes these foods are a low-cost, side effect free alternative to medications for gut problems.

"Don't take my word for it. Trust your gut," he said.

While some, like Plotnikoff, swear by probiotics and prebiotics, others are skeptical about the benefits. Supplements containing probiotics and prebiotics are not regulated by the FDA.

Additional Information:

Many people get confused about the differences between prebiotics and probiotics.  Not only do the words differ by only a single letter, but they target similar benefits—improving overall health by improving digestive health through nourishing a healthy colon.  However, they are not the same.  (Source:

PREBIOTIC:  Prebiotic is a specialized plant fiber that beneficially nourishes the good bacteria already in the colon or large bowel.  The body does not digest the plant fibers, but instead the fibers act as a fertilizer to promote the growth of the good bacteria in the gut.  Both, prebiotics and probiotics, accomplish important health benefits for the gut, but before deciding between a prebiotic or probiotic regimen consider these facts:

  • Prebiotic powders are not affected by heat, cold, acid, or time.
  • Prebiotics nourish thousands of good bacterial species already living in the colon.
  • Prebiotic fiber is a naturally-occurring substance, found in thousands of plant species. 
  • Prebiotics may be helpful or preventative for irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis), colon polyps, cancer, and people with a leaky gut.  (Source:

PROBIOTICS:  Probiotics are live bacteria in yogurt, other dairy products and pills.  Even though probiotics have been shown to effectively manage some gastrointestinal conditions, they do not have the same power that prebiotics do. 

  • Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods, like sauerkraut or yogurt, dairy products, and pills.  There are hundreds of probiotic species available. 
  • Probiotic bacteria have to be kept alive.  They can be killed by stomach acid, heat, or simply die with time.
  • Probiotics may impact bad bacteria by crowding them out.
  • Certain probiotic species have been proven to be helpful for irritable bowel disease and for recurrence of certain bowel infections, like C. difficile. (Source: