The science on bacteria and health is rapidly changing. Ten years ago, most people associated bacteria with illness. Now, most people are aware of the important role that good bacteria plays in gut health. The science on probiotic bacteria is also rapidly evolving, with new breakthroughs seemingly every day! We now know gut bacteria does much more than improve digestion. It’s been linked to a host of conditions including type 1 and 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, certain types of cancer and even weight control.

When I work with clients on digestive health and improving their microflora, I tell them to remember the two Fs: Fiber and Fermented foods.

Fiber is gut bacteria’s favorite food. It’s a type of carbohydrate that passes into the gut undigested. Some types can be fermented, or “eaten” by the bacteria in our gut, which helps them grow and nourishes more diverse strains of bacteria. Eating a low fiber diet essentially starves gut bacteria, causing them to “eat” and damage the intestine’s protective mucus lining.

Fermented foods are sources of healthy probiotic bacteria, which help replenish stores of the most health promoting bacteria strains. Many dietitians feel fermented foods are better than probiotic supplements because food helps protect the bacteria in the acidic stomach environment. Plus, fermented foods have a wider variety of bacteria strains than probiotics. Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, fermented pickles and sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and miso paste.

One of my favorite ways to get a hefty dose of fiber and fermented food is by making a grain bowl for lunch. It’s an easy and delicious way to use up leftovers and create a balanced meal. Start with a scoop of your favorite whole grain, like quinoa, brown rice, or farro. Top it with your choice of protein, dressing or another source of fat, like hummus, avocado, or nuts, and vegetables. I like to use a combination of cooked and raw vegetables for flavor contrast. Then, add a small scoop of fermented sauerkraut, relish, or kimchi, which adds a ton of flavor along with probiotic goodness. Start with this Asian inspired grain bowl for inspiration!

Five Spice Tempeh Grain Bowl
Serves 4


  • 8 ounces tempeh
  • 1 teaspoon five spice powder
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb bok choy, sliced
  • 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach
  • 3 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
  • ½ cup edamame hummus
  • ½ cup fermented sauerkraut
  • Microgreens, watercress or sprouts for serving
  • Soy sauce, for serving
  • Sesame or chili oil, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut tempeh into 16 slices. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Toss with five spice powder, season with salt and pepper and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Spray the tops with more oil. Place in the oven and bake 15 minutes, flip and bake an additional 10 minutes.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds until fragrant. Add bok choy and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide brown rice evenly among four bowls. Top with baked tempeh, garlicky greens, hummus, sauerkraut, and greens. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame or chili oil and serve.
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About the Author

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, CLT

Rachael Hartley is a private practice dietitian and food and wellness blogger at The Joy of Eating. She believes loving every bite of food is central to living a happy and healthy life. Through her practice and blog, Rachael inspires clients and readers to rediscover the joy of eating with nourishment, not deprivation, and to nurture a healthy relationship with food. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.