Your body’s gastrointestinal system depends on a complex internal ecosystem of microorganisms. Imbalance in your gut leads to many issues with both physical and mental health.
The best way to improve your gut health is to eat foods that balance and support healthy gut bacteria to cultivate a thriving microbiome in your stomach and digestive tract. Otherwise, your body won’t break down foods or properly absorb nutrients.
Here’s our list of foods you can eat to support your microbiome and get your gut back on track.
Probiotics provide commensal (health-supporting) bacteria to improve digestion and slow the growth of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. Probiotic foods often contain live bacteria cultures.
Try out some of these delicious probiotic-rich, fermented foods.
This delicious breakfast food is a gut-healthy way to start your morning. In addition to the basic nutrition it provides — like protein, calcium, magnesium, and amino acids — yogurt contains beneficial bacteria for your gut.
Eating yogurt with live cultures may help prevent gastrointestinal disorders and ease lactose intolerance.
Greek yogurt is generally considered healthiest due to its higher protein and lower sugar content. Try to avoid yogurt with added sugars.
It’s not a typical side dish for many people, but sauerkraut makes a great staple because it’s a probiotic superfood. This fermented cabbage is packed with billions of healthy bacteria.
Just a few tablespoons of sauerkraut can provide some or all of the probiotics you need for a whole day.
This Korean-based vegetable side dish even outdoes sauerkraut in its probiotic properties. Natural yeast cultures and bacteria ferment kimchi vegetables slowly over multiple weeks. The result is a probiotic-rich appetizer that can prepare your gut for a hearty meal.
Kimchi is considered a primary source of lactic acid bacteria, which gives it a tangy taste.
You can drink probiotics, too! Kombucha provides a convenient way to consume live cultures on the go.
This fermented beverage is made when sugared black tea reacts to yeast and bacteria cultures that can help balance your intestinal flora.
Look out for products without sweeteners added after fermentation.
A fermented milk product similar to yogurt, kefir contains dozens of species of probiotic bacteria and yeast that deliver a fantastic boost to microbiota and mycobiota in your gut.
It’s also a convenient breakfast drink or salad dressing. Like with kombucha, Again, beware of added sugar.
6. Fermented Soy
Miso and tempeh both come from fermented soybeans. Miso is a paste fermented with yeast and salt. Tempeh’s fermented soybeans are blended with grains to make a meat-like, low-fat substitute.
Such soy-based fermented foods have been shown to reduce pathogenic bacteria populations.
7. Semi-Soft Cheeses
Goat cheese, cottage cheese, brie, fresh feta, and other semi-soft cheeses contain probiotic microbes that can thrive in your gastrointestinal tract. However don’t take this as a free pass to eat as much cheese to your heart’s content since they are still high in cholesterol and fat content and can cause issues for those with lactose and dairy intolerances.
Note: When you can’t get enough probiotics directly from these sources, you can take a probiotic supplement that contains active cultures. Food supplements work best when paired with a gut-healthy diet.
Another way you can assist your gut is by promoting the vitality of the bacteria living there. Essentially, you need to eat food for your bacteria to eat.
Prebiotics are exactly that — these dietary fibers keep the microorganisms alive and thriving. Inulin is the most common type of prebiotic, but there are many others that you’ll find in these gut health foods.
Onions are rich in dietary fibers like inulin. They also help prevent bowel disease by decreasing inflammation and defending against pathogens.
The onion’s prebiotic and protective properties should make it a dietary staple. That should be easy to do, considering you can add a handful of chopped onions to almost any savory dish.
Whole-plant foods like oats consist of fermentable fibers that positively affect metabolic activities. A bowl of hot oatmeal is a gut-healthy meal. To make this even healthier, swap out the sweeteners for natural fruits, nuts, or cinnamon to boost the flavor.
These delicious green spears have excellent nutritional value. Plus, asparagus is abundant in ACNP, an inulin-type of fiber compound that’s fantastic at regulating gut microbiota. ACNP is so beneficial for gut health that it has the potential to be used as a dietary supplement on its own.
The indigestible carbohydrates you find in bananas make them natural prebiotics that can suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Eating a banana before a meal may help relieve constipation.
The prebiotic components in garlic can keep the microbiome in your gut stable while also increasing the diversity of good bacteria. Plus, garlic is a known anti-inflammatory food.
The healthiest way to consume garlic is to mince or chop fresh cloves and mix it with other prebiotic and gut health foods.
13. Jerusalem Artichokes
Of all the prebiotic foods you can eat, Jerusalem artichokes have the highest concentrations of fructan — as much as triple what you’d find in other gut-friendly foods! Fructans are valuable prebiotics for digestion.
Unfortunately, fructans are most commonly consumed in wheat products that contain gluten, which causes more problems for your digestion. Eating Jerusalem artichokes is a great way to increase your fructan intake while avoiding carb-heavy, glutinous foods.
Leeks are also considered prebiotic because of their abundance of fructans. Leeks may seem intimidating if you haven’t cooked with them before, but you can use them like onions, adding them to stews, soups, rice dishes, vegetable roasts, and as garnishes on many dishes.
15. Fresh Fruit
Raspberries, pears, apples, blueberries, and other fruits are rich in prebiotic fibers and polyphenols — especially the fruit skins.
Pro tip: Combine fresh fruit with yogurt. A 2017 study found that fruit and yogurt have synergistic health benefits that surpass what either component offers individually.
Dietary carbohydrates are integral to a healthy diet, and legumes like lentils and chickpeas provide the compounds your gut needs. Lentils are nutrient-rich foods that feed your intestinal microbiota, fight chronic disease, and stimulate bowel movement.
Pro Tip: Soaking and pressure cooking legumes helps to remove lectins.
Polyphenols are an essential element in a healthy diet. These organic compounds provide antioxidants, which protect your cells from free radicals.
Why are polyphenols necessary for good gut health? Polyphenols keep dangerous bacteria in check while allowing good bacteria to flourish, which is why they’re so good for the gut.
Plus, the work of polyphenols in your gut can provide neurological benefits, too.
17. Green Tea
Research shows that green tea can promote the development of good bacteria and hinder destructive strains. Studies even found that the abundant antioxidants in green tea can suppress cancerous cells from spreading in the digestive tract.
18. Dark Chocolate
Delicious dark chocolate can provide valuable polyphenols for your digestive system. Cocoa and dark chocolate polyphenols stimulate certain microbiota, resulting in reduced GI inflammation.
We can’t think of a better reason to eat chocolate!
To ensure you’re not off-setting the benefits of dark chocolate for your gut, look for chocolate with a higher cacao content rather than products with added sugar.
A major study in 2018 investigated the effect of polyphenols from grapes and red wine. The results showed that grape skins and red wine notably benefit microbial ecology because of their polyphenols.
20. Olive Oil
The phenolic compounds in olive oil boost the gut microbiome by promoting higher biodiversity. Drizzle some on your next Mediterranean dish, salad, or grilled veggies.
Keep in mind that compounds in olive oil don’t respond well to high-heat cooking. Opt for a healthy, high-heat oil like avocado or ghee oil when cooking at super high temps.
Tree nuts like almonds contain polyphenols most abundantly in their skins. While you can still enjoy some antioxidant effects from blanched or de-skinned varieties, eating handfuls of whole, raw almonds is the best way to promote your gut’s well-being with these yummy nuts.
While the most beneficial foods for your gut contain probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenols, other foods contribute to your digestive health as well. Here are some additional gut health foods and drinks that should be on your regular meal rotation.
22. Whole Grains
Whole grains are good for your gut because they’re rich in fiber, which cleans out bad bacteria in your intestines. This allows good bacteria to flourish and boost your metabolic health. Great grains include quinoa, barley, brown rice, and sprouted grains.
Although they are indigestible carbohydrates, higher consumption of whole grains can lower the chances of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
But while whole grains can be very beneficial, some are worse for your gut due to other compounds they contain, such as gluten. If you suffer from Celiac disease or have leaky gut issues, talk to your healthcare provider about the right whole-grain food sources for you.
23. Bone Broth
It’s more than just soup — but it is very much like the chicken soup remedy for boosting the immune system.
Bone broth is packed with nutrients your gut needs to thrive, including collagen, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. To avoid preservatives and other added ingredients, opt for organic or make your own homemade bone broth.
Ever notice your stomach feels better after eating or drinking something with fresh ginger? Ginger naturally increases stomach acid production to break down foods more effectively. Plus, it supports immunity, reduces inflammation, and boosts gut microbiota.
Add freshly grated ginger root to soups, salad dressings, or even just hot water for a spicy herbal tea.
Peas are another vegetable abounding in dietary fiber: Both cooked peas and dried pea fiber support gut health. Research has discovered that fiber-rich pea fiber improves gut barrier protection. Plus, peas may improve blood sugar levels.
If you follow a vegetarian/vegan diet, pea protein is one way to supplement with high amounts of prebiotics.
In addition to being a healthy and energizing snack, nuts can improve your health by providing dietary fiber and nutrients like Vitamin E and magnesium.
We recommend a mix of almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews.
27. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, also known as oily fish, are brimming with natural oil in their tissues. This makes them a prime source of omega-3 fatty acids, which improve bacterial diversity in your gut and its digestive functions.
The healthiest fatty fish are salmon, albacore tuna, wild-caught sardines, and some types of trout. Just make sure you avoid fish preserved with high sodium content.
Flaxseed is another great source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein, fiber, and thiamine. It brings a wealth of nutrients to your body that improve your metabolism. It may even reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
It’s best to eat flaxseed ground into a powder that’s easy to digest — it’s a popular add-in for gut-friendly smoothies.
29. Leafy Greens
Fresh vegetable greens like kale, spinach, and arugula reduce inflammation and improve metabolism in the gut.
Aim to eat leafy greens every day in salads, smoothies, or sandwiches.
30. Chicory Root
You may think of chicory root as an acid-free, caffeine-free alternative to coffee, but these ground-up granules provide many health benefits beyond energy.
When you drink a cup of chicory coffee, your stomach is flooded with gut-loving inulin as well as minerals like potassium and magnesium.
What Not to Eat
A healthy gut depends heavily on avoiding harmful foods just as much as it depends on you eating gut-friendly foods.
What foods should you avoid to improve gut health? For better gut health, avoid fried or highly processed foods and added sweeteners. All of these impede your digestive health.
1. Fried Foods
Anything drenched in boiling oil is much harder for your body to digest. Plus, fried foods contain far more trans fats and hydrogenated fats. Studies have found that eating fried foods wreck your internal microbial conditions. Further, fried foods, or any food cooked at extremely high temperatures, create a compound called acrylamide which has been linked to colon cancer.
2. Processed Foods
Your body is designed to digest natural, whole foods easily. While not all processed foods are technically unhealthy, they lack the nutrients found in whole foods. During processing, the nutrients are lost, then added back in through fortification, e.g. fortified cereals.
Processed food often often contain excessive sodium (like cured meats), sugar (like cereal), or preservatives. None of that is great for your gut or overall health.
Some nutritionists theorize that there may even be a connection between the surge in processed foods and rising obesity rates because of the damage they cause to your gut.
Whenever you can, aim to eat the least processed versions of foods — fill your diet with primarily whole foods.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
Sweets like soft drinks and candy may taste great, but they’re bad news for your gut. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin feed the bad bacteria in your digestive system.
In fact, these additives may motivate E. coli and E. faecalis growth in your digestive tract, both of which are gut wreckers!
Changing your diet and consuming only food and drinks that aid your digestion can help undo years of damage, from mild bloating and constipation to irritable bowel syndrome.
What are some foods that help gut health? The top menu items for a healthy gut are fermented foods, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, and leafy greens. Consuming these foods can support your gut naturally by combating free radicals that damage your stomach and intestines.
Need Some Guidance?
Making and following an effective meal plan can be difficult — especially if you have a history of digestion problems. Sano Health Club is here to help you enact changes that improve your gut and overall health.
Request an appointment with a care team member at Sano Health Club to learn about our practice and sign up for our membership. We can help identify the root causes of your health issues and put you on the road to wellness.
Shop our catalog of gastrointestinal health supplements to give your gut an extra boost.
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