Your gut microbiome contains trillions of bacteria which play a crucial role in your health. These organisms work hard to keep your digestive and immune systems healthy. You have probably heard the expression “trust your gut,” which says a lot about the importance of your gut for your mental and emotional life. In fact, your gut is considered your second brain—the good bacteria in your gut produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA that regulate your mood.
But how can you restore or maintain a healthy digestive system? A healthy body and mind, depend on gut friendly-foods. Studies show that diet can impact gut health. What you eat determines which bacteria thrive in your gut microbiota. For example, a high-fat diet reduces the bacteria A. muciniphila and Lactobacillus, which are both connected to healthy metabolic states. Your body can create new bacteria in just 24 hours, so if you have been eating unhealthy food, you still have time to restore gut health by changing what you eat.
As a general rule, the best foods for digestive health are colorful, plant-based foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics are bacteria and yeasts that promote a healthy gut. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi are probiotic foods and kombucha is a probiotic drink, while prebiotics can be found in certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. So, what are the best foods for gut health?
Fiber is one of the most crucial nutrients for your digestive tract, but just around 3% of Americans get the recommended 40 grams of fiber daily. The nutrients and vitamins that healthy gut bacteria get from fiber are used to improve immune function and decrease inflammation. Fiber helps lower blood glucose levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and cleanse the digestive system. Fiber-rich foods include oatmeal, legumes, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables.
Fermented foods contain probiotics and can have a positive impact on your gut health by supplying your gut with organisms that crowd out the bad bacteria and improve the absorption of nutrients. The process of fermentation has been used for centuries to preserve food. Bacteria or yeast are added to a specific food; they eat the natural sugars contained in that food and create lactic acid or alcohol to preserve the food. Up your fermented foods intake with the following yums.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product originating from Indonesia. It is a popular replacement for animal protein in vegan and vegetarian diets. Studies show that tempeh can increase the healthy bacteria in your gut. Tempeh needs to be cooked to be consumed. You can stir-fry it with different veggies and use soy sauce to add flavor.
Miso is a soybean paste made from aged, fermented soybeans. You may have tried it in Japanese restaurants as miso soup. Studies show that this soy product can provide your gut with good bacteria and help prevent cancer and lower blood pressure. Miso paste can be used to make soup, added to salads, or turned into a “miso-mayo.” Keep in mind that miso contains a lot of sodium—1 teaspoon (enough to make a cup of miso soup), has 21% of the sodium daily recommended limit.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink originally sourced from the Caucasus Mountains. It is made with kefir “grains,” a bacterial fermentation starter. Kefir contains about 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a rich probiotic source. You may be able to find dairy-free kefir in specialty grocery stores, or you can order kefir starters and make your own using coconut water or almond milk. Kefir is 99% lactose-free, so it can be easier to digest if you are lactose intolerant.
Common pickles include cucumber, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, typical of German cuisine. Studies show that it can help restore and maintain gut health. It contains good bacteria, and it is also rich in B vitamins. Sauerkraut can be added to salads, or used in condiments and side dishes.
Kimchi is the spicy Korean version of sauerkraut. It is a fermented cabbage made with several different spices and ingredients that include salt, chili powder, onion, garlic, and ginger. Studies show that kimchi is high in probiotics and can help fight cancer, obesity, and constipation. Pickles contain a lot of salt, so consume them in moderation. Check the daily recommended sodium intake to avoid overdoing it. Make sure you eat plenty of fresh vegetables, which are essential components of a healthy diet.
Dandelion greens are rich in inulin, a prebiotic fiber that boosts the production of healthy bacteria. Studies show that dandelion greens also have anti-hyperglycemic, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties. The taste is a bit bitter compared to other leafy greens, so consider sautéing them with onions, drinking them as tea, or adding them to soups and salads.
An animal study showed that broccoli improves intestinal health. Other veggies of the cruciferous family such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage, can have the same effect. You can pair broccoli with your favorite source of protein—cook it in the pan with olive oil, salt, and timut pepper, or steam it.
Like dandelion greens, asparagus is rich in prebiotics and inulin. Asparagus helps promote regularity and decrease bloating. You can eat asparagus steamed or sautéed. If you are vegetarian, you can also use asparagus as a replacement for red meat in pasta carbonara. Try this delicious recipe!
Jerusalem artichoke is also rich in inulin. The name can be misleading because this root vegetable does not look or taste like the common artichoke. It is brown, starchy, savory, with a slightly sweet and nutty taste. Studies show that Jerusalem artichoke can increase the number of good bacteria in your gut. You can cook it like a potato or shred it raw and add it to your favorite salads.
Seaweed is rich in some health-promoting molecules and materials such as dietary fiber, amino acids, and vitamins. Studies also have found that seaweed can help with digestion. Try some nori rolls, make a seaweed salad, or add it to stir-fries.
This root vegetable is rich in fiber—1 cup of raw jicama contains 15% of your daily recommended fiber intake. A study conducted on mice shows that jicama can also help with weight loss and blood sugar control. Add it to salads, smoothies, and stir-fries.
Garlic has many health benefits, and it can also support your digestive health. Studies show that garlic stimulates the creation of good gut bacteria, and it might even help prevent some gastrointestinal diseases. You can easily add garlic to your favorite savory recipes. Try to consume it raw to enjoy its prebiotic benefits.
Flax creates lignans, which are antioxidants with potent anti-cancer properties. These seeds also contain soluble fiber and can help improve your digestive system. It is easy to incorporate flaxseed into your diet because they do not have much flavor—sprinkle some seeds on salads and breakfast bowls.
Banana can help maintain and restore your gut health. Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium, which fight inflammation. Studies show that bananas can reduce bloating and help you lose weight. You can blend bananas in smoothies or add them to your breakfast bowl.
Gum arabic is a natural gum consisting of the hardened sap of various species of the acacia tree. It is a prebiotic food and contains fiber. Studies show that gum arabic increases good bacterial strains, particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. You can add gum arabic powder to water or take it as a supplement.
Stay Away From…
We’re so glad you’re interested in optimizing your digestion with gut-friendly foods. But knowing what not to eat is just as important as knowing what to eat, and can help prevent conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut. However, bad foods for gut health are different for everyone.
For instance, animal protein such as meat, dairy products, and eggs can exacerbate digestive problems for some people while other people experience no reaction. Fried foods, on the other hand, aren’t recommended for anyone’s gut health.
Your gut will send you all the signals you need. So start paying attention to the clues, and adjust your diet accordingly. Happy, healthy eating!