What possesses one of the most complex and rich ecosystems on the planet? Human gut. Amazingly, we are more than bacteria than we are human. Our bodies contain trillions of microorganisms — 10 to 1 more than the number of human cells. Oops. Everything we eat, drink, touch, lubricate, and interact with can change those microorganisms. Behind the scenes, your lifestyle is helping, hurting or balancing your fragile but strong gut health. And while some lifestyle factors are beyond your control, you can control what’s on your plate. What you consume can make or break your digestion. Today, we share why gut health is important, the best foods for gut health, and what to avoid. Time to dig deep.
Featured image of Michelle Nash.
Gut health supplements
We all know gut health – also known as microbiome – is important. And science has proven it. A growing body of research points to the vital role the gut plays in overall health and wellbeing. A balanced gut is necessary for good digestion, but having enough good bacteria keeps you healthy in other ways too. For example, by producing vitamins, support the immune system and fight harmful bacteria. With more than 70% of your immune system located in your gut, it’s worth keeping your gut well nourished. The good news is that most people can boost their gut health naturally through the right diet and supplements. Making room in the fridge for the best gut-healthy foods is definitely worth the effort.
What is microbiome?
Your microbiome is an ecosystem of bacteria. Not only does it help ferment the foods you eat, but these bacteria can aid in blood sugar balance, digestion, and optimal health. Your gut helps support and protect your body from the outside world. Everything from antibiotics to inflammatory foods and birth control pills can negatively affect your gut. If you’re experiencing problems like poor digestion, upset stomach or acne, it could be a sign of an imbalance in the bacteria in your gut.
How to achieve a healthy microbiome?
Diversify, diversify, diversify. Eating a balanced amount of both probiotics and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of bacteria to keep your gut microbiome healthy. And many factors, including the foods you eat, can impact the type of bacteria found in your digestive tract. In general, a diverse microbiome equates to a healthy microbiome. This is because the more species of bacteria you have, the more health benefits they have. In fact, several studies indicate that the elderly possess a more diverse gut microbiota than younger adults. Among the long-lived Chinese, Japanese, and Italians, all groups revealed balanced and diverse gut microbiota.
Follow these 5 steps to improve your gut health
Given that we all want to live a long and healthy life, let’s explore simple ways to improve your gut microbiome.
- Eat foods that are good for gut health. Specifically a varied diet, rich in foods and antioxidants. A diet that includes different foods can lead to a more diverse microbiome, which is beneficial to your health.
- Prioritize the Mediterranean diet. There are many reasons to eat like Mediterraneans, but mainly because of the focus on vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes. These are fiber-rich, gut-friendly foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods, mostly from plant sources, has been shown to improve gut health.
- Choose fermented foods. Fermented foods (or drinks!), like plain yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh can benefit the microbiome. They enhance its function and reduce the abundance of pathogenic bacteria in the gut.
- Supplement with prebiotics. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics, but they can also be found on their own. Resistant starches (such as unripe bananas) can also be a prebiotic. If eating an unripe banana seems unappetizing, you can also benefit from prebiotics by eating cooked and cooled potatoes and rice. Refrigeration turns some of the easily digestible starches into resistant starch.
- Increase your probiotic intake. One of the most powerful ways? Take a probiotic supplement.
10 best foods for gut health
As mentioned, what you eat directly affects the formation of bacteria in your gut. Therefore, affect your health. A healthy gut helps prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, and can reduce inflammation, keep your brain healthy, and help you maintain an optimal weight. It’s never too late to change your diet! Research shows that diversifying your plate can change your microbiome in as little as 24 hours.
Eating asparagus, as part of a high-fiber diet, is a great way to help meet your fiber needs and keep your digestive system healthy. A good source of fiber, asparagus promotes regularity and digestive health, and may help reduce the risk of certain conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Get the recipe for Asparagus, Quinoa and Rice Salad.
Artichokes are high in fiber, which can help keep your digestive system healthy. This delicious spring vegetable supplies gut bacteria, reduces the risk of certain bowel cancers, relieves constipation, and helps minimize other digestive problems. In addition, artichokes contain inulin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic.
Get the recipe for Artichokes & Spring Pea Crostini.
Chia seeds can act as a prebiotic, helping your stomach produce good bacteria. In turn, chia seeds support a properly functioning digestive system. As a superfood, they also act as a cleanser for your digestive system. They turn into a sticky gel-like substance when soaked in water.
Get the recipe for Protein Pancakes With Blueberries and Chia Seeds.
Due to its probiotic nature, coconut yogurt can support digestive system health. All yogurts are lightly fermented foods filled with healthy bacteria. Traditionally, yogurt is made from animal milk. However, there are many varieties of plant-based yogurt, including coconut yogurt. We love Cocojune and COCOYO. In fact, COCOYO boasts a whopping 25 billion probiotics per 1/2 cup serving (no added sugar).
Get the recipe for the Yogurt & Granola Breakfast Grazing Board.
Cue: Beans, beans, magic fruit…Strictly speaking, beans are one of the most beneficial foods for gut health. Many legumes, especially black beans, promote gut health by improving intestinal barrier function and increasing the number of beneficial bacteria. This can help prevent intestinal diseases.
Get the recipe for the easiest black bean soup to make.
Flaxseeds are often used to improve digestive health or relieve constipation. Flaxseeds may also help lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Make sure you grind the seeds or buy pre-ground flaxseeds — and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. You can add ground flaxseed to smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt bowls, or use it as an egg substitute in vegan baked goods.
Get the recipe for Clarksville Kale Crunch Salad.
Leafy green vegetables
It’s no surprise that greens are on the list of gut-healthy foods. Green vegetables, such as spinach or kale, are great sources of fiber, as well as nutrients like folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin A. Research shows that leafy greens Greens also contain a specific sugar that promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Get the recipe for Green Sauce Spaghetti.
Like beans, lentils can help improve gut health. Because lentils are a source of prebiotic fiber, they can help improve digestion. They can also help control blood sugar and have been shown to make your heart healthier, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
Get the recipe for Black Lentil Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese.
All fermented foods are great for the gut! Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage, is packed with vitamins C and K, iron, and fiber, and naturally contains beneficial gut bacteria. The nutritional value of some ingredients, like cabbage, can be enriched by fermentation and it makes it easier for us to digest food. Surprise your guests and offer sauerkraut at your next brunch!
Get the recipe for the Best Buddha Bowl from Love & Lemon.
Foods high in fermentable fiber, like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, squash, and other squashes are great for stimulating the good bacteria of the colon. These ingredients also stabilize blood sugar, increase low acid levels in the stomach, and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Get the recipe for Pita Tostadas with Butternut Squash, Black Beans and Avocado.
The power of resistant starch
With each meal, consider how you can combine the aforementioned ingredients! Ultimately, you want to feed the good bacteria in your gut. The beneficial bacteria in your gut feed on resistant starch (also known as prebiotics), which can be found in vegetables, legumes, and seeds. Other sources of prebiotics include acacia, psyllium husks, and inulin. They are in the form of a thin powder. You can easily add them to your smoothie, coffee or hot beverage of choice — they deliver prebiotic fiber to your gut for a very healthy digestive tract.
More fermented foods
In addition to resistant starch, consider fermented foods. They’re a great (and delicious!) way to feed your good bacteria. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and coconut yogurt help supply your microbiome with diverse probiotics and essential nutrients.
The worst food for gut health
Instead of categorizing foods as good or bad, it is important to emphasize the importance of biological individuality. You are unique — as are your gut bacteria — and that’s a great thing! Knowing how different foods can affect your gut will help you make an informed decision. In general, refined grains, refined sugars, industrial seed oils, conventional dairy, and alcohol are bad for the gut. In essence, these ingredients can have a big impact on the oversupply of yeast and candida in the body. In turn – you guessed it – affects gut health.