8 Foods That Help Improve Overall Gut Health
Written By: Shannon Sweeney
The phrase “go with your gut” has never been more relevant, as gut health has taken center stage for promoting overall health and wellness — and for good reasons.
There are 40 trillion — yes, with a “t” — good bacteria that are hard at work in your gut. Microbes in your gut affect how your brain and body operates, and these microbes affect how we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in our blood, and how we respond to certain hormones that tell us we’re hungry.
So when something in your gut or GI tract goes wrong, it can affect your whole body. But with proper gut care, you can maintain a healthy, balanced life. “Good” gut bacteria and microbes digest and absorb nutrients, synthesize certain vitamins, and help prevent infection and viruses.
The one way to up these good bacteria and microbes is with your diet — think of foods with fiber, fermentation, and loads of nutrients. So if your gut has been causing issues like stomach pains, heartburn, constipation, or more, your gut might need a reset. Here are five foods that could help.
Kombucha is packed with probiotics that improve gut health. Kombucha is a fermented, slightly alcoholic (but won’t give you a buzz), slightly sweetened drink. It’s made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast, and it’s commonly used for promoting gut and liver health. The best part of kombucha is that you can easily find it anywhere, and in tons of different flavors.
Another fermented food that’s great for gut health is Kefir. Kefir, a fermented and slightly carbonated dairy beverage, is full of living bacteria and also helps the synthesis of vitamins B12 and K. Even if you have trouble digesting dairy, you might be able to tolerate Kefir. If not, it’s best to stick to something like Kombucha instead, or the next food on this list!
Dairy or lactose free yogurt
Yogurt made with almond, coconut, soy, or rice milk are much easier to digest than yogurts with dairy, and they’re packed with active bacteria cultures that are great for improving gut health. Without dairy, you’ll still get the same probiotic effects that yogurt has to offer. L. bulgaricus is commonly used as a starter for yogurts, both dairy and non-dairy, so it is fairly easy to find and you’ll get the same benefit.
Mangos have been shown to help keep good bacteria in your gut alive. A study in The Journal of Nutrition said incorporating mango into your daily diet could improve overall gut health while helping to reduce body fat and controlling blood sugar. Mangos also are also packed with tons of other nutrients and other bioactive compounds that promote your overall health. Superfood? I think so.
Researchers believe that eating garlic helps counteract age-related changes in your gut bacteria and digestive system. It acts as a prebiotic and can greatly improve gut health. However, if you suffer from IBS, you might want to avoid it because garlic is high in fructans, which can be difficult to digest.
Oranges are packed with soluble fiber, and fiber is fantastic in promoting gut health. The soluble fiber found in oranges is fermented by our gut bacteria, and one of the byproducts is a fatty acid called butyrate. This fatty acid fuels our GI tract, which also in turn promotes a healthy gut. The best way to reap all of these benefits is to eat a whole orange — the soluble fiber is found in membranes the separate the pieces of the oranges.
Kimchi is a Korean dish made with salted and fermented vegetables like napa cabbage and Korean radish mixed with seasonings like gochugaru, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal. There are hundreds of different varieties, and you can buy kimchi by the jar at most grocery stores. Kimchi is packed with probiotics, and is extremely nutrient dense — it has vitamin C (so it helps your immune system, too), minerals, fiber, important phytochemicals, and more.
This is the best news ever — the bacteria in our GI tract can also ferment chocolate and produce anti-inflammatory properties. This process has been found to benefit not only a healthy gut, but a happy heart, too. For the best benefits, find a chocolate with at least 70% cacao.
Eating some of these foods can help improve symptoms associated with an irritated gut. As always, though, if you’re having severe symptoms that are ongoing, it’s best to consult your doctor. It’s always best to trust your gut!