20 Best Foods for Gut Health
When people ask us how to lose their gut, we tell them one thing: Don't lose it! Just make the bacteria in it healthier by eating more fermented foods and good bacteria. Then you'll lose the weight—and live a happier and healthier life.
A healthy gut microbiome is essential not only to properly break down the foods you're eating, but also for nutrient absorption and toxin elimination—meaning that when your gut flora is out of whack, serious problems can ensue. Among those problems are bloating, inflammation, various skin issues like acne—even diabetes, poor sleep, lower levels of happiness, and obesity are tied to the health state of your gut.
So what's the key to help ensure you have a healthy gut? Focus on a diet rich in probiotic and fermented foods that promote the proliferation of good bacteria. Bonus! All the foods that promote a healthy gut are also waist-friendly. And to discover even more stomach-slimming tips, check out these 55 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism! Here's to giving your digestive system a healthy makeover.
Apple Cider Vinegar
There's good reason that apple cider vinegar is considered a wellness jack-of-all trades. "It helps your body create HCL (hydrochloric acid), which is a beneficial belly acid that helps digest fats, carbohydrates, and protein," says dietitian and founder of NAO Nutrition, Nikki Ostrower. "This aids in weight loss and it also helps to relieve acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome because of all the beneficial probiotics and amino acids."
Kombucha gained notoriety when Whole Foods pulled it from its shelves due to its naturally occurring alcohol content, but don't dismiss it! Not only is kombucha the most natural way to get a buzz, but it's also probiotic-packed—meaning it's good for your gut—since it's made from the fermentation of sugar in tea by bacteria yeasts.
Dairy or Lactose-Free Yogurt
"Many dairy-free yogurts made from almond, soy, or rice milk are much easier for people to digest that their dairy counterparts," says Stacy Goldberg, MPH, RN, BSN, and founder of Savorfull. "There are so many new ones available on the market and they contain gut loving live active cultures such as S.Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L.Acidophilus, and Bifidobacteria." That's right, going dairy-free doesn't mean you have to go without the live active cultures found in yogurt.
Goldberg does add a note of caution—it's important to read nutrition labels carefully as many brands have added obscene amounts of sugar to their yogurts. "Also many dairy-free yogurts are lower in protein so you may want to add nuts and seeds to boost your protein intake which, along with fiber, is essential for keeping your tummy satisfied and full for a longer period of time.
Coffee may sometimes get a bad rap, but many nutrition and sports experts recommend it. In fact, studies have shown that drinking coffee can improve athletic performance, particularly for endurance sports so you should drink it before your workouts for energy. Unfortunately coffee can often cause digestive issues. If that is the case for you consider fermented coffee, a relatively new innovation to hit health food stores thanks to brands like Afineur.
When coffee becomes a fermented food, the bitter, heartburn-causing notes, are removed thanks to a secondary fermentation process. This process, as it pertains to coffee, was pioneered by a molecular engineer, Dr. Delebecque, who says that he and his co-founder Sophie Deterre, PhD, wanted to eliminate irritants from traditional foods while also increasing the amount of vitamins and different types of protein in them meaning that coffee is just the first in a list of unique fermented foods that will be launching.
"Sauerkraut is a naturally fermented food that has the microorganisms Lactobacillus bacteria, which crowds out bad bacteria in the gut and allows the beneficial gut flora to flourish," explains Ostrower. "This helps to lower irritable bowel syndrome symptoms like gas, bloating, and indigestion. Also, the sour taste in fermented foods are organic acids that help probiotics to really work their magic." Talk about keeping a healthy gut!
Mangos have been shown to help keep the good bacteria in your gut alive; we like ours blended into a Zero Belly Smoothie. According to a recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition, incorporating a mango a day into your diet could improve your gut health, while helping reduce body fat and controlling blood sugar. Better yet because the fruit has such a fantastic nutritional profile according to lead researcher, Edralin Lucas, mangos contain many nutrients and other bioactive compounds that can provide various health benefits aside from what was investigated.
We already covered that non-dairy yogurt is a great gut health boosting option, but so is regular yogurt. Grass-fed, full-fat and plain (no sugar added) yogurt has a very high amount of beneficial probiotics. The types of probiotics in yogurt help to remove harmful fungus and bacteria according to Ostrower. "Beneficial probiotics repair gut and other irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. There are also beneficial enzymes that help improve digestion."
Think of kefir—popular in Eastern Europe but growing in prominence stateside—as a tart, more liquid yogurt. What makes kefir so great for your gut is that it usually contains at least 10 live and active strains of bacteria, compared to most yogurts which usually have three.
"The process involved in making sprouted grain bread products makes it easier for some people to digest rather than other traditional wheat products, which in turn makes it easier for nutrients to be absorbed into the body" explains Goldberg. "Enzymes are released during the sprouting process, therefore breaking down proteins and carbohydrates." It's also worth noting that many sprouted grain products are lower in carbohydrates.
"Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid that is an antiviral, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal," says Ostrower. "It has lauric and caprylic acids, which are fatty acids that are remarkable at killing off harmful yeast and bacteria while restoring your stomach's acidity levels."
For the most benefits the salmon you're consuming must be wild, which means it is caught with a fishing pole in its natural environment and not farmed. "Wild salmon has an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is critical for healing an inflamed gut and preventing future episodes," says Ostrower.
Garlic is a wonderful prebiotic and even better when eaten raw. "Prebiotics help to feed and fuel the existing flora already present in your gut," says Ostrower. Meaning it's as important to eat foods rich in probiotics (which are full of healthy bacteria) as it is eating foods rich in prebiotics (which help feed the healthy bacteria already in your gut) to keep your gut healthy.
Miso is typically high in sodium so you'll want to consume it in moderation. However, studies have shown that it doesn't affect our cardiovascular system in the same way that most other high-sodium foods do. Aside from being a good source of protein and fiber, it's rich in probiotics meaning it can help treat intestinal disorders.
Chocolate may be the most delicious way to get your prebiotic and probiotic fix. A growing number of brands are now making raw and certified organic, prebiotic and probiotic-enhanced chocolate bars. Sakara Life's Probiotics Chocolate, for example, contains 10 billion active bacterial cells to support a healthy and thriving gut microbiome, as well as yacon root for prebiotic fiber to nourish existing gut microbes.
"Collagen is one of the largest proteins in our body—in fact, it's what holds our body together," says Ostrower. Due to a standard American diet, as we age many people start to see their collagen production sharply decline (this is also what makes skin start to sag!). "Getting collagen on a daily basis is essential for not only healing an inflamed gut, but it also slows down the aging process both inside our body and out," explains Ostrower. Boost your collagen intake by adding some collagen protein to your morning coffee, soups, and/or smoothies.
Bone broth is a stock made from the bones and marrow of a chicken or cow and it's slow cooked for 24-72 hours. "What happens is all the minerals and amino acids from the bones populate the broth making it one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet," says Ostrower. "These nutrients like L-glutamine help heal and seal the gut lining of the small and large intestine." As a result, she says, this food is responsible for healing irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut food intolerances, and so much more.
Onions, as well as Jerusalem artichokes and chicory, are high in prebiotics, which will help promote the growth of good bacteria. To make the most of these nutrient-rich foods you'll want to avoid as many refined foods (think white flour and white sugar-based anything), which feed the bacteria in our gut that we don't want.
Kvass is a fermented foods beverage commonly made from rye bread, meaning it's filled with digestive health benefits. "The probiotics in beverages and foods like kvass help to protect us from infection especially when bad bacteria shows up," says Goldberg. "Kvass will give you a boost of good bacteria to help resist infection all year round."
High Fiber Foods
Foods that are high fiber—like artichokes, green peas, lentils, black and lima beans, almonds raspberries, and apples are a great addition to your diet. "These foods are high in dietary fiber, which is responsible for helping make food move efficiently through the body and helping prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, and digestive diseases," explains Goldberg. " Fiber also helps prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and weight gain."
Kimchi is one of many fermented foods that is rich in probiotics—meaning it's great for keeping things moving in your digestive tract. "Kimchi is especially beneficial for those suffering from stomach and bowel pain, inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, or other bowel-related diseases."
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