Maintaining a healthy gut is essential for overall physical and mental well-being. The trillions of microorganisms that comprise your gut play a critical role in digestion, immune system function, and even mood regulation and cognitive function. A healthy gut biome can help prevent gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as autoimmune diseases and mental health disorders. Numerous studies have also linked an unhealthy gut biome to obesity and diabetes.
To maintain a healthy gut biome, it’s important to:
- Consume a balanced and diverse diet rich in probiotics and fiber.
- Avoid excessive use of antibiotics and other medications that can disrupt the delicate balance of microorganisms in your gut.
- Get regular exercise.
- Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, conscious breathing, and visualization.
- Consider supporting your diet with gut-healthy supplements like probiotics, rich earth greens, fish oil, and magnesium.
I’ll share some of my favorite foods for a healthy gut in this article. The foods are separated into three lists 1) probiotics, 2) prebiotics, and 3) synbiotics. Each of these food types plays a unique role in cultivating a healthy gut.
Probiotic foods are beneficial for gut health because they contain live microorganisms that colonize the gut and promote a healthy balance of bacteria. These microorganisms can positively impact digestion and immune function while helping to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
Probiotic foods for a healthy gut:
- Yogurt: Yogurt is one of the most popular probiotic foods. It’s convenient, delicious, and contains live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. Be careful which yogurt you choose, as many are loaded with extra sugar. I recommend plain Greek yogurt.
- Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink rich in probiotics, including Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Keifer is similar to yogurt but drinkable.
- Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and contains live cultures of Lactobacillus plantarum and Leuconostoc mesenteroides.
- Kimchi: Kimchi is a spicy Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables, including cabbage, radish, and scallions. It is rich in probiotics like Lactobacillus brevis and Lactobacillus kimchii.
- Miso: Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans. It’s rich in live cultures of the probiotics Aspergillus oryzae and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Regular consumption of miso has been linked to improved digestion, lowered risk of certain cancers, and reduced risk of heart disease.
- Tempeh: Tempeh is a fermented soybean product rich in probiotics, including Bifidobacterium animalis and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Tempeh is plant-based and rich in protein, making it a popular food for vegetarians and vegans.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented tea rich in probiotics, including Gluconacetobacter xylinus and Acetobacter xylinum. It has been linked to improved digestion, immune system function, and reduced inflammation.
- Pickles: Pickles are cucumbers that have been pickled in vinegar or brine. They contain live cultures of Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus brevis.
Prebiotic foods are non-digestible fibers found in certain foods and supplements. These fibers act as food sources for the beneficial bacteria that live in our gut. By consuming prebiotic foods, we can promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria and improve the overall health of our gut biome.
Prebiotic foods for a healthy gut:
- Garlic: Garlic has numerous health benefits, including its ability to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health. It is also known to have anti-cancer properties and can help improve digestion and detoxification.
- Onions: Onions offer a range of health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, aiding digestion, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, and improving bone density. They are also low in calories and high in vitamin C, fiber, and other essential nutrients.
- Jerusalem Artichoke: Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, offer an array of health benefits. They are a great source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that promotes gut health, aids in weight loss, and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Additionally, they are rich in potassium, iron, and vitamin C, which can help improve immune function and overall health.
- Chicory root: Chicory is a powerhouse of nutrients, providing a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is known to aid in digestion, lower inflammation, improve liver function, and promote weight loss. Additionally, it has been shown to have prebiotic effects, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improving overall gut health.
- Bananas: Bananas contain resistant starch, a prebiotic fiber that can improve gut health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. Bananas are also a high-sugar food, so I recommend keeping them as an occasional treat.
- Apples: Apples are high in pectin, a prebiotic fiber that can support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Asparagus: Asparagus is also high in prebiotic fibers that can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Leeks: Leeks offer a variety of health benefits, including their ability to support heart health, improve bone density, and aid in digestion. They are also rich in vitamins A and K and antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet.
- Dandelion Greens: Dandelion greens are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a nutritious addition to any diet. They have been shown to aid in digestion, improve liver function, reduce inflammation, and support healthy blood sugar levels. Additionally, they may offer benefits for bone health and immune function.
- Oats: Oats are a nutrient-dense whole grain rich in fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals. They have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, improve digestion, and regulate blood sugar levels, making them an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet. Oats contain unique compounds called beta-glucans, which have been linked to improved immune function and reduced inflammation in the body.
Synbiotic foods are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. These foods provide a double benefit for gut health, as they not only contain live microorganisms that can colonize the gut and promote good bacteria growth, but also provide the fibers that feed these beneficial microorganisms.
The prebiotics in synbiotic foods act as a food source for the probiotics, allowing them to thrive and multiply in the gut. This, in turn, promotes a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which can have a positive impact on digestion, immune function, and overall gut health.
Synbiotic foods for a healthy gut:
- Yogurt with added fruits or honey: This is a great example of a synbiotic food, as it combines the probiotics in yogurt with the prebiotics found in fruits or honey.
- Kefir with oats or berries: Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is rich in probiotics, while oats and berries are both prebiotic fibers that can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Kimchi with brown rice: Kimchi is a spicy probiotic-rich Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables, including cabbage, radish, and scallions. Brown rice is a prebiotic fiber that can support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Sauerkraut with sweet potatoes: Sauerkraut is a probiotic-rich food made from fermented cabbage. Sweet potatoes are high in prebiotic fibers and can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Tempeh with green beans: Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that is rich in probiotics. Green beans are a prebiotic fiber that can support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Miso soup with seaweed: Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans, which contains live cultures of the probiotic Bifidobacterium bifidum. Seaweed is high in prebiotic fibers that can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Pickled vegetables with quinoa: Pickled vegetables are a great source of probiotics, while quinoa is a prebiotic fiber that can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Green smoothie with Greek yogurt: A green smoothie made with leafy greens, fruits, and Greek yogurt is a great example of a synbiotic food. It provides probiotics from the yogurt and prebiotics from the fruits and greens.
- Dark chocolate with almonds: Dark chocolate contains prebiotic fibers that can support the growth of beneficial bacteria, while almonds are a great source of probiotics.
Best Supplements for Gut Health
Even if you consume a probiotic-rich diet, taking a probiotic supplement can still be beneficial. A high quality probiotic supplement can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome and provide additional strains and amounts of probiotics that may not be present in your diet, leading to improved digestion, immune function, and overall health. Research has shown that supplementing with probiotics can also help alleviate symptoms of various digestive disorders and promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
I often recommend the following five supplements for gut health to my patients:
- Spectra Multi-Probiotic is a unique probiotic formula that delivers active organisms to promote healthy gut flora, protect intestinal integrity, and boost immune function.
- Rich Earth Greens provides beneficial nutrients from berries, fruits, vegetables, and greens to support a healthy diet. This complete formula combines concentrated fruits and berries with a vegetable antioxidant blend to help build antioxidant reserves and protect the body from free radical damage.
- Triple Magnesium is a mild laxative that also assists the body’s cellular function.
- Supreme Omega-3 is a pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 fish oil supplement that can reduce inflammation, support a healthy heart and balanced cholesterol levels, and improve cognitive function.
- ION* Gut Support goes beyond probiotics to defend you from environmental toxins and diversify your gut microbiome naturally. ION* Gut Support seals cells in the gut lining, helping to keep toxins out of your body and strengthening the terrain upon which your microbiome can diversify.
Foods to Avoid for a Healthy Gut
Many of today’s foods can be detrimental to gut health. These include:
- Processed Foods: Processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut. They also lack the beneficial nutrients and fiber found in whole, unprocessed foods.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and may even contribute to the development of metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes.
- Red Meat: Red meat, especially when cooked at high temperatures, can produce harmful compounds that contribute to inflammation in the gut. It is also high in saturated fat, which can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut.
- Fried Foods: Fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats and can be difficult to digest, leading to inflammation in the gut and other digestive issues.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and may contribute to the development of gastrointestinal disorders like liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Refined Carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice are often stripped of their beneficial nutrients and fiber. These foods can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and contribute to the development of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
- Artificial Additives: Artificial additives like preservatives, colorings, and flavorings can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and may contribute to the development of gastrointestinal disorders.
By prioritizing gut health, you can optimize your overall health and well-being. It starts with eating a variety of fiber-rich and probiotic-rich foods, limiting processed foods and added sugars, and practicing stress-reducing activities like meditation and exercise.