Incorporating gut-healthy foods is important for digestive health and overall well-being. A balanced gut microbiome can improve bloating, constipation, and other areas of your overall health including skin and mental health. Consuming a diet rich in fermented foods, fiber, and prebiotics, can support the growth of beneficial bacteria which improves gut health and lead to a healthier life. This post will explore the best foods and drinks for gut health, from fermented foods to herbal teas.
What Are the Best Gut-Friendly Foods?
The best gut-friendly foods are those that support the health and function of the gut microbiome. This is the collection of bacteria and microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. A diet that is rich in gut-friendly foods, along with adequate hydration, will promote better gut health and overall well-being. As a registered dietitian, here is a comprehensive list of the best foods for a healthy gut.
Kefir is a fermented dairy product that contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help maintain the balance of microorganisms in the gut. Kefir and other fermented dairy drinks can improve digestive function and promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Sauerkraut is a type of fermented cabbage that is also high in probiotics. The fermentation process helps to improve digestion and support the natural balance of microorganisms in the gut. Sauerkraut is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and iron, that are important for overall health.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish commonly made from Napa cabbage and Gochugaru, a Korean red chili pepper. Like other lacto-fermented foods, it is a rich source of probiotics. Additionally, kimchi is also high in fiber and antioxidants, which supports overall health.
What does kimchi taste like? It is salty, tangy, and spicy depending on the brand and how much gochugaru is added. There are different types of kimchi varieties besides the traditional napa kimchi including cucumber kimchi, daikon kimchi, and carrot kimchi.
Yogurt is a dairy product that is made by fermenting milk with Lactobacillus and Streptococcus bacteria. These probiotic bacteria improve gut health by promoting a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut. Yogurt is also a good source of calcium and protein.
Kombucha is another fermented tea that has been trending in the health and wellness space. It is made by adding yeast and bacteria to sweetened tea.
What does Kombucha taste like? The flavor of kombucha is similar to a carbonated apple cider that is slightly sweet. There are different flavors depending on the type of fruits the kombucha is brewed with. Some love the flavor, and others are really not a fan but for the gut health benefits, kombucha is definitely worth checking out.
Miso is a traditional Japanese food made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji, which produces probiotics and a flavorful umami bomb. When cooking with miso, make sure that you are adding in miso towards the end of the cooking process to preserve the healthy living probiotics.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans. As with all fermented foods, it is a great source of probiotics. Additionally, tempeh is a rich source of protein and fiber, both of which can support digestive health and contribute to overall health.
Kvass is a traditional fermented beverage that is popular in Eastern Europe that is typically made from sourdough or dark rye bread. The taste is very similar to kombucha in the sense that it is carbonated with a slightly alcoholic taste.
Next time you cut fresh pineapple, don’t throw out the rind! Instead, make tepache, which is a fermented beverage popular in Mexico. It is made by fermenting water, sugar and pineapple rinds. The resulting taste is similar to a yeasty beer that is full of probiotics.
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It looks a little scary at first, as it can look a little like hairy slime. It’s a pretty strong and pungent flavor. If you can get past it’s looks and taste, it is a great source of probiotics. Natto is also rich in vitamin K2 and enzymes, both of which are important for overall health.
Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in a vinegar and salt solution. This results in a sour, salty, and crunchy condiment that is great on hamburgers, salads, and on its own. Pickles can be beneficial for gut health because they are often fermented to produce the healthy probiotics that help improve digestive function.
Olives are a type of fruit that are rich in healthy fats and fiber. There are many types of olives including red, green, or black that have different salinities and flavors. Olives are also fermented which contributes to those healthy gut bacteria.
13. Apple cider vinegar (with the mother)
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider. When using apple cider vinegar for gut health, it’s important to use the apple cider vinegar with “the mother” which looks like a cloudy build up of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This is where all of the healthy probiotics live. Before using, it’s important to give it a big ol’ shake to evenly distribute the probiotics.
14. Bone broth
Bone broth is extremely nutrient-dense and is made by simmering bones and connective tissue from animals for an extended period of time. When making bone broth, trying cooking the bones with a little bit of vinegar to help unleash more of the collagen and nutrients. The long cooking process releases gelatin, which is an important that can help with rebuilding and strengthening the gut lining.
Ginger is a flavorful root that is commonly used as a spice in cooking. It has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the gut and improve digestive function. Ginger has been used to treat various GI related symptoms of nausea, bloating, and gas.
Turmeric is another root that is commonly used in cooking, especially in Indian cuisine. It is a bright yellow color and has many health benefits. It contains the compound curcumin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies have shown that turmeric can help with regulating the gut microbiota, but further studies are needed before any final conclusions.
Garlic is an essential aromatic used in cooking. Other than it’s ability to impart delicious flavors, it also contains compounds such as allicin which can help reduce inflammation in the gut. Additionally, garlic is also a prebiotic, meaning it can feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
To understand good gut health we need to also look at prebiotics. Prebiotics are types of dietary fibers that cannot be digested by the human system but can be broken down by the bacteria in the gut. This makes it a great source of food for probiotics. The combination of pre and probiotics help promote the growth of microorganisms in the gut and support a healthy gut microbiome. At this point, we know that a healthy balance of gut bacteria is critical for overall gut health, as it helps to improve digestive function and reduce inflammation. There are a variety of prebiotic-rich foods but here are a few to start incorporating more of:
18. Sweet potatoes
20. Leafy greens
26. Brussel sprouts
34. Goji berries
36. Manuka honey
Manuka honey is a raw form of honey that has antibacterial properties due to the presence of high levels of methylglyoxal (MGO) and other unique compounds. These properties can help support gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Manuka honey is also a prebiotic food, meaning it provides food for the probiotics to survive and create a healthy microbiota.
37. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is good for gut health due to its high concentration of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). This is a type of fat that can be easily metabolized by the liver. This can be particularly helpful for those who have pancreatitis, as consuming more MCTs has been shown to improve symptoms of abdominal pain. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid which has antimicrobial properties and contributes to the balance of the gut microbiota. When cooking with coconut oil, try the refined coconut oil as this does not have the taste of coconut.
38. Coconut oil
Olive oil is a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil help to reduce inflammation in the gut and support the health of the gut lining. Some studies have suggested that olive oil can help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Quality is important when it comes to olive oil, so make sure that you purchasing cold-pressed, unrefined olive oil to reap the full health benefits.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that has high levels of butyric acid and vitamins A, D, and E. Butyric acid is a type of fatty acid that can help to support the health of the gut lining. Additionally, ghee is also rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Legumes and whole grains:
Legumes and whole grains are considered good for gut health because they are rich sources of fiber. Fiber acts as a prebiotic, which helps create a more diverse and healthy gut microbiome. Additionally, legumes and whole grains contain other beneficial compounds, such as resistant starch and polyphenols. These compounds have been shown to support gut health by reducing inflammation, improving digestion, and promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
44. Brown rice
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae. It is typically sold in a powder and is rich in various nutrients, including protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has a number of potential health benefits. Spirulina is considered a prebiotic. There are limited studies on older mice show that spirulina helps preserve gut function during aging, but more research needs to be conducted.
Nuts and seeds:
Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, healthy fats, and other nutrients important for gut health. The fiber in these foods acts as a prebiotic to help feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. Additionally, the healthy fats found in nuts and seeds can help to support the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
48. Hemp seeds
49. Hemp seeds
50. Sunflower seeds
51. Pumpkin seeds
52. Sesame seeds
54. Chia seeds
56. Raw cacao
Cacao, NOT cocoa, is the raw, unprocessed version of chocolate. Raw cacao is considered good for gut health because of its antioxidants, fiber, and other beneficial compounds. The antioxidants in raw cacao help to reduce stress in the gut, while the fiber acts as a prebiotic to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
57. Raw honey
Raw honey is essentially unprocessed honey. It is rich in antioxidants, enzymes, and various vitamins and minerals. It is believed to have health benefits, including promoting gut health. Raw honey contains small amounts of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that can help to improve the balance of gut flora and promote a healthy gut. Additionally, the antioxidants in raw honey can help to reduce inflammation in the gut and support the overall health of the digestive system.
58. Herbal teas with ginger, fennel, or mint
Herbal teas that are made from the leaves, stems, or roots of various plants have many potential health benefits, including improving gut health. Many herbal teas, such as ginger, peppermint, and fennel, have anti-inflammatory and digestive-stimulating properties. Additionally, some herbal teas, such as chamomile and licorice, can help to reduce stress, which has a positive impact on gut health by reducing inflammation in the gut.
59. Aloe vera juice
Aloe vera contains compounds called anthraquinone glycosides, which help relieve symptoms of indigestion, such as bloating and gas. It is also a source of fiber, which can help promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation. However, some aloe vera juice products have high amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners that might not be beneficial for gut health.
60. Coconut water
Coconut water is found in young, green coconuts that are rich in various vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Coconut water is naturally hydrating and can help to regulate the digestive system by making it easier to move food through the gut and prevent constipation. Additionally, coconut water is believed to have antimicrobial properties, which can help to maintain a healthy balance of gut flora.
Rejuvelac is a fermented beverage made from sprouted grains such as wheat, rye, or barley. It is another probiotic beverage that is believed to promote gut health and improve digestive function. Rejuvelac contains probiotics and a variety of enzymes that can help to improve the balance of gut flora and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
62. Jun tea
Jun tea is a type of fermented tea made from green tea and honey. The fermentation process creates probiotics and antioxidants. The probiotics help to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria, improve digestion, and boost the immune system. The antioxidants in jun tea help to reduce inflammation in the gut and promotes overall gut health.
63. Water kefir
Water kefir is a fermented drink made from water, sugar, and a combination of yeast and bacteria. The probiotics in water kefir help to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria and improve digestion. Additionally, water kefir is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, which are important for gut health.
Did you know that certain types of cheese, such as 65) Gorgonzola, 66) parmesan, 67) cheddar, and 68) gouda, contain probiotics? Cheese is also high in calcium and other nutrients that support gut health.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does fiber help gut health?
Fiber plays a crucial role in improving gut health by providing food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. When fiber reaches the colon, it is fermented by the gut microbiome to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which serves as an energy source for the cells lining the colon. Fiber also helps regulate bowel movements and maintain normal stool consistency which reduce the risk of constipation and other digestive problems. When increasing fiber intake, it’s important to do this gradually and drink enough water to avoid digestive discomforts, such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. The recommended daily amount of fiber intake for men is 31-35g/day and for women is 25-28g/day but I always say the more, the better!
What about fiber supplements?
As with all other supplements, fiber supplements should not be a replacement for a balanced diet that includes a variety of fiber-rich foods. However, they can be an adequate way of meeting your fiber intake, especially during busy times or travel when your eating habits are out of whack. Some fiber supplements can have interactions with certain medications, so it's important to consult a healthcare professional before starting a fiber supplement.
Should I be taking probiotic supplements?
As we’ve discovered, probiotics are an essential component of gut health. Probiotic supplements are a great and convenient way to get these essential bacteria. However, I always recommend getting your probiotics from whole foods whenever possible.
Will cutting out gluten improve my gut health?
Unless you have celiac disease, there's no research that shows healthy individuals benefit from a gluten-free diet. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease including bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headache, that is thought to be triggered by the consumption of gluten. However, research shows that only about 6% of the population may have this sensitivity. Currently, there are not great tests to diagnose NCGS. If you think you may have NCGS, it would be beneficial journal your food intake, track your symptoms, and speak with a healthcare professional before cutting out gluten.
How do you know if you have poor gut health?
There are some obvious signs and symptoms of poor gut health, such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or acid reflux. Changes in bowel movements or a change in their consistency or color are another common sign. Less common signs and symptoms are fatigue, low energy, and skin issues.
Is gut health important for weight loss?
There are studies that have shown that imbalances in the gut microbiome can lead to changes in metabolism and storage of fat. A healthy gut microbiome can help regulate your metabolism and support weight loss. However, it is important to note that you need a combination of dietary modifications and physical activity to achieve healthy weight loss.
When should you not consume fermented foods?
While fermented foods are generally safe and healthy, there are several instances where they are contraindicated. First, fermented foods can contain high levels of histamine, which can trigger symptoms in people with histamine intolerance. Those that are immunocompromised and have weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, have HIV/AIDS, or are post-transplant may be at risk of infection from the live bacteria present in some fermented foods. For those following a low FODMAP diet for IBS, fermentation can impact the FODMAP content of foods.
What are the best probiotics?
It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement. They can help you determine the best probiotic for your specific needs and make recommendations based on your health history and any medications you may be taking. Here are several factors you should be looking for:
- Strains: There are over 500 types of probiotic strains (essentially probiotic families) and the specific probiotic you choose should contain strains that have been shown to be effective for the health concerns you're trying to address.
- CFUs (colony-forming units): CFUs are the number of live bacteria in each dose of the probiotic. A higher CFU count may indicate a more potent probiotic. However, it's important to keep in mind that not all CFUs are created equal.
- Third-party testing: Choose a probiotic brand that has been third-party tested for quality and purity.
- Storage: Look for probiotics that require refrigeration, as this ensures the potency of the live bacteria.
How often should I be eating fermented foods?
It's important to incorporate fermented foods slowly, as some people may experience digestive discomfort when first starting to eat fermented foods. Start off with a small portion at dinner, then gradually add in a variety of fermented foods with each meal.
Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fiber-rich foods, fermented foods, and probiotics can help support a healthy and happy gut microbiome. With so many options to choose from, incorporating gut-friendly foods and drinks into your diet can be both enjoyable and nutritious. Remember to start slow, listen to your body and make adjustments as needed. By taking care of your gut, you can enjoy better health and a happier, more vibrant life.