8 of the Best Foods to Eat for a Healthy Gut (Plus 4 to Avoid), According to Experts
An estimated 60 million to 70 million people in the United States are affected by digestive diseases. Maintaining a healthy gut (aka the digestive system) is key to maintaining your overall health. "Your gut is basically your second brain," says Bethany Ugarte, gut health blogger and author of Digest This. "When your digestion does not work to its optimum best, you can get brain fog, fatigued, and become malnourished, lacking essential nutrients your body needs to be healthy and have a good immune system (which we all need these days!)" With help from Ugarte, who suffered from severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), along with experts in the nutrition world, here are some of the best and worst foods to consider when trying to improve gut health.
Best Foods for Gut Health
If you're regularly reaching for antacids to combat upset stomach, bloating or gas, take a step back to look at what you eat and try adding these good foods for gut health to your meal plan.
1. Yogurt (and Other Fermented Foods)
In the past few years, you probably started hearing more about probiotics (live microorganisms) and the benefits of its "good bacteria." The truth is, those probiotics are beneficial to gut health in addition to helping boost your immune system. Whether you opt for Greek, non-dairy, or drinkable Kefir, you'll get a healthy dose of live bacteria. Other fermented foods and drinks to consider adding to your gut health diet are kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, and miso.
Need a quick snack? Opt for a few almonds over that bag of chips. "Almonds are high in fiber and also have some probiotic properties which help promote gut health," says Kristin Gillespie, RD at Exercise With Style. She also says almonds are packed with healthy fats and polyphenols, both of which are used by gut bacteria as fuel.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bananas aren't just easy to eat but can help in the gut-healing process by restoring electrolytes such as potassium that could be lost due to diarrhea or vomiting. Clinical studies also show that less-ripe bananas contain resistant starch that promotes the growth of beneficial microbes in your digestive tract. Basically, those microbes break down and can help prevent chronic digestive disorders.
It's a spice used around the world and one of the main ingredients in the fall-favorite pumpkin spice blend. What you might not know is that ginger also has a history of medicinal use. Ginger has the ability to help food move through your gut rather than sit in your stomach, which causes bloating and pain. This is another gut-healthy food that also holds anti-inflammatory properties. Try drinking it as a tea.
5. Bone Broth
Made from the bone marrow of a chicken or cow, the slow-simmering process of making bone broth produces a healthy amount of L-glutamine (an amino acid). Bone broth is one of the gut healthy foods Ugarte says can "help not only ease stomach discomfort but actually help reverse digestive symptoms and help restore the gut and diminish symptoms associated with IBS."
Lucky for us, tropical, sweet pineapple is loaded with nutrients. When it comes to gut health, pineapple is unique in that it contains a group of digestive enzymes that help break down proteins, which aids in digestion. Other gut-healing fruits worth mentioning include papaya, mango and kiwi.
7. Sprouted Whole Grains
By consuming bread and other foods made from sprouted whole grains, there's less phytic acid (harmful to the digestive system) in the product. Breaking-down those whole grains means all the quality nutrients are more easily absorbed into your bloodstream and will route to the proper target tissues in your body.
Onions, along with other allium family members (i.e. garlic, leeks, and scallions) are rich in prebiotics, which are carbohydrates that serve as food for probiotics. Gut bacteria feed on the prebiotics in onions, which maintains a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.
Worst Foods for Gut Health
It's almost assumed that foods that are already considered bad for you can negatively affect your healthy gut bacteria. If you're eating a lot of foods that are fried, overly processed or contain artificial ingredients, try reducing the amount you consume to help maintain a healthier gut. Ugarte notes several foods found in even the so-called "healthy" section of the store can actually be causing you pain and discomfort.
1. Red Meat
Red meat can encourage the growth of harmful gut bacteria. According to Gillespie, this particular bacteria can cause clogged arteries over the long term. So if you're eating a lot of red meat and suffering from digestive issues, try swapping in leaner meats or plant-based protein sources.
2. Food Gums (aka Emulsifiers)
It's common to find food gums such as guar, xanthan, soy lecithin, and locust bean listed on the ingredients in your food (even healthy, plant-based ones). These naturally derived complex carbs may sound scary, but they're usually harmless. However, certain studies among people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease and colitis have found foods with these additives may be harmful to your gut health.
A glass of wine or one drink per day is fine, but alcohol is notorious for inflammation if you overdo it. By drinking too much alcohol, you might end up developing a leaky gut, which could cause bacteria to escape your GI tract and into your blood.
Peanuts are actually a good source of nutrients such as protein, magnesium and fiber. But if you eat a lot of peanuts, the high amount of fiber might actually cause digestive issues. Sure, fiber is good for your diet, but getting too much all at once isn't a good idea when it comes to your stomach. While you could have this same issue with any food high in fiber, peanuts also contain phytic acid, which binds minerals such as iron and calcium in your digestive tract. This makes the minerals less available for your body to use properly and may cause gas or bloating.
Everyone's body works differently. "Just because you experience gut issues doesn't mean you have to eat bland for the rest of your life," Ugarte says. If you are experiencing digestion issues, try reducing your intake of some of the bad foods and gradually add more of the good foods for gut health to really figure out what works for you. And since your gut is home to your immune system, you'll want to make sure you're keeping some immune-boosting foods in your meals as well.