12 Foods for Better Gut Health

12 Foods for Better Gut Health

Your gut has a massive impact on your health and well-being way beyond simply digesting your food. The relationship between the gut and health is complex, but much of it is related to the bacteria that live there. There are trillions of bacteria inhabiting the digestive tract, collectively known as the "microbiome", comprising a mixture of beneficial, neutral, and harmful bacteria.

The balance of the different varieties of bacteria has far-reaching effects on many aspects of health. To put it simply, the more of the beneficial bacteria and the less of the harmful ones, the better the influence they will have upon health. A favorable balance of gut bacteria means you are more likely to have a strong immune system, be a healthy weight, have healthy skin and even improved mental wellbeing (1,2,3). Imbalances in gut bacteria on the other hand, are linked to various health problems including: obesity, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, allergies, asthma, eczema, and infections.

The basis of a gut-friendly diet includes a balanced and varied high fiber diet. Foods that are good for your gut include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, whole grains, papaya, pineapple, and more. Scroll down to view the full list of foods that promote gut health.

List of Foods For Better Gut Health

1 Live Yogurt
Plain yogurt with raspberries
Live yogurt contains probiotics, live microorganisms that have beneficial health effects (4,5). They are often referred to as "friendly" bacteria, as they help keep the gut healthy. They occur naturally in the body but can also be taken in foods and supplements. They help to balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut, by pushing the bad guys out. Choose natural, unsweetened (preferably organic) yogurt to avoid added sugars and sweeteners, and try coconut or soy yogurt if dairy is a problem.
Nutrition Facts for Non-Fat Yogurt.
2 Fermented Foods
Kimchi in a bowl
Fermented Foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso, and natto are another great source of probiotics to help keep the digestive system healthy. Probiotics can improve digestion in general, as well as helping alleviate common digestive problems such as IBS, constipation, and bloating (6). Probiotics have been shown in studies to reduce abdominal bloating and flatulence in people with IBS and may also help relieve pain and provide general relief to sufferers (7).
Nutrition Facts for Kimchi.
3 Whole Grains
Brown Rice
Whole grains are a top source of dietary fiber, which is an essential element for a healthy gut. Western diets are typically low in fiber and most people would benefit from increasing their intake. Swapping refined grains (white bread, white rice etc.) for whole grains is a great way to increase your fiber intake. A high-fiber diet benefits digestion, helps prevent constipation, reduces the risk of many diseases (of the digestive system and others (8,9)) and favorably influences the balance of gut bacteria (10). Brown rice, oats, barley, and rye are top choices.
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Brown Rice.
4 Papaya & Pineapple
Papaya & Pineapple contain natural fruit enzymes, which can help the body digest fats and proteins respectively. These enzymes may help relieve mild digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating and can have a gentle laxative effect (11,12). These and fruits in general are another top source of dietary fiber to help keep the digestive system healthy. Fruit is easier to digest if eaten between meals on an empty stomach or before meals, rather than at the end of a meal.
Nutrition Facts for Papaya.
5 Asparagus
Asparagus is a good source of prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are carbohydrates or fibers that reach the colon relatively unchanged, as the body cannot digest them. Here they feed the friendly bacteria, encouraging them to grow and thrive and their numbers therefore increase and outnumber the bad guys. Specifically, these kinds of prebiotics have been shown in studies to increase a beneficial bacterial strain called bifidobacteria (13). Other good prebiotic food sources are chicory, artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks and bananas.
Nutrition Facts for Asparagus (Cooked).
6 Ginger
Ginger roots
Ginger has been traditionally used as a digestive aid for centuries. It is a digestive tonic, which can be helpful for indigestion, believed to work by relieving spasms in the digestive tract, reducing inflammation and forming a physical barrier against irritants. It also has anti-nausea properties and has been shown to enhance the natural movements of the intestines that aid digestion (14).
Nutrition Facts for Ginger.
7 Turmeric
Slices of turmeric and turmeric powder
Turmeric has been shown in one study to relieve indigestion (15) and in others to reduce the symptoms of IBS (16,17). Turmeric has well known anti-inflammatory effects and protects the gut against problems involving inflammation, such as inflammation of the esophagus caused by reflux (18). There is also preliminary evidence it could help people with inflammatory bowel disease (19,20).
Nutrition Facts for Ground Turmeric.
8 Flax Seeds
Flax Seeds
Flaxseeds (Linseeds) have gentle laxative effects and can help relieve constipation (21). They are a ‘bulk forming’ laxative; natural laxatives from plants with a high fiber and mucilage content that expand when combined with water. This increase in volume in the bowel stimulates a reflex muscular contraction and a bowel movement. One tablespoon of either whole or ground seeds dissolved in a full glass of water once or twice a day is the recommended amount. There is also some evidence that flaxseed may have favorable effects on the microbiome (22)
Nutrition Facts for Flax Seeds.
9 Peppermint Tea
A cup of peppermint tea with peppermint leaves
Peppermint Tea both peppermint leaf and peppermint oil have a long history of use for digestive disorders (23). Studies have found that peppermint can reduce symptoms of indigestion such as gas and stomach cramps (24). It seems to work by relaxing the muscles of the gut (23) and helping gas to dissipate. Peppermint oil has also been shown in studies to reduce symptoms of IBS (25, 26). Tea made from the freshly ground leaves is much better than a tea bag.
Nutrition Facts for Peppermint.
10 Kiwi Fruit
Slices of kiwifruit
Kiwi Fruit contain a natural fruit enzyme called actinidin that helps the body digest proteins and can therefore act as a digestive aid (27). One study found that eating three gold kiwi per day relieved constipation, abdominal discomfort and indigestion (28) Another demonstrated improvements in IBS symptoms (29). Kiwi fruit have also been shown to favorably alter the composition of intestinal bacteria and kiwi fiber has the ability to retain water, which is beneficial for bowel movements (30).
Nutrition Facts for Kiwifruit.
11 Broccoli
Broccoli Stalk
Broccoli and vegetables in general are another top source of dietary fibre and should be eaten in plentiful amounts for optimum digestive health. Regular consumption of broccoli has been shown in studies to favourably alter the composition of gut bacteria (31, 32). Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards etc.) contain substances called glucosinates, natural plant compounds, which the colonic bacteria can metabolize, producing beneficial effects.
Nutrition Facts for Broccoli (Cooked).
12 Water
A glass of water
Water is essential for keeping things moving through the gut. Plenty of water in combination with fibre reduces transit time (time taken for food to pass through the digestive tract). Shorter transit times result in less harmful by-products being produced in the digestive system and a healthier gut environment. The longer food takes to pass through the colon on the other hand, the more harmful bacterial break-down products can be produced (33) and this increases the risk of digestive and other health problems.
Nutrition Facts for Tap Water.

Tips for a Healthy Gut

  • Limit consumption of added sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and meat, which can all encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Manage stress, as prolonged stress hampers digestion and can alter the balance of gut bacteria. Take positive steps to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga or walking in nature.
  • Physical activity reduces ‘transit time’, which is the time taken for food to pass through the digestive tract, keeping the gut healthy and helping prevent constipation.
  • Eating too fast reduces the effectiveness of your digestion, which starts in the mouth with enzymes present in the saliva and the physical break down of food by chewing.
  • Avoid probiotic shots, drinks and flavoured yoghurts, as these are generally high in added sugars and often contain artificial flavourings and sweeteners. Instead opt for the natural probiotic foods listed above.

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Data Sources and References

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