Gut health. This trending term is both extremely broad and also far from straightforward. Most people do not fully understand the way in which an unhealthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract can adversely affect overall well-being. The good news, however, is that we’re now learning more and more about simple changes we can make in order to improve gut health.
We each have a unique bacterial population that lives within us (i.e., in the GI tract) as well as on the skin’s surface — as a whole, this one-of-a-kind bacterial community is referred to as our “microbiome.” And no one’s microbiome is exactly the same as anyone else’s!
The health of our microbiome also plays a role in the digestion and absorption of foods we eat– and the nutrients these foods ultimately provide once they’ve been broken down. Because of its integral contributions to our overall health, the microbiome has recently and rightfully gained the attention of the scientific community and the general public.
Aside from its somewhat obvious implications on gut health, the microbiome also influences many other unexpected components of our health. Here’s the surprising news: recent research is discovering that our microbial population has the potential power to affect a broad range of conditions, including the following: obesity, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, depression, anxiety, asthma, allergies and more. Who would have thought!
Over the years, it has been challenging to pinpoint the specific symptoms of an unhealthy microbiome since nearly every health condition has been linked to poor gut health at some point in time. Furthermore, as individuals with uniquely distinct microbial populations, it can be difficult to predict which foods will improve gut health since there isn’t one cut-and-dry answer for everyone.
Based on a general consensus, however, below I’ve highlighted a list of foods many have found to contribute to a healthy gut. As always, it is important to remember to find the foods that work best for YOU as an individual!
Fermented foods are full of healthy bacteria that contribute to our preexisting gut flora. Kefir, a fermented and mildly carbonated dairy beverage, can enhance gut health by introducing beneficial bacteria to the large intestine. Additionally, it helps with the endogenous production of vitamins B12 and K. Although it is technically dairy, many people who are lactose intolerant can drink kefir with no digestive issues as a result of its probiotic content.
Sauerkraut is technically fermented cabbage. As such, it acts as a vehicle to deliver health-supportive probiotics to the gut. Keep a look out for fresh sauerkraut in the refrigerated section, as this will contain the best source of bacteria. Canned sauerkraut goes through a pasteurization process that destroys the inherent “good” bacteria.
This traditional Korean condiment contains spicy fermented cabbage and other flavorful additions. Kimchee can also improve GI health, as it contains health-promoting bacteria. According to recent research, the bacteria in kimchee may also enhance the immune system.
Kombucha is quickly turning into one of the most trendy fermented foods in the American diet. Traditionally speaking, kombucha is a black tea fermented by a symbiotic mixture of bacteria. In addition to its probiotic content, the tea component of the beverage is also a potent source of antioxidants.
5. Whole oranges
When our gut bacteria ferment the soluble fiber inherent in whole oranges, the fermentation process produces a health-supportive fatty acid byproduct called butyrate. For the most part, this soluble fiber is found in the membranes between segments of the fruit. This fatty acid is the preferred energy source for our mucosal (surface) cells and thus helps fuel a healthy digestive system.
6. Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)
Jerusalem artichokes are especially high in inulin, a dietary fiber that we cannot digest but that instead serves as food for our microbiome. The bacteria in the colon ferment inulin, thereby producing butyrate. Aside from supporting the mucosal cells of the intestine, butyrate has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut.
Butyrate does occur naturally in the American diet– in butter! Food sources of butyrate may also enhance intestinal barrier function and improve overall gut health. Butter derived from grass-fed cows is best.
Our healthy gut bacteria need food of their own in order to survive. Garlic is one of these foods. As such, it is called a prebiotic. However, those with IBS might want to avoid garlic as it contains a type of carbohydrate (fructans) that may be difficult for some people to digest.
Lentils are a great source of soluble fiber, which the bacteria in our gut ferment. Lentils are also a source of prebiotics that feed our existing beneficial gut bacteria.
10. Dark chocolate
Great news! The bacteria within our GI tract can efficiently ferment chocolate and even produce healthful byproducts in the process that work to reduce inflammation. The byproducts have been implicated in improving not only GI health, but heart health as well. To reap the full benefits, go for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content.
Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.