Three bottles and a jug of kombucha on a brown, wooden table.
Foods that are high in probiotics, such as kombucha, can improve gut health.

Best Foods for Gut Health

Your gut plays a far bigger role in your health than you might realize. As well as keeping your digestive process running smoothly, it is also involved in immunity, hormonal balance, mood and heart health. This article outlines the best foods for gut health, so you can maintain optimal bodily function.

The Best 7 Foods for Gut Health

1. Probiotic Foods

Probiotic foods contain live microorganisms that help to repopulate the gut and improve the microbiota’s diversity. Many of these foods are fermented or cultured using time-honored techniques. Some popular examples include:

  • Yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Kimchi.
  • Kombucha.
  • Miso.
  • Traditionally-produced cheese.
  • Some pickles.

Unfortunately, many commercial products are pasteurized, meaning that their beneficial microorganisms are destroyed. Therefore, it is best to look for fresh fermented products and those that are labeled as containing live cultures.

It is also important to avoid products with high sugar levels, such as flavored yogurts. Try choosing natural yogurt and adding fresh fruit or berries instead.

2. Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotic foods act as fuel for the microbiota and help to keep it functioning optimally. They are often high-fiber foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grain cereals. Some especially beneficial prebiotic foods include:

  • Artichokes.
  • Asparagus.
  • Bananas.
  • Berries.
  • Garlic.
  • Onions.
  • Peas.
  • Beans.
  • Leafy greens.
  • Tomatoes.

Try to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day and choose whole grains rather than processed cereals whenever possible.

3. Polyphenols

Polyphenols are beneficial plant chemicals that have powerful antioxidant properties and help to reduce inflammation. This means that they keep the cells lining the gut healthy and protect them from damage.
Polyphenols also have antimicrobial activity, meaning they can reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections. Some polyphenol-rich options include:

  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Herbs and spices.
  • Green and black tea.
  • Olive oil.

Adding extra herbs and spices to dishes instead of salt is a great way to boost polyphenol intake and promote better gut health.

4. Lean Protein

Consuming enough protein is essential for our overall health. However, red meat, processed meat and fried or fatty cuts of meat can all damage gut health. They trigger inflammation, alter the way the gut contracts and increase the levels of potentially harmful bacteria.

Intensively farmed meat is also harmful, as it often contains antibiotics that harm the microbiota. Better choices include:

  • Chicken or turkey (skin removed).
  • Fish.
  • Peas.
  • Beans.
  • Tofu.
  • Low-fat dairy products.
  • Whole grain cereals.

Eating a primarily plant-based diet is considered beneficial for gut health, so try to have a few meat-free days each week. When eating meat, avoid fatty cuts and opt for high-quality, organic products whenever possible.

5. Low-Fructose Fruits

Fruit is fantastic for gut health in many ways. However, some fruit contains high levels of fructose, a naturally occurring sugar that can alter the microbiota significantly. Some people also find that eating high-fructose fruit can lead to gas and bloating. Some especially low-fructose fruits include:

  • Avocados.
  • Berries.
  • Citrus fruit.

Try to consume more of these fruits rather than high-fructose options like mangos, apples and pears.

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6. Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Chronic inflammation is bad news for gut health and our well-being in general. Therefore, it is beneficial to eat more anti-inflammatory foods whenever possible. They include polyphenol-rich fruit and vegetables and contain good fats. For example:

  • Olive oil.
  • Avocado.
  • Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.).
  • Leafy greens.
  • Berries.
  • Green and black tea.
  • Herbs and spices.

Avoiding pro-inflammatory products such as processed foods, refined sugar, fatty foods and excessive alcohol can also help.

7. Collagen-Boosting Foods

The lining of the gut relies on a protein called collagen to keep it healthy and strong. Collagen-rich foods and foods that enhance collagen are also thought to have an overall beneficial effect on our well-being. Some good collagen-boosters include:

  • Bone broth.
  • Gelatin.
  • Fish.
  • Poultry.
  • Eggs.
  • Peas and beans.

Collagen production also requires adequate amounts of zinc and vitamin C. Zinc can be found in shellfish, meat, peas and beans, nut and seeds and whole grain cereals. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetables, such as citrus fruit, berries, bell peppers and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C.

The Importance of Good Gut Health

The digestive system plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. It helps you break down food and extract the nutrients you need to keep your organs functioning properly. It also plays a direct and indirect role in many of our other physiological systems.

Poor gut health can lead to digestive symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea. It is also associated with issues such as weight gain and fatigue. Having an unhealthy gut has also been linked with a range of chronic diseases, including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's or ulcerative colitis.
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Liver disease.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Neurodevelopmental issues.
  • Some forms of cancer.

Many different factors can affect gut health, including diet, stress, sleep, aging and medication use. However, one of the most significant factors is something known as the gut microbiota. This is the population of trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract.

The microbiota includes beneficial bacteria and fungi that help us break down food, fight infections and keep the gut’s lining strong and healthy. Therefore, keeping it happy is one of the best ways to promote gut health.

Unfortunately, the typical western diet tends to harm the microbiota rather than helping it. Highly-processed foods, refined sugars and low-quality meat can all damage gut health significantly. The good news is that making some simple changes can lead to major improvements.

When to Seek Medical Help

It is possible to keep the gut healthy by making some simple dietary changes. However, if you are experiencing digestive symptoms that do not improve or get worse over time, you should seek medical help. In particular, consult a physician if you are experiencing:

  • Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Changes in bowel habits lasting more than three weeks.
  • Sudden or severe abdominal pain.
  • Abdominal swelling or masses.
  • Bloody stools.
  • Unexpected weight loss.