If there is one thing you can do for your longterm health, it would be to look after your gut. The gut is a huge factor in our overall health and wellbeing, and when it’s out of balance, we can suffer from many different negative effects, from IBS to depression. It’s one of your gateways to health, so it’s important to look after it. And one of the best ways to do that is through food. Here are a few nutritious foods for gut health to get you started!
The state of your gut is not only important for healthy digestion. Your gut health impacts your immune system, moods, weight management, and so much more.
Within the gut are billions of microorganisms, mostly bacteria, with a wide range of functions. This community of microorganisms is referred to as the Gut Microbiome. To maintain gut health, it’s important to maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms, with more ‘good’ bacteria’ running the show. When the ‘bad’ bacteria take over, they kill the good guys and start wreaking havoc on the gut, leading to inflammation and disease.
So, as mentioned above, it’s important to maintain a healthy balance in your gut. Your ‘good’ bacteria need to be in charge.
If you’re suffering from digestive issues, or if you just want to support your gut health, some of the essential nutrients you want to eat include Probiotics, Prebiotics, Dietary Fibre, Antioxidants, and Healthy Fats.
Probiotics are basically ‘good’ bacteria. By ingesting foods that contain probiotics, you help populate your gut with the ‘good’ bacteria who can get to work in your gut in many different ways. Good sources of probiotics include fermented and cultured foods like Kefir and Sauerkraut. Note: You can also take Probiotic supplements, but this blog post only talks about where to get them in natural foods.
Prebiotics are basically a type of starch/fibre that is food for the ‘good’ bacteria. This fibre is indigestible by humans but broken down easily by ‘good’ bacteria, allowing new beneficial compounds to be formed in the process. Good natural sources of prebiotics are complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some specific prebiotic-rich foods include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, apples, carrots, radishes, and flaxseeds.
Dietary Fibre is very important for gut health. As mentioned above, prebiotics are essentially a type of fibre. There are different types of fibre in food, soluble and insoluble, and they each play their own role in the digestion process. Great sources of dietary fibre include whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes like lentils, nuts and seeds.
Antioxidants are so important in fighting inflammation in the body, which is a root cause of almost all diseases. When looking to add more antioxidants to your diet, focus on eating a rainbow of whole fruits and veggies. To keep it simple, it’s a variety of antioxidants that give fruits and veggies their bright colour, so aim to eat a variety of colours and you’ll get a variety of antioxidants. However, antioxidants aren’t only in colourful fruit and veggies, other great sources include dark chocolate and pecans.
Extra healthy fats can also help soothe inflammation, which can help restore health in the gut. Good sources include extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, avocado oil, nuts and seeds, olives, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines.
Choose natural foods over processed foods. Most processed foods have added sugars and other chemical ingredients that mess up the healthy balance of your gut. Go as natural as possible, and when choosing packaged and processed foods, try and opt for products with 5 or less ingredients in them. Better yet, only choose products that have ingredients that you can pronounce and avoid all the weird nasty additives all together!
Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. This is a great way to keep it simple and get a ton of nutrients to support your gut. Whole fruits and vegetables contain the goodness your gut needs, like prebiotics, as well as lots of vitamins and minerals.
Eat fermented and cultured foods. These foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, contain the ‘good’ bacteria and by eating them you’re re-populating your gut with more of the good guys.
Add some whole grains to your diet. Many women are ‘scared’ of grains, and avoid things like bread and pasta like the plague. However, it’s important to remember that it’s more important to consider what type of grain you’re eating. While refined grains, like white bread and pasta, don’t support gut health and can cause sugar spikes that lead to weight gain, whole grains have positive health benefits. Whole grains, like brown rice and whole rye bread, serve as food for the good bacteria, help regulate digestion and metabolism, and can even help with healthy weight management. Try adding some whole grains to your diet and see how your body reacts. When I added them back into my diet, I didn’t pick up any weight at all, and they made me feel so nourished and satiated, it’s been amazing!
Avoid added sugars. Refined added sugars can wreak havoc in the gut. By cutting out things like soft drinks, sweets and processed foods with added sugars, you’ll be one step closer to better gut health. If you have a sweet tooth, start by just cutting down your sugar intake, and looking for healthier alternatives like dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. You can also start eating more sweet vegetables like squash and pumpkin, which will help crowd out those cravings.
As I always say, don’t get overwhelmed and just keep it simple. At the end of the day, as long as you try and eat a variety of whole foods like the ones mentioned above and in the slideshow below, you’ll be supporting your body in a good way.
Remember though, always listen to your body, because what works for one person may not work for someone else. Try different foods and see how you feel. Over time, you’ll know what works for you and what foods make you feel your best!
Below is a list, in alphabetical order, of some nutritious foods you can start eating more of that are great for the gut:
High in dietary fibre that serves as food for healthy bacteria in the gut, stimulating their growth. IDEAS: Make a bean or lentil soup. Enjoy lentils as a side dish, mixed wth fresh lemon juice, freshly chopped garlic and parsley. Add beans to your stir fries. Make chickpea hummus and enjoy with carrots and celery.
Garlic is a natural prebiotic that serves as food for the 'good bacteria' in your gut and helps them flourish. Generally high in nutrients and a variety of additional health benefits. IDEAS: Add garlic to your soups, stews and stir fries - you don't need to add a lot. If you're feeling brave, chop up a fresh garlic clove and down with some water for a real raw potent immune boost.
Has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Helps promote the digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Has a calming effect on the digestive system, and sometimes drunk to sooth an upset stomach or nausea. IDEAS: Enjoy a warm cup of ginger and lemon water. Add ginger to your stews, soups and stir fries. Explore pickled ginger recipes.
Rich in probiotic bacteria, and helps restore balance in the gut and improve digestion. Also contains protein, calcium, potassium and B vitamins. IDEAS: You can simply enjoy it plain i.e. have a small glass in the morning. Or you can get creative and use it in homemade salad dressings, smoothies and even in your morning breakfast bowl. It's basically like a slightly sour yoghurt, so you can use it in many ways.
Fermented foods like Kimchi contain probiotics, beneficial live bacteria, that are great for gut health. It is a Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables with a variety of seasonings. Some suggest eating Kimchi in moderation. IDEAS: Visit a Korean restaurant and enjoy Kimchi from its origin. Use it to add some tang to a variety of dishes, from scrambled eggs, rice dishes or even to pizza!
There are many reasons to eat leafy green veggies, especially for gut health. Good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Also contains sugar sulfoquinovose which is used as an energy source by good gut bacteria. IDEAS: Use baby spinach leaves and rocket in your salads instead of regular lettuce. Enjoy spinach or kale as a side to protein. Make wraps with collard green leaves. Add spinach or kale to your soups, stir fries or smoothies.
Lemons help aid digestion and keep things moving through smoothly. Also great for alkalising and detoxifying the body. IDEAS: Enjoy a cup of warm water and lemon juice first thing in the morning (add a little lemon pulp to your cup too) to kickstart your digestion. Instead of processed salad dressings, dress your salad with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Rich in dietary fibre and phytochemical compounds, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Serves as food (prebiotics) for 'good' bacteria in the gut. Enjoy raw nuts like walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Enjoy seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds. IDEAS: Sprinkle raw nuts and seeds over your breakfasts and salads. Enjoy as tasty nutritious snacks.
Healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil are great for the gut. EVOO is an amazing anti-inflammatory agent with many health benefits. It also contains polyphenols which serve as food for the good bacteria in your gut. IDEAS: Dress your salads with EVOO, salt and fresh lemon juice. Steam or bake your veggies and dress them in EVOO. Enjoy freshly sliced tomatoes on whole rye toast with a splash of EVOO and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Fermented foods are wonderful for the gut. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and contains a lot of healthy gut bacteria for your gut. It's highly nutritious, with many health benefits even beyond the gut. IDEAS: Eat a tablespoon of sauerkraut daily to support your gut. Enjoy sauerkraut as a side to protein. Add sauerkraut to your sandwiches for some tang.
Seaweed is an excellent source of dietary fibre which promotes gut health. Also a great source of vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants. Examples: Sea lettuce, kelp, wakame, nori and spirulina. NB: Be sure to only buy quality seaweed - look at the ingredients list. IDEAS: Add spirulina to your morning smoothie. Snack on nori. Make a Japanese-inspired salad with seaweed and vinegar. Add seaweed to soups.
Whole fruits are rich in dietary fibre that serves as food (prebiotics) for good bacteria in your gut. Whole fruits also contain many essential vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants. Berries, apples and bananas are some of the most beneficial. IDEAS: Enjoy a whole fruit, like a banana or an apple, every morning for breakfast. Add frozen berries to your smoothies. If you're hungry between breakfast and lunch, enjoy a whole fruit as a snack. Enjoy berries and coconut milk as a healthy dessert.
Rich in dietary fibre that serves as food (prebiotics) for health bacteria in your gut. When broken down by these bacteria, they form short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which help maintain a strong intestinal wall. Examples: brown rice, whole grain rye bread, millet, buckwheat and quinoa (actually a seed, but eaten like a grain). IDEAS: Enjoy whole grain rye toast or oats for breakfast. Eat brown rice instead of white rice. Add quinoa to stews, stir fries, and soups.
Whole vegetables are rich in dietary fibre that serves as food (prebiotics) for the healthy bacteria in your gut. They are also packed with vitamins, minerals and powerful antioxidants. Some of the best include green leafy veggies, broccoli, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. IDEAS: Include vegetables with every lunch and dinner. Snack on raw carrots and celery dipped in homemade hummus. Enjoy easy-to-make pureed veggies soups for dinner (like pea and basil soup)
Ready to start eating for the gut?
I hope this post has inspired you to support your gut health by eating more of the foods that nourish its wellbeing. Try adding one of them to your diet and see how you feel. I have a lot of fun trying new and different foods regularly, which makes eating more interesting, and I hope to inspire you to do the same. Remember, food is medicine, and you can transform the way you feel just through what you choose to eat. Happy eating!
Also, if you have some extra foods to add, please do so in the comments! 🙂