You probably already love the 8 Foods Dietitians Say Are Best for Gut Health

The food you put into your body not only satisfies your taste buds, it also feeds the trillions of organisms that live in your gut. Eating the right things will reap the rewards of physical and mental health, and feeding your gut the wrong things can actually harm the little critters that live in your GI tract.

The idea of ​​tiny organisms living in your gut may seem a little unsettling, but these are beneficial — aka good — bacteria. In case you don’t know, gut bacteria help your body digest food and thereby absorb the nutrients you need. Not only that, but digestion plays an important role in immune function and even mental health.

We spoke to two registered dieticians — Tamara Freuman, a dietitian at New York Gastroenterology Associates and author of the forthcoming book, Regular, and Alyssa Lavy, owner of Alyssa Lavy Nutrition & Wellness, a private practice focused on digestive health — about the importance of gut health and the best foods to feed the microbiome.

Heaps of oat flakes on white background (Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images)

Heaps of oat flakes on white background (Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images)

What is Gut Health?

The term “gut health” is trending on social media, but you may be surprised to find that there is no real definition of the phrase. When experts discuss gut health, they are usually talking about the microbiome or the trillions of microorganisms that reside in the gut and have an impact on overall health.

“The composition and health of the gut microbiota have been linked to a variety of health issues, both GI and otherwise,” says Duker Freuman. “[Poor gut health] is associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease and cancers of the digestive system (particularly colon cancer) and conditions such as weakness, mood disorders and metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” added Duker Freuman. Conversely, a healthy gut can reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and cardiovascular disease.

How do you ensure healthy intestines?

There are multiple ways to control the composition of the gut microbiome, including what you do and don’t eat. “The American Gut Project, the largest study to look at the human microbiome, found that greater plant diversity in the diet was associated with greater microbial diversity,” says Lavy. Research suggests that the most diverse microbiomes are more resilient and stable. On the contrary, diets high in ultra-processed foods, sugar and saturated fat have been linked to less gut diversity and promote bacteria that are significantly associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

It probably comes as no surprise that the best foods for gut health are plant-based and low in saturated fat and sugar. But Duke Freuman emphasizes that “the habitual intake of these foods promotes good gut health; eating beans once in a while doesn’t magically transform gut health.”

According to both dietitians, you should regularly fill your plate with these eight foods to build a healthy gut.

Fiber-rich foods

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate known for its role in keeping the digestive system moving. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and turns into a gel during digestion. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps food pass through the gastrointestinal tract. Both types of fiber are necessary components of the diet and contribute to good gut health.

Fiber is found in a variety of plant foods and is especially robust in:

  • Vegetables, especially broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, potatoes with skins, and kale

  • Legumes (beans, lentils and peas)

  • Fruit, especially pears with skin, apples with skin and berries

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, farro, barely, quinoa, and wheat berries

Kiwi Macro, Fresh Kiwifruit cut use for background (banjongseal324 / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Kiwi Macro, Fresh Kiwifruit cut use for background (banjongseal324 / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Two plant foods with notable fiber are:

Oats

Oats are known for their soluble fiber, which can improve stool consistency and regularity. “They also contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber thought to lower cholesterol,” says Lavy. A review of the research claims that eating oats increases the number of bacteria in the gut, decreases intestinal permeability and leads to more short-chain inflammation-fighting fatty acids.

Kiwi

This deliciously sweet green fruit contains vitamin C, potassium and 2 grams of fiber per kiwi. In addition to the fiber, the kiwi has another substance that can help keep you regular. “Recent research shows [kiwi] may be helpful in improving stool motility and consistency, which is likely due to actinidin, an enzyme present in the fruit,” says Lavy.

Probiotic foods

Probiotics are live microorganisms that reside in the gut and may have health benefits. The most common probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. They develop during the fermentation process that takes place in the making of foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha. Microbes are also added to yogurt to break down the sugar lactose into lactic acid.

The following foods are rich in probiotics:

Yoghurt/kefir

Have you ever noticed that one of the ingredients in yogurt is “live active cultures”? These are the live bacteria that ferment the milk product to make yogurt or its well-known spicy cousin, kefir. “Fermented foods have their own diverse and unique microbial populations, which can have transient health benefits as they pass through our guts on their way to the proverbial back door,” says Duker Freuman. In addition, research has shown that fermentation can lead to the release of bioactive peptides (organic substances), which can lower cholesterol.

Sauerkraut and kimchi

Both spicy condiments are made from cabbage fermented in a salty mixture. The end result is a gut-friendly crunchy topper for sandwiches, stir-fries and more. Both sauerkraut and kimchi contain a probiotic that boosts immune response and reduces inflammation. Not to mention that a study in mice suggests that the probiotics in kimchi may help treat inflammatory bowel disease, but more research is needed.

Tempeh

If you’ve never eaten tempeh, say hello to one of your new favorite plant-based proteins. Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is mixed with a grain – usually rice – and formed into a solid block. It’s easy to cut, marinate, and cook, and it’s packed with probiotics, too. The research on tempeh is limited, but one study suggests that eating this soy product increased beneficial bacteria in the gut. Another interesting study gave elderly participants probiotics from tempeh in supplement form for 12 weeks. The researchers found that one of the probiotics in tempeh increased memory, language and spatial perception in the participants.

Bananas are full of prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, a carbohydrate that supports the colon.  (Getty Images)

Bananas are full of prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, a carbohydrate that supports the colon. (Getty Images)

Prebiotic foods

Prebiotics are fibers that feed the microbes in the gut. Eating this fiber helps the probiotics thrive and grow in the gut. Fortunately, they can be found in several plant-based foods, including beans, artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus, barley, and wheat bran.

Here are three probiotic-rich standouts:

Beans

“Beans support a healthy gut microbiota, particularly through their prebiotic fiber, which feeds some of the microbes that produce short-chain fatty acids,” says Duker Freuman. “These short-chain fatty acids lower the pH of the colon, which plays a role in colon cancer prevention, and they inhibit disease-causing bacterial species,” adds Duker Freuman. In addition, recent research suggests that some types of beans may also improve gut barrier integrity, preventing bacteria from getting too close to the inner layers of the gut wall and provoking immune cells. Not to mention that beans are affordable and versatile.

artichokes

Artichokes are also rich in prebiotic fiber, which “selectively nourish health-promoting members of our microbiota, including species in the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria genera,” says Duker Freuman. She adds that these microbes prompt intestinal cells to secrete mucus, which improves mucosal barrier function. They also produce short-chain fatty acids, which promote an anti-inflammatory environment throughout the gut.

Bananas

It’s time to stop avoiding this starchy fruit, which is beneficial for gut health. Not only are bananas packed with potassium, a nutrient that lowers blood pressure, but they are also known for treating constipation. Bananas contain prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that is slowly absorbed in the colon and results in fermentation.

it comes down to

“It makes more sense to think about general dietary patterns for good gut health than specific foods,” says Duker Freuman. In other words, these foods are great for gut health, but you don’t have to limit yourself to them. Just integrate them into your meal plan.

Duke Freuman also notes that a diverse diet full of plant foods is best for overall gut health, so choose the high-fiber foods that you like best. “Your consistent, regular eating habits are what promote long-term gut health,” says Duker Freuman, “there are no shortcuts here.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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