A healthy gut is essential for good overall health. The digestive system is responsible for breaking down and absorbing the nutrients from the food we eat, so it's important to make sure that your diet supports a healthy gut microbiome.
But why should you care about gut health, anyway? Read on for a breakdown of why gut health matters and what you can eat to support it.
What Is Gut Health?
Whenever someone talks about gut health, they’re most likely talking about the health of your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is composed of trillions of microorganisms, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, that support your digestive health.
These gut microbes, also called probiotics, play a large role in your immune system, your mental health, and your overall wellness. While they live mostly in your large intestine, there are also a few that live in your small intestine.
When your gut microbiome is healthy, you have a strong and thriving community of good gut bacteria. When you have poor gut health, that typically means that bad strains of bacteria are starting to crowd out the good bacteria.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
These bacteria don’t just aid in digestion — they can also affect your overall well-being.
Here are a few ways your healthy bacteria can support your health:
- They produce enzymes. Good gut bacteria create enzymes that help your gut break down polysaccharides and polyphenols. Plus, these gut bacteria can also make vitamins like folate, biotin, riboflavin, and vitamin K.
- They produce neurotransmitters. These healthy bacteria produce brain chemicals like dopamine, GABA, acetylcholine, and even serotonin — in fact, about 95 percent of your body’s serotonin comes from your digestive tract.
- They produce and influence hormones. Your gut microbiome not only assists in your body’s use of estrogen, but it also plays a role in regulating your thyroid hormones. Plus, it’s responsible for much of your system’s melatonin, which can help you get better sleep.
Because of how your gut affects your body, poor gut health can contribute to symptoms like bloating, blood sugar dysregulation, constipation, and chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
When you’re trying to support your gut health, one of the first places to start is with your diet. If you’re having a hard time mixing probiotic foods and prebiotic foods into your diet, you may want to work with a registered dietitian (RDN) to help you plan meals that utilize the best foods for gut health.
What Foods Can Support Gut Health?
Fortunately, there are many foods known for supporting gut health and promoting a balanced gut flora. Let's take a look at some of these foods and how they can benefit your intestinal health.
1. Leafy Greens
One important food for gut health is leafy greens. They’re packed with a type of fiber called insoluble fiber, which helps feed and nurture your good gut bacteria. Not only can vegetables help to keep your digestive system running smoothly, but they are also full of vitamins and minerals essential for overall health.
In particular, cruciferous vegetables — such as cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, and Brussels sprouts — contain compounds that can help calm the digestive system. These veggies also act as a prebiotic, helping to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. Plus, they taste great in stir-fries!
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Fruits are also important for gut health. Not only do they provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but many types of fruit also contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which can help soothe digestive discomfort.
These fruits also contain prebiotic fiber:
- Berries like raspberries and blueberries
3. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain active cultures and probiotics, which are live bacteria that can help improve digestion and support a healthy gut microbiome.
Examples of probiotic-rich foods include fermented foods like:
Probiotics can also be found in supplement form, making it easier than ever to give your gut the support it needs to flourish. Although there are many options available on the market, we recommend our Probiotics Kit — a healthy dose of probiotic supplements for your skin, gut, and vagina.
In this kit, you'll find probiotics to support total body wellness. Take daily for best results.
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Prebiotics are dietary fibers that are fermented in the gut and act as food for the beneficial bacteria that live there. There are many different prebiotic-rich foods that you can include in your diet.
These can include:
5. Omega-3 Rich Foods
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support gut health by soothing the intestines. Coldwater fish like salmon and tuna are good sources of omega-3s that can be added to salads or eaten as part of a main dish several times per week.
Other great sources include flaxseeds or walnuts — both of which make great additions to smoothies or oatmeal bowls.
6. Whole Grains
Whole grains can provide a range of health benefits, like supporting your heart health and promoting digestive function. They are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals to help support a healthy gut microbiome.
Examples of whole grains include:
- Brown rice
Legumes are a fantastic source of fiber and plant-based proteins. Eating legumes can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which helps to keep your digestive system running smoothly.
They are also full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can help calm an unhappy gut. Lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and beans are all great examples of legumes.
8. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are wonderful sources of beneficial fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. They can also help keep your gut healthy by providing fiber and antioxidants.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are also great sources of essential fatty acids, which can help support a calm and happy gut.
9. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are incredibly versatile, adding flavor to dishes while also providing a range of health benefits. Certain herbs and spices can help support digestion and restore balance to the gut microbiome.
Examples of beneficial herbs and spices include:
10. Bone Broth
Bone broth is a traditional food that is made by simmering collagen-rich bones and connective tissue for at least six hours. This broth contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that can support digestion and gut health.
Bone broth is also rich in gelatin, which provides a source of beneficial amino acids that can promote gut health. Bone broth is also rich in collagen and other nutrients, which can support the intestinal walls and encourage nutrient absorption.
Seaweed is an excellent source of beneficial minerals that can help support gut health. They are also high in prebiotic fibers, which can help promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, as well as antioxidants and soothing compounds, which can help fight free radical damage to your gastrointestinal tract.
Some tasty examples of seaweeds include:
The Bottom Line
Eating gut-friendly foods is an essential part of maintaining healthy digestion. By eating a diet rich in probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods, fruits, and whole grains, you can give your body what it needs to support your digestive system.
It is important to listen to your body and determine what works best for you. Eating a variety of gut-friendly foods can also help to ensure that you get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that can contribute to your overall wellness.
For more tips on gut health and overall wellness, check out our blog.
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Like It or Not: Broccoli May Be Good for the Gut | National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Understanding the Impact of Omega-3 Rich Diet on the Gut Microbiota | PMC
Bone Broth: How to Make It & Why You Should | Cleveland Clinic
The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health | PMC