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The 4 Best Foods for Gut Health

Learn how to increase good bacteria in your gut naturally by eating the best foods for gut health.

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July 26, 2022
6 min read

You are what you eat. You also think what you eat. In that way, the best foods for gut health also help your brain. The vagus nerve connects the 500 million neurons in your gut with the neurons in your brain, directly linking the trillions of bacteria in your digestive system with your central nervous system. 

And it’s these gut bacteria that produce a large proportion of your body’s key neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, such as serotonin (a happiness-inducing hormone) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (which helps manage feeling tense or worried).

It’s no wonder that braincare researchers call the gut your “neglected endocrine organ.” If you’re worried about feeling tense or overwhelmed, emotional regulation, and general cognition and mental health, it’s time to strengthen your gut, support healthy bacteria levels, and feed these bacteria with foods good for gut health - and consequently, the brain.

Article breakdown

How can I heal my gut naturally?

By filling your diet with gut healthy foods, you provide your gut microbiome with all of the compounds and nutrients these bacteria need to thrive. You also help to starve bad gut bacteria, creating a gut “climate” that’s most conducive to a strong, healthy brain, clearer skin, improved digestion, enhanced immunity, and well-balanced brain chemicals. 

What are the best foods for gut health and digestion?

For decades, a varied, balanced diet full of a diverse array of different foods has been used as a barometer for measuring your diet's quality and your diet's nutritional impact

“Our preliminary review of the published literature has revealed a growing body of evidence that supports the notion that greater dietary diversity (at least five to six food groups) is associated with reduced risk of depression, type 2 diabetes, asthma, food allergies, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis and even mortality,” explains the Academic Journalism Society

Think long term

The organization goes on to point out that long-term diet patterns, and not just specific foods, are one of the most important factors for predicting your health and your risk of falling ill.

Your gut microbiome agrees. Researchers report that:

  • A gut populated with a diverse array of different beneficial bacteria—and not just one or two strains—leads to the best health outcomes.

  • A diverse diet leads to a diverse bacteria population.

  • Most of us don’t eat a varied diet (in fact, 9 out of 10 Americans don’t even eat enough fruits and vegetables).

A varied diet of gut healthy foods

Increase your diet’s diversity by:

  • Trying at least one new recipe each week.

  • Eating locally and seasonally, which encourages you to try new foods when they’re at peak freshness and peak nutrition.

  • Adding different colours to each diet (e.g., red bell peppers, purple aubergine, red cabbage, pink grapefruit, blueberries etc.).

Using colour as an indicator of diet variety brings an extra perk. Colourful foods are high in polyphenols. And polyphenols boost gut bacteria health. Polyphenols are good for your brain and cognition, too.

Add more omega 3 fats

An estimated 70% of us don’t eat enough omega 3s, yet foods rich in these healthy fats have been shown to boost your gut health

As a bonus, a diet high in omega 3 fats has also been linked to improved mental health and cognition, including a reduced risk of depression.

Some foods good for gut health that contain omega 3 fats include:

  • Salmon 

  • Sardines 

  • Seaweeds and algae

  • Anchovies 

  • Flax seeds 

  • Chia seeds 

  • Walnuts

Increase your fibre intake

The average woman needs 25 grams of fibre a day, while men should aim for at least 38 grams daily. 

There are many health benefits to fibre, including lower cholesterol, contribution to heart health, better weight management and weight loss, and a lower risk of diabetes. 

Fibre also works as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are foods that help to feed and support the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Studies have also shown that a fibre-rich diet helps to lower your levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that may negatively impact your gut microbiome.

Unfortunately, only 5% of us get enough fibre in our diet.

Adding fibre: What are the best foods for gut health?

Many gut healthy foods are also high in fibre. Add a source of fibre to every meal. The best foods for gut health that are high in fibre include: 

  • Leeks

  • Beans 

  • Peas 

  • Oats 

  • Bananas 

  • Legumes

Fermented foods and gut health

The bacteria in your food help to populate or repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria. The most commonly known example is eating yoghurt: People who have a diet high in yoghurt also have a gut bacteria population that represents the bacteria found in the yoghurt.

While you can always reach for a probiotic supplement, going straight to the source and getting your nutrition through whole foods is always ideal. For instance, eating fermented foods gets you the full spectrum of the living bacteria, including all the healthy byproducts, enzymes and compounds that the bacteria produced in the food you’re eating.

What are the best fermented foods for gut health?

Some of the best fermented foods for gut health include:

  • Miso soup

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Kimchi

  • Sauerkraut 

  • Kefir

  • Yoghurt

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What are the worst foods for your gut?

It’s important to not only add healthy, gut-friendly foods to your daily meals, but also to subtract unhealthy dietary practices. 

For the healthiest gut, consider:

  • Reducing your meat consumption, which limits your exposure to E. coli and other unhealthy bacteria.

  • Avoiding aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, which may stimulate the growth of bad gut bacteria.

  • Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, including antibacterial soaps when cleaning your fruits and vegetables.

  • Reducing or eliminating your intake of alcohol.

  • Reducing or eliminating smoking if you are a smoker.

  • Feeling less overwhelmed.

  • Reducing or eliminating your intake of processed foods, many of which contain preservatives, nitrates, and other ingredients that harm your gut.

  • Reducing or eliminating your intake of sugar, which kills beneficial bacteria and encourages a spike in unhealthy bacteria.

How can I improve my gut health fast?

Improving gut health is a long-term commitment that pays massive dividends for your gut, brain, and life. To improve gut health you should avoid more unhealthy foods, increase gut friendly foods rich in fibre and omega 3 fats, like fruits and vegetables. You can also include fermented foods like yoghurt to increase good gut bacteria.