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Best Foods for Gut Health

Health and Wellbeing

What you eat directly impacts the bacteria in your gut, also known as the microbiome. Your gut plays a huge role in your health and wellbeing — not only does the good bacteria aid digestion, but it also keeps chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer away, reduces inflammation, keeps your brain healthy, staves off bad bacteria and maintains a healthy immune system. It’s very easy to transform your gut health by making changes in your diet. Here are the best foods which offer the biggest gut health benefits.

probiotics-1

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, the most common ones being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. As well as fighting off bad bacteria, probiotics are important as they maintain a healthy balance in your body so that the good bacteria can help your body digest food, create vitamins, break down and absorb medication and prevent bad bacteria from entering your gut.

Probiotic foods are made by adding microbes and allowing fermentation to take place. Some examples of probiotic foods include:

  • Fermented soy products such as tempeh, miso and natto
  • Yoghurt (both dairy and non-dairy)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Sourdough bread
  • Soft, aged cheese like cheddar, parmesan and Swiss cheeses
  • Green olives
  • Pickles (in brine, not vinegar)

When shopping for probiotic foods, check the product labels for live, active cultures. Living microbes are important as they can join the living microbes which are already in your gut. Food containing Lactobacillus will usually be abbreviated as ‘L.’ on food labels, and those containing Bifidobacterium will have ‘B.’

prebiotics

Prebiotics

Once you have these good bacteria in your gut, it’s important to keep them healthy and flourishing. Prebiotics are soluble fibres from plant-based foods that feed the probiotics and make your digestive system work better. Unlike probiotics, you won’t find prebiotics listed on food labels. This is because they’re present in label-less foods such as:

  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory
  • Spinach
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Oats
  • Soybeans
  • Onions

You can even combine probiotics and prebiotics into a single, gut-friendly meal. This is called synbiotic foods and delivers the benefits at once. Some examples include:

fibre

High-fibre foods

A diet rich in fibre or roughage can help with digestion and prevent constipation. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods and can be either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and is broken down into a gel in the colon. Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water and remains intact as your food passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Both forms of fibre have health benefits and are needed for a healthy gut. Here are some examples of foods that are high in fibre:

  • Whole grains like barley, quinoa, bulgur and brown rice
  • Foods made with whole grains like whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereal and whole-grain pasta
  • Oats
  • Dried fruits like prunes and raisins
  • Fresh fruit especially apples, pears, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries
  • Fresh vegetables especially broccoli, artichokes, green peas, winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes (with skin on)
  • Beans, dried peas and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
anti inflammatory

Anti-inflammatory foods

Inflammation happens when your body sends out white blood cells and other compounds to protect you from infections and defend it against harmful agents like viruses and bacteria. However, sometimes inflammation can happen even when there isn’t a harmful agent. This is when inflammation is a bad thing and can cause a range of diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

The good news is that there are plenty of anti-inflammatory foods that you can add to your diet to help cool down inflammation. These foods contain nutrients like vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids which all promote gut health. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Fatty fish especially salmon, anchovies, sardines, tuna, mackerel and trout
  • Fruits especially berries, grapes and avocados
  • Vegetables especially tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers and chilli peppers
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Dark chocolate and cocoa
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Important things for a healthy gut

For a healthy gut, it’s important to have a varied diet and include different foods, especially those that are probiotics, prebiotics, high-fibre foods and anti-inflammatory foods. The more varied your diet is, the more your gut benefits from valuable nutrients.

It’s also important to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Water is essential for fibre to work properly in your gut, and also keeps your digestive system in check. However, caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and sodas can actually increase acid in the stomach, with fizzy drinks making you feel bloated. Instead, choose healthier drinks like herbal teas and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.

Make sure to also cut down on fat for a healthy gut. Fatty foods like chips and burgers are difficult to digest, triggering your stomach to make more acid. These foods can cause stomach pain, heartburn and contractions in the colon for people with IBS. Opt for lean meat and fish and choose to grill instead of fry foods.

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