The relationship between food and health is far from straightforward. When you have gut health issues, food might seem to be the cause of your problems. But the best foods for gut health can also provide part of the solution.
How Do Foods Help Your Gut Health?
Note: When making dietary changes for health, it’s always wise to consult with a doctor first. Still, there’s a lot you can learn from your own research and a bit of experimentation. And with the guidance of a health professional, you can discover how to use the best foods for gut health to change your life.
The idea that your diet can change your gut health isn’t all that surprising when you think about it. Still, many people go through life without ever giving that much thought to how food impacts their digestive health.
Your digestive system consists of a series of organs that work together to digest food and turn it into energy properly. However, those organs don’t do the work alone. Your digestive organs also contain a microbiome of bacteria and other microbes.
And new research increasingly shows just how much that microbiome affects your health.
For example, your digestive microbiome also impacts your immune system. It’s even linked to diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s. Your gut health can seriously impact your mood, too. For example, research has shown a close link between the digestive microbiome and serotonin production.
Why Do Guts Have Bacteria?
These microbes evolved alongside humans, becoming (mostly) beneficial to us in exchange for using us as hosts.
The best foods for gut health can positively affect this microbiome. However, they aren’t the only thing that has an effect. From birth, countless factors in your life can impact your gut microbiome and health.
And some medications, particularly antibiotics, can have long-lasting effects on the microbiome if taken over a long period of time.
Most of these factors are outside of your control. You can’t change your birth method or how you were fed as an infant. And if you are prescribed antibiotics, it’s important to take them as directed. But you can assist your own microbiome in one simple way: by eating the best foods for gut health.
Interestingly, though, the best foods for gut health can vary from person to person. The same food can have a very different effect on two different microbiomes.
That’s because no two people have the exact same mix of microbes in their gut. Still, some foods seem to have a positive effect more or less across the board.
- Bananas: Contain prebiotic fiber in the form of resistant starch — One to three per day
- Apples: Rich in fiber from pectin, which has prebiotic qualities — One per day
- Asparagus: High in fiber, antioxidants, and protein — Four to five spears per serving
- Onions: Contain fiber and have antibiotic properties — One per day (medium-sized)
- Kefir: Probiotic that adds good bacteria to the gut — Up to three cups per day
- Cottage cheese: Rich in calcium and has probiotic qualities — Up to three cups per day
The Best Foods for Gut Health: Fruits
From grade-school science class onwards, you’ve known that fruit is good for you. In general, fresh fruit with no added sugar is one of the best foods for gut health. But let’s take a closer look at some types of fruit that are especially worth focusing on.
Bananas are a versatile fruit that you can eat alone or in many different dishes. They’re also one of the best foods for gut health.
One of the main things that make bananas so helpful is their prebiotic fiber content. When you eat prebiotic fiber, your body actually doesn’t digest it. However, as it passes through your body, it helps your healthy gut bacteria thrive.
In bananas, that prebiotic fiber comes in the form of resistant starch. Green bananas, in particular, contain high levels of this gut-benefiting starch. And in addition to having lots of healthy fiber, bananas also contain high levels of vitamins and minerals to boost your overall health.
Amount to consume
Just one banana a day will give you 10 percent of your daily fiber requirement. However, if you’d rather eat two or three a day, that’s fine too. You’d have to eat dozens of bananas a day to face any health risks from them, such as getting too much of certain vitamins and minerals.
The old “an apple a day” saying may have some truth to it, after all. These common fruits are one of the best foods for gut health.
Like bananas, apples are rich in fiber. And in apples, that fiber has prebiotic properties, too. More than half of the fiber in an apple comes from pectin, which has prebiotic qualities that promote gut health.
Apples also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities to boost your health further.
Amount to consume
When eating fruit for gut health, it’s hard to go overboard. An apple a day is a great rule to follow, but you can also reap more gut-healthy benefits with more than one daily serving of apple.
Still, you will want to keep your total daily fruit intake in mind, as well as tracking how much of each individual fruit you eat.
Experts recommend a combined 7 to 10 servings of both fruits and vegetables each day. So, you can easily eat more than one apple or banana, as well as servings of other fruits and vegetables that you want.
Just reach for the best foods for gut health first as you work on getting those servings.
The Best Foods for Gut Health: Vegetables
Filling your plate up with vegetables is always a good idea. However, here are a few standout vegetables that will really boost your gut health.
The trusty asparagus makes a great side dish, and also pairs well with many main dishes, in addition to being one of the best foods for gut health.
Asparagus is also a prebiotic. Essentially, any food that supports healthy gut bacteria falls into the prebiotic category.
It contains high levels of fiber, as well as healthy antioxidants. Asparagus also contains high levels of protein. It’s good to get more protein from plant sources since a diet too heavy on meat can be bad for gut health.
Amount to consume
Four to five spears of asparagus generally make a good serving size. But as with all of the fruits and veggies on this list, there’s nothing wrong with eating more. Asparagus is also very low in calories, making it a good choice if you aim to lose weight.
Onions may be one of the most versatile vegetables in the world. A bit of onion can boost the flavor in countless different dishes. The taste pairs well with nearly every kind of cuisine. And luckily, onions are yet another of the best foods for gut health.
Onion’s fiber gives it health-boosting qualities. Interestingly, onion also has some antibiotic properties. So, while it boosts your healthy gut bacteria, it may also help combat the unhealthy bacteria.
Onion’s relatives, like leeks and garlic, also have similar properties. You can interchange these vegetables to get the same gut-healthy results.
Amount to consume
Onions also offer a low calorie count, so you can add them to your foods fearlessly. Plus, since onions have a strong taste, you’re not likely to want to add more than you should eat.
A single medium onion offers 12 percent of your daily recommended fiber. Getting at least one of your daily fruit and vegetable servings from onion works well for your gut health.
The Best Foods for Gut Health: Dairy
When you consider the best foods for gut health, animal proteins might seem like the wrong choice. It’s true that too much meat can negatively impact gut microbiomes. But certain dairy products actually offer a very positive effect instead.
Kefir has a lot in common with yogurt, although it has a tangier taste. This fermented milk product also has lots of gut-healthy bacteria, making it a probiotic.
Prebiotics support healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics, on the other hand, actually introduce new, helpful bacteria to that microbiome.
Many fermented foods, such as kimchi, are probiotics. That’s because the fermentation process involves microorganisms, which stay in the food and are transferred to your gut when you consume it.
Fermented dairy products, like kefir, have probiotic properties that make them great for gut health. If your microbiome is off, kefir can help restore it. Fermentation may also help some lactose-intolerant people gain the benefits of consuming dairy without issues.
Amount to consume
Adults should get about three cups of dairy a day, according to the latest nutrition recommendations. If you get some or all of that three cups from kefir, your gut health will benefit.
However, beware of some flavored kefir drinks, which can contain high amounts of added sugar. Always check nutrition labels to make sure you know what you’re getting.
Along with kefir, yogurt is another fermented dairy product with probiotic properties. But many people already know about the link between yogurt and gut health. Cottage cheese, though, is one of the best foods for gut health that might surprise you.
Cottage cheese is also fermented, which is why it’s a probiotic. And, of course, eating cottage cheese has other benefits. Like all dairy products, it offers high levels of calcium. Fermented dairy products may also help reduce levels of unhealthy gut bacteria.
Amount to consume
As long as you stay close to the recommended daily serving of dairy, you can consume as much cottage cheese as you’d like. If you have lactose tolerance issues, you may want to start out with a smaller amount.
But you’ll likely find that your gut handles cottage cheese and other fermented dairy much better than normal dairy.
Are There More Best Foods for Gut Health?
These trusty foods will get you off to a great start. However, there are many more foods out there that you could call the “best foods for gut health.”
The most important thing is to try different foods to find what works for you. As mentioned above, different foods affect people’s microbiomes differently. Try out each food individually, take note of your results, and build up a list of the best foods for you.
Have you tried any of these foods before? Or do you have your own best foods for gut health? Leave a comment and let us know what worked for you!