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The Best Foods for Gut Health

The Best Foods for Gut Health

Hippocretes nailed it when he said, “All disease begins in the gut.”  He was incredibly progressive, especially for that era. While many thought he was a strange bird, science now tells us his knowledge was on point.

Our gut is essentially the control center for our entire body. In fact, our gastrointestinal system is home to 10x MORE bacteria than what can be found on our ENTIRE body.  (Literally trillions of bacteria) And the best way to keep that environment happy and balanced is to eat the right foods. So, today we will be reviewing the 5 best foods for gut health!

1. Antimicrobials Each Day Keep the Dietitian Away

Our clients are usually shocked to hear us say that specific foods can have antifungal and antimicrobial effects. I mean let’s be honest with ourselves, how cool is that?

The reason why this is so important is that a lot of “funk” can overgrow in the gut. Our microbial balance shifts when we are stressed, eat junk food, and take medications. These issues can also promote a situation where low stomach acid is at play, which further exacerbates the overgrowth of “funk” or bad bacteria and yeast. 

One of the best ways to keep overgrowth at bay is to consume foods with naturally occurring antimicrobial properties.

The best foods for gut health in this category include garlic, coconut oil, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, manuka honey (in moderation!), turmeric (mainly curcumin), and clove.[1] In our home, a couple of brands we like for these items such as coconut oil are Dr Bronners, Artisana, as well as Kirkland. Currently, we’re using Dr. Bronners Organic Coconut Oil in our kitchen and highly recommend it.

2. Soluble Fiber is Sexy

Listen, we know you secretly feel victorious when you successfully pass a large bowel movement, and we applaud you!. But, if you really want to earn the right to pat yourself on the back, take the time to learn why soluble fiber is so critical for gut health.

While both soluble, and insoluble forms of fiber are great for gut health, soluble fiber is known for its ability to support the production of short-chain fatty acids in the gut. Short-chain fatty acids serve as fuel for our colon cells. If the colon is “fed” it will continue to move waste through our system. 

Soluble fiber is critical for the regulation of our bowels. Once ingested, it forms a gel-like, sticky substance and binds to the excess “garbage” in our body. I often tell my clients soluble fiber is kind of like a cleaning lady for your body. It binds to all the “dirt and dust” and then helps you remove it via bowel movements. 

Regular bowel movements are suggestive of the fact that you are successfully removing cholesterol, excess hormones and other environmental toxins. In order to make this a smooth process (pun definitely intended), we want to aim for at least 35-40 grams of fiber each day with 10g+ coming from soluble fiber food sources.[2] It would only make that sense that if our fiber intake is too low over the course of our lifetime, it can increase our risk for disease.[3]

The best sources of soluble fiber include oats, chia seeds, psyllium husk, beans, peas, barley and apples. 

3. Pack it with Polyphenols

Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in plants. In other words, the bright beautiful color you can’t help but notice on fresh produce. 

The more vibrantly colored the fruit or veggie, the better it is for your health. It does not matter if you are 2 years old or 92 years old, eating color can reverse damage at the cellular level, especially in the gut! Whether it’s a sunburn or inflamed intestinal lining, polyphenols play a big role in tackling the damage and restoring gastrointestinal barrier function and integrity.[4] 

Foods richest in polyphenols include: raw cacao, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries,  blueberries, currants, apples, apricots, cherries, pomegranate, plums, broccoli, spinach, carrots, red lettuce, red onions, asparagus, blue and purple potatoes.

Oh, and if you would, like to treat yourself a bit, you can combine the antimicrobial benefits of coconut oil and raw cacao in one super tasty treat, Artisana Coconut Cacao Bliss spread. But, use it in moderation as there is a bit of coconut sugar in there.

4.  Zinc to Keep it Zen

It’s time to say hello to one of the most underrated micronutrients, especially when it comes to gut health. Zinc does an incredible job of supporting our gastrointestinal lining. Why does this matter?

Lead researchers tell us that gut hyperpermeability is one of the most dominant factors in the process of disease development.[5] Adequate zinc intake ensures repair and support of our lining.[6]

Long story short: the stronger our gut lining, the stronger our immune health, and the less likely we are to develop annoying issues like food sensitivities, bloating, and chronic health conditions.[7] Our bodies do not store zinc, therefore it is critical that we consume enough through our diet.

The best zinc-rich foods include legumes, shellfish, meat, eggs, oysters, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and dark chocolate

5. L-Glutamine for the Win

Last but certainly not least, we have L-glutamine, an amino acid that plays a big part in our immune health. Our body makes glutamine but we can also obtain it from food and supplementation.

Your gastrointestinal tract essentially runs from your mouth to your anus. If any of this pathway is compromised AKA “holes”, or “leaky gut”, you may start to notice aggravating symptoms such as headaches, loose stools, eczema or fatigue. If left unaddressed, you may find yourself with a new diagnosis of disease.[8,9]

L-glutamine is best known for strengthening the lining and repairing those “holes”, especially post intense training.[10,11,12]

The best food sources of l-glutamine include chicken, fish, beef, lamb, eggs, (all animal protein, really), oats, wheat germ, quinoa, millet, nuts and beans. 

Infographic of the 5 best foods groups for gut health.

Bonus Reading on the Best Foods for Gut Health

Gut health is essential for optimal health and unfortunately, our guts are often a wreck. Whether its stress, toxins, mold, or so much more, many of us have less than option function in our gastrointestinal system. So, if you would like to read more about healing your gut, check out our post on the 7 Top Tips to Heal the Gut Naturally to further assist with your gut-healing process.

Also, if you were wondering why you didn’t see much about probiotics in this list, fear not! Probiotics are so critical for gut health that we wrote numerous articles on the topic. To learn more, check out our article on The Best Probiotic Strains, and The Best Time of Day to Take a Probiotic. For those really wanting to go the extra mile, we suggest our Top Probiotic Supplement Guide.

Surprised you didn’t see fermented foods or probiotics on the list either? A smart human you are! These foods are actually so important that we dedicated a separate article to The 9 Best Fermented Foods and another for the 25 Best Prebiotic Foods and Supplements. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the top 5 best foods for gut health. Now, go fuel those microbes!

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5486105/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5131798/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32208932
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384703/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5490603/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266414/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5317033/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454963/ 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454963/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255255/

About The Author

Kylene Bogden

Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!

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Kylene Bogden Sports Nutrition Dietitian

Kylene Bogden Sports Nutrition Dietitian

Kylene Bogden, RDN

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