It probably comes as no surprise that what you eat affects your gut. Literally everything you eat passes through that long tube that goes from your mouth all the way to the end of your large intestine and either gets absorbed or excreted. As with any health topic, it’s what you do most of the time that matters and no one food will make or break your (gut) health.
But if you want to improve your gut health — which has been linked to everything from type 2 diabetes and brain function to skin conditions like eczema and autoimmune disorders — taking a close look at your overall diet is key.
Eat more of these foods:
- Probiotic-rich foods: Probiotics are bacteria found in food and supplements that keep the good bacteria in your gut doing everything it’s supposed to; from allowing important nutrients into the bloodstream to keeping “toxins” out and pushing them through to digestion. Probiotics are typically found in fermented foods including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha. It’s important to note that in order to reap the benefits of fermented foods, they must contain “live and active cultures,” and heat (cooking) typically reduces or eliminates the benefit.
- Prebiotic-rich plants: Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria that reside in your gut and keep them thriving. Many plant foods provide some prebiotic fiber, so your best bet is to just eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, but if you want some extra support, focus on garlic, onions, bananas, asparagus, oats, apples, dandelion greens, and barley.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other dark leafy greens have been linked to better digestive health, likely due to a mix of the type of fiber and certain phytonutrients found in this category of veggies.
Eat less of these:
- Processed foods: Processed foods not only tend to contain less fiber (which is important for gut health) than whole foods, but they may contain additives that may negatively impact on the health of your gut.
- Artificial sweeteners: Consuming artificial sweeteners in foods and beverages has been linked to negative changes in the gut.
- Red meat: a compound found in red meat called carnitine has been linked to negative changes in gut microbiota, which may even increase risk for atherosclerosis, a risk factor for heart disease.
As with many other health concerns, eating for gut health typically means eating more whole plant foods and enjoying animal foods and processed foods on occasion. Other things that can play a role in your gut health include stress, sleep, and your environment, so consider your overall health — and not just your diet — too!
Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice and nutrition communications consulting business in the suburbs of Boston. She empowers busy moms to learn to eat to feel their best without the stress.