Foods for Gut Health
Gut Helpers and Gut Disruptors
There is no doubt that what we eat is one of the biggest influences on the health of our digestive systems. However, other factors play a part and can be either detrimental or beneficial to gut health. This month’s blog posts will look at factors, dietary and otherwise, that affect the health of our digestive systems.
Here we’ll look at foods that have been shown to benefit gut health and digestion.
Foods for Gut Health
Our microbiomes are unique to us which means there is no one diet that suits everyone. Our microbiomes change over time so the foods that suit us will also change with time. However, there are some foods that are known to be widely beneficial.
Fibre from Plants
Fibre from plant foods helps to nurture a healthy and diverse microbiome by feeding the beneficial gut organisms. These organisms produce short chain fatty acids which have gut healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Fibre has numerous other benefits including removing waste products and toxins, increasing satiety and stabilising blood sugar. Fibre is found in whole grains such as oats, barley, rye, quinoa, millet and buckwheat, as well as lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables and sea vegetables.
Microbes that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics are likely to increase over the coming decades and we need to do everything we can to counteract this. Research has found that eating a diverse diet with at least 8-10 grams of soluble fibre a day, and lower levels of protein, especially from beef and pork, reduces antibiotic-resistant microbes in the gut (1). Soluble fibre is found in grains such as barley and oats, beans, lentils and peas, nuts and seeds, carrots, berries, artichokes, broccoli and winter squash.
Fermented foods have both prebiotic and probiotic effects meaning they provide food for the beneficial gut organisms and also provide beneficial organisms to add to the microbiome, such as lactobacillus bacteria. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yoghurt, miso, tempeh, tamari, sourdough bread and apple cider vinegar.
These feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic containing foods include garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, and whole grains.
Aim to eat at least 30 different plant foods each week. The more diverse your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome will be. Plant foods include nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, sea vegetables, herbs and spices.
Colourful plant foods contain antioxidants which the beneficial microbes love and which have many health giving properties. Include berries, black and red currants, nuts, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, olive oil and dark chocolate.
Polyphenols have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome. In turn the health of the microbiome can affect how well we absorb and utilise polyphenols. Polyphenol rich foods also have anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols are found in many plant foods including chocolate, blueberries, red grapes, red wine, almonds, onions, green tea and broccoli.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and have many extra beneficial properties. They may be antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and immune supportive. Include turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, basil, oregano, thyme and chives in your diet for their flavour and medicinal properties.
For information about what to avoid for a healthy digestive system see blog post 7 Gut Disruptors and for information about non-dietary factors that affect gut health see Lifestyle Factors and Gut Health.
1. Oliver, A et al. Association of Diet and Antimicrobial Resistance in Healthy U.S. Adults. mBio, 2022;