Poor gut health can lead to a myriad of unpleasant symptoms: bloating, gas, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more. If not treated, these symptoms can progress into systemic issues such as food sensitivities, skin disorders, hormonal imbalances, or even autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease.
You’ve probably heard that a healthy, high-fibre diet is vital for maintaining good digestion and regular bowel movements. But did you know that certain foods can actually improve your gut health?
Here are some of the best (and most delicious) foods for improving gut health. You can even make them at home!
Bone broth is one of the most nourishing foods for an inflamed gut. Bone broth is made by boiling and simmering animal bones over several days. This allows the bones and connective tissues to release nourishing compounds into the broth, such as collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine. And because we humans are made of the same ‘stuff’ as animals, these compounds are exactly what our bodies need to heal.
Bone broth is especially rich in glutamine, which is an important amino acid involved in restoring damaged intestinal cells. It’s also an excellent source of minerals, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and much more.
The gelatin in bone broth is also highly beneficial for restoring the integrity of the gut lining, and also for supporting a healthy gut microbiome, and maintaining proper balance of gut bacteria.
You can make your own bone broth by boiling bones into a large stockpot. There are lots of recipes online!
Sauerkraut’s gut-healing benefits begin with its fibre content. It’s an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, which are both very useful for bowel regularity. Insoluble fibre is helpful for adding ‘bulk’ to your stools, while soluble fibre is a prebiotic that ‘feeds’ the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Sauerkraut juice is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that can inhibit H. pylori. Cabbage also contains powerful phytochemicals that soothe gut inflammation.
Sauerkraut is made with a special fermentation process that allows beneficial microorganisms to develop. These microorganisms are then delivered to your gut like a natural probiotic. It’s particularly rich in Lactobacillus plantarum, which has been shown to help improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This and other strains of bacteria in sauerkraut also help with digestion and bowel transit time. Better bowel transit time means less irritation and gas!
It’s fairly simple to make your own sauerkraut but it’s readily available in most supermarkets, too. Be sure to choose organic, not the pasteurized canned version!
Kefir is another powerful gut-healing food that originates in Europe. It’s a type of fermented milk created with special starter grains. These grains are a combination of bacteria and yeast that break down the proteins in the milk to make a nutritious beverage. And because the lactose has been broken down, even those who are lactose intolerant can drink it!
Kefir’s complex ecology of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can help to reduce dysbiosis and gut inflammation. It’s been shown to help rebalance the colonies of friendly bacteria in the gut, which makes it particularly helpful after a course of antibiotics.
Kefir can be made with milk, water, or coconut grains. It has a thick consistency and a pleasant smell.
Sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel, and anchovies are a rich source of protein and important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These omega-3 acids harbour powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help to heal damaged gut tissues.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been found to reduce the inflammatory responses in the gut. Research has shown that these fatty acids can reduce both oxidative stress and the production of proinflammatory cytokines.
Taking omega-3 along with probiotics and a fibre-rich diet can also improve the diversity of the gut microbiome. Specific bacteria are linked to lower inflammation in people who have a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating oily fish can help boost levels of omega-3 in the blood, which in turn increases a compound called N-carbamylglutamate (NCG). This compound has been found to reduce oxidative stress in the gut.
Oily fish are readily available in supermarkets and fish markets! Try to eat 2-3 servings each week.
Yoghurt is one of the best-known probiotic foods on earth, and also one of the most readily available. Technically speaking, yoghurt is milk fermented by bacterial strains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.
Numerous studies have proven yoghurt’s benefits for gut health. These are mostly related to improving microflora and bowel transit time. It’s even been shown to enhance the innate and adaptive immune responses of the gastrointestinal system.
The trick to choosing a ‘beneficial’ yoghurt is to avoid the ones with added sugars and flavours. These may taste great, but they won’t help your gut! Choose only natural, unsweetened yoghurts with no added ingredients.
If all this makes you feel overwhelmed, just reach out to me for help. I can help you find a way to include these foods for gut health in your every day life. As well as being a Nutritionist and Naturopath, I am also a Food Scientist, and I can help you make sense of all this! Get in touch today.