Gut-Friendly Foods: What to Eat for a Happy, Healthy Gut

Gut-Friendly Foods

Maintaining a healthy gut goes beyond simply avoiding digestive issues alone.

A well-functioning gut is crucial for supporting and regulating various body functions for overall health and well-being.

The impact of your diet on gut health is significant and should come as no surprise. The foods you eat on a daily basis play a key role in nurturing and maintaining a healthy gut.

With that in mind, let’s go through some of the top foods for better gut health, gut bacteria and digestive health. 

Discover it all in our Smart Protein guide.

What is gut health?

In simple terms, gut health refers to the overall wellbeing of your digestive tract, including your stomach, intestines, and colon.

Its main job is to break down food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate waste effectively.

The concept of gut health can vary depending on who you ask. Researchers, medical professionals, and the general community all have their own interpretations.

At Smart Protein, we focus on promoting a healthy gut microbiome and minimising digestive symptoms.

Picture your large intestine as a happening party with a diverse crowd of around 200 different species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Together, they form your gut microbiome, a dynamic team that breaks down food and converts it into essential nutrients your body needs.

While certain bacteria in your gut can contribute to specific diseases, others offer significant benefits and are necessary for your overall health.

The diversity of bacteria in your gut is like a VIP badge that indicates the health of your microbiome—so it's wise to strive for a varied and thriving population.

It's important to note that the health of your gut not only impacts your physical wellbeing but also your mental health. This crucial connection is truly remarkable and something to remember at every stage of your wellness journey.

The foods you choose to eat have a substantial influence on the types of bacteria that live in your digestive tract.

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Why is my gut health important?

Your gut health is the cornerstone of your general wellbeing, and researchers are continuously exploring the incredible importance of the gut microbiome (1) to our overall health. 

It's a fascinating field that keeps expanding our understanding of the intricate relationship between our bodies and these microscopic powerhouses.

SmartFact: An imbalanced gut microbiome has been linked to chronic diseases like diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even carcinoma. It's eye-opening how crucial our gut health is to our wellness.

Recent research (2) has also hinted at intriguing connections between the gut microbiome and mental health, including depression, as well as weight management and cholesterol levels. It's like a treasure trove of discoveries waiting to be uncovered.

While there's still much to learn about the mysteries of the gut microbiome, one thing is crystal clear: prioritising your gut health can have a profound impact on your overall health and happiness.

Signs of poor gut health

There are several key indicators of poor gut health—and these symptoms can manifest in various ways. 

It’s estimated (3) that, at any one time, about four in 10 people have at least one problematic digestive symptom.

Now, let's dive into these symptoms, shall we? Brace yourself for a journey through the common indications of an unhappy gut. 

Here's what you might experience…

Constipation: Constipation can cause discomfort, making it difficult to pass stool regularly.

Diarrhoea: Diarrhoea can leave you rushing to the bathroom more frequently, with loose and watery stools.

Stomach ache: It's that uncomfortable, crampy feeling in your belly that disrupts your day.

Heartburn: Heartburn can become an unwelcome companion, causing a burning sensation in your throat and leaving a bitter taste.

Indigestion: Indigestion can cause discomfort, bloating, and the feeling of fullness after meals.

Now, don't worry. Experiencing one or more of these symptoms doesn't mean it's game over. 

It simply means it's time to take action and prioritise your gut health. 

What are the best foods for gut health? 

SmartFact: Extensive research (4) consistently highlights the vital role of the gut in promoting overall health and wellbeing.

Beyond its primary function of aiding digestion, the beneficial bacteria in your gut also contribute to your wellbeing by producing vitamins, supporting the immune system, and defending against harmful bacteria.

Get this…over 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. Wow.

Fortunately, most people can naturally improve their gut health through dietary choices. 

Here are some examples of foods for a healthy gut…

Fermented foods

Thousands of years ago, when our wise ancestors stumbled upon a remarkable discovery, they noticed that when food was sealed away from oxygen, something incredible happened: bacteria started feasting on the sugars and starches, transforming them into magnificent acids or even alcohol.

Not only did this preservation technique keep their food fresh, but it also bestowed upon it a distinct and tangy flavour. 

Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves enjoying fermented foods without giving them much thought. 

Variety Of Fermented Foods For Gut Health
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What are the benefits of fermented foods?

One of the remarkable benefits of fermented foods is that they are bursting with the healthy bacteria your body needs.

These friendly bacteria take centre stage in your gut and play a vital role in keeping your gut bug community thriving. Scientists (5) believe that their presence is key to maintaining a harmonious balance within your gut.

Your gut bacteria are all about balance, just like everything in life. It's all about ensuring that there's a sufficient army of ‘live’ bacteria to counteract the ‘bad’ bacteria that can bring us down.

Balanced gut bacteria can support the following systems in the body…

  • Immune system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Sleep system
  • Digestive system

If you eat fermented foods, you could experience the following health benefits…

  • Improved ability to digest lactose
  • Better bone health
  • Weight management
  • Healthier blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of developing heart disease
  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk of developing colon cancer

The best fermented foods to eat for gut health

For centuries, people have been using fermentation to preserve dairy products like cheese and milk.

Today, there are some dairy products out there that undergo special fermentation and processing to keep those precious cultures of live bacteria intact.

Without further ado, here are some of the best fermented foods that will tickle your taste buds and nourish your body.

Miso

Originating from Japan, miso is a beloved fermented soybean product that is commonly used in miso soup. This traditional ingredient is made by fermenting soybeans with koji, a special type of fungus, along with salt.

Packed with friendly live bacteria, it promotes gut health, plus, miso is a rich source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamins K and B12. 

Kefir

Originating from the mountainous regions between Asia and Europe, as well as Russia and Central Asia, this probiotic yoghurt drink is created by fermenting milk.

Within this delicious drink, you'll find a bounty of beneficial bacteria, which have the potential to aid in reducing a leaky gut.

Yoghurt

When it comes to promoting a healthy gut, live yoghurt shines as a fantastic source of probiotics, commonly referred to as friendly bacteria.

These beverages often contain higher quantities of beneficial bacteria compared to regular yoghurt, offering an extra boost for your gut health.

Sauerkraut 

This culinary gem has been cherished by European countries for centuries and is crafted by fermenting finely shredded cabbage with lactic acid bacteria.

In addition to its probiotic advantages, sauerkraut offers a range of nutritional benefits. It’s a good source of fibre, as well as vitamins C and K. Sauerkraut is also packed with essential minerals such as sodium, manganese, and iron.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a dish commonly found in Korean cuisine. This spicy and fermented cabbage dish contains probiotics that can aid in promoting a healthy gut.

Plus, kimchi is made with cruciferous vegetables that are high in antioxidants, which may have some health benefits.

Tempeh

Tempeh, a traditional Indonesian food, is created by compressing fermented soybeans into a compact cake-like form.

This unique food not only offers the benefits of probiotics through the fermentation process—but also serves as a prebiotic due to the presence of soybeans.

Including tempeh in your diet can be incredibly beneficial, as it stimulates the growth of probiotic bacteria in the gut.

Variety Of Probiotic Foods For Gut Health
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Probiotic foods

We are sure you’ve all come across probiotics—they’re everywhere. The term refers to microbes such as bacteria and yeasts that you can take in the form of supplements or add to foods for better gut health.

Although these supplements have gained popularity for their potential benefits, there isn't sufficient evidence to suggest that they should be taken specifically for heart and circulatory health.

While emerging research suggests that probiotics may have some therapeutic advantages in certain situations, it's important to note that if you're generally healthy, you may not need to spend money on probiotic supplements that may not deliver the beneficial effects they promise.

What are the benefits of probiotic-rich foods?

Probiotics are home to beneficial microbes that provide various advantages to our bodies. 

One of their key roles is to combat harmful bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that may attempt to coexist with us. Probiotics essentially support the beneficial microbes in our bodies.

Probiotic products are often formulated with beneficial bacteria and yeasts to prevent or address bacterial or yeast infections in different parts of the body, including…

  • Atopic dermatitis and acne
  • Cavities and gum disease
  • Vaginal and urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea

Right, let’s take a look through some of the best sources of food to get your probiotic hit.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a type of fermented tea, made from black or green tea, that people enjoy in various parts of the world, particularly in Asia.

Studies show that kombucha may have the potential to reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.

Kombucha is fermented with bacteria and yeast. And has health benefits associated with its probiotic properties.

Some types of cheese

While most types of cheese undergo fermentation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they all contain probiotics. So, it’s crucial to scan food labels for ‘live cultures’ or ‘active cultures.’

Semi-hard cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, or gouda—together with cottage cheese—have higher levels of probiotics relative to other kinds of cheese aged for longer durations. 

Natto

Similar to tempeh and miso, Natto is another fermented soybean product that includes a bacterial strain called Bacillus subtilis.

A staple in Japanese cuisine, Natto is commonly paired with rice and served for breakfast, featuring a distinct aroma, slippery consistency, and potent flavour.

Natto is abundant in protein and vitamin K2, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones and a strong heart.

Pickles

Pickles, also referred to as gherkins, are cucumbers that are preserved in a mixture of salt and water.

The vegetables are left to undergo natural fermentation that is caused by the lactic acid bacteria that are present in them, which contributes to their sour flavour.

Pickled cucumbers are rich in beneficial probiotic bacteria, which can aid in promoting healthy digestion. Plus, they’re low in calories and a good source of vitamin K—a vital nutrient for blood clotting.

Variety Of Prebiotic Foods For Healthy Gut
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Prebiotic foods

Prebiotics are the unsung heroes of gut health. These brave substances are the fuel that keeps your gut bacteria thriving.

But hold on, what are prebiotics exactly? Well, they're substances found in food that are not digested in your gut, but instead, are fermented by the bacteria that live in that region.

This fermentation process promotes the growth of good bacteria, building a powerhouse of health in your gut.

Fortunately, you can find prebiotics in a range of plant-based foods, from leafy greens to beans and legumes.

These foods are filled with types of dietary fibre that nourish your gut bacteria, ensuring a healthy and balanced gut microbiome.

What are the benefits of prebiotic foods?

Eating a diet that is plentiful in prebiotics can promote the health of the digestive system by stimulating the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

The fermentation process of prebiotics produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These SCFAs play crucial roles in supporting gut and metabolic health.

For instance, SCFAs serve as an energy source for colonocytes, contribute to mucus production, help regulate intestinal pH, and more.

In addition to their impact on gut health, prebiotics also influence immune function, blood sugar regulation, appetite, and energy expenditure, as indicated by several studies.

Research suggests that consuming prebiotics in specific amounts can potentially improve overall health in various ways—so here are some of the notable foods you can eat to get your prebiotic fix.

Artichokes

Not only are artichokes a highly beneficial food source—particularly due to their abundance of inulin—but they boast a type of fibre that functions as a prebiotic.

In addition to promoting gut health, artichokes offer various advantages, such as enhancing bone health, protecting brain function, and supporting healthy blood pressure levels.

Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit not only looks good—but it also offers a range of health advantages, particularly related to gut health. This fruit is a great source of fibre and is known to be one of the best choices for relieving constipation.

Although studies involving humans are limited, a 2019 research (6) conducted on mice and published in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, suggests that the specific type of fibre found in dragon fruit increases stool volume while promoting a gentle laxative effect without causing diarrhoea.

Garlic

Garlic possesses antibacterial and antifungal properties that can effectively regulate harmful bacteria in the gut and promote the balance of yeast. 

The active compounds found in garlic act as a fuel source for beneficial bacteria, allowing them to perform their functions more efficiently. 

Sounds good, right? This overall enhancement of gut function can contribute to gut healing and improved overall gut health.

Oats

You can kickstart your journey to better gut health with a simple and delicious breakfast choice—oats.

Among the top prebiotic foods that can have a rapid impact on your gut health, oats offer a well-rounded combination of complex carbohydrates, plant-based protein, and fibre, making them an exceptional choice to support a healthy gut.

Range Of High Fibre Foods For Healthy Gut
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High-fibre foods

Glamorous? No. But, it’s not all about the glitz! Research demonstrates the importance of high-fibre foods for overall health.

Fibre plays a crucial role in nourishing your gut microbiome, promoting better digestion, and aiding regular bowel movements. 

Plus, it helps your body regulate blood sugar levels, control the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin—and reduce sugar cravings—all of which can contribute to effective fat burning.

Beyond its impact on digestion and weight management, a fibre-rich diet is associated with numerous other health benefits. 

It can support mental wellbeing by reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, promote heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, and enhance immune function.

What are the benefits of high-fibre foods?

A high-fibre diet offers several benefits for your overall health…

Normalizes bowel movements: Dietary fibre adds bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass, which reduces the likelihood of constipation. Plus, fibre can help solidify loose stools by absorbing water and adding volume.

Helps maintain bowel health: Consuming a high-fibre diet may lower the risk of developing haemorrhoids and diverticular disease—a condition characterised by small pouches in the colon. Research also suggests that a high-fibre diet may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, possibly due to the fermentation of fibre in the colon.

Lowers cholesterol levels: Soluble fibre, found in foods like beans, oats, flaxseed, and oat bran, has been shown to help lower total blood cholesterol levels, particularly reducing levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL). High-fibre foods may also have additional heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Helps control blood sugar levels: For people with diabetes, fibre—especially soluble fibre—can help slow the absorption of sugar and improve blood sugar levels. Including insoluble fibre in a healthy diet may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Aids in achieving a healthy weight: High-fibre foods tend to be more filling, leading to consuming fewer calories and feeling satisfied for longer. These foods often take longer to eat and have a lower energy density, meaning they provide fewer calories for the same volume of food.

Helps promote longevity: Studies show that increasing dietary fibre intake, particularly from cereal fibre, is associated with a reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease and all types of cancers.

Now we’ve got that covered, here are some high-fibre foods to get stocked up on.

Coconut

Coconut flesh stands out with its high fibre content, containing 7.2g of fibre per 100g. This makes it the nut with the highest fibre content available. By adding coconut flesh to your morning granola or cereal, you can give your gut health a real boost.

Avocado

While avocados are nutrient-dense and a popular superfood, their sustainability is a concern. So, we recommend consuming them in moderation and trying to source high-fibre foods closer to home. That said, avocados contain 7g of fibre per 100g, which is the same amount as prunes.

Lentils

Dry lentils are a fantastic addition to your pantry, as they offer a substantial amount of fibre. With 12.5g of fibre per 100g, lentils add both texture and bulk to traditional meat-based dishes like meatballs and bolognese.

They can also take the spotlight in delicious and healthy lentil recipes, like falafel and dahl. Including lentils in your meals not only increases your fibre intake, but also brings a delightful taste and versatility to your cooking.

Almonds

If you opt for unblanched almonds, you can benefit from their high fibre content of 12.2g per 100g. But, it's important to stick to a portion size of 25g for these tempting snacks (which are technically seeds encased in a hard shell - quite surprising, isn't it?).

Including a small portion of almonds in your diet can provide a significant fibre boost while still allowing you to enjoy their delicious taste.

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Is there anything else I can do to improve my gut health?

Understanding which foods to avoid is just as crucial as knowing which foods to eat for optimal gut health. Ultra-processed foods, artificial foods, added sugar, preservatives, and additives can negatively impact your gut.

Also, you should prioritise stress management in your daily life. Plus, studies, including a 2021 review (7) published in Frontiers in Nutrition, suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle, which includes incorporating moderate-intensity exercise and effectively managing stress, plays a critical role in promoting gut health.

What are the worst foods for your gut health?

Certain foods can have a negative impact on your gut health. However, unless you have specific food sensitivities, it is not necessary to completely eliminate any particular food for the sake of your gut health. Remember, moderation is key.

That said, there are certain groups of foods that may have a negative effect on your gut microbiome. 

It's worth considering your intake of these foods if you want to maintain optimal gut health.

Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can reduce the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut and promote the growth of harmful microbial species. This imbalance in gut bacteria can negatively affect immune functioning, digestion, sleep, mood, and weight.

Sugar: High intake of sugar has been shown to suppress the growth of beneficial bacteria, leading to an unfavourable composition of your gut microbiome.

Artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers: Common sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, and sorbitol can hinder the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut, allowing harmful bacteria to thrive.

While these foods may have a negative impact on gut health—it's important to remember that moderation is key—and everyone's tolerance and response to these foods may vary.

Guard your gut the Smart way

Smarten up your health, start happier habits and help your body make the most of the good stuff from food with Gut Daily.

We’ve combined digestive enzymes and vitamin D to feed the microorganisms that live in your gut and help keep your tummy in tip-top condition—so you can keep your lifestyle balanced and your digestion doing the most.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. Ncib

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/

2. Ncib

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/

3. Guts Charity

https://gutscharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DigestingTheFactsReport.pdf

4. Ncib

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682904/

5. Cell

https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(21)00754-6

6. Science Direct

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332218387882

7. Frontiers in Nutrition

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2021.637010/full

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