Gut health has become a popular topic in the wellness community, and for good reason. Ongoing research is showing the incredible benefits these tiny microorganisms in our gastrointestinal tract play on various aspects of our health. So how can we help to support these microbes to allow them to flourish? The answer lies within our dietary habits.
The Importance of Gut Health
As time goes on, researchers are continuously finding more information that links our gut microbiome to our overall health and chronic disease risk. In fact, these microbes in our gut are so vital to our body and its functions that it would be difficult for us to survive without them. Current research has linked our gut microbiome to digestion, inflammation, immunity, weight, blood sugar control, heart health, brain health, and more.
It seems these microorganisms wear a myriad of different hats, participating in functions from vitamin synthesis to initiating an inflammatory response to mediating our emotions. The importance of gut health cannot be emphasized enough, especially as our food system becomes more and more corrupt with artificial sugars and additives that wreak havoc on this incredibly important yet delicate body system.
Benefits of Improving Gut Health
Now that we know how vital our gut microbiome is to our overall health, it’s no surprise that improving the health of our gut will result in a wide array of benefits. A healthy gut microbiome can reduce overall inflammation, a result of many common chronic diseases, such as heart disease. It can also help to ensure a hearty immune system and a well-functioning gastrointestinal tract for optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
The focus when looking to improve our gut health is on our dietary habits. The foods we choose to consume daily have a large effect on these microbes in our gut. Foods that help to support a healthy microbiome include minimally, if not completely unprocessed, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A high intake of heavily processed foods increases inflammation-causing detrimental effects on these delicate microorganisms.
Fermented and prebiotic foods are also top of the list when looking to best support your gut and are often considered gut health superstars. Let’s look at some of the best superfoods for gut health below.
Superfoods for Gut Health
Your best bet for a healthy gut includes incorporating a variety of healthy, whole foods into your diet and limiting heavily processed, packaged foods. Although a variety is best, some foods help our gut health a little bit more than others. Below is a list of some of the top-rated superfoods for gut health. Although these foods alone will not boost your gut health tremendously, when combined with a healthy diet, they can be incredibly beneficial.
Research has found that those who eat unsweetened or low-sugar yogurt regularly have improved overall function and composition of their microbiome compared to those who don’t. Some research studies have found those who consumed yogurt had an increased amount of the good bacteria Lactobacilli in their gastrointestinal tract. Research also showed less of the bacteria Enterobacteriaceae, which has been associated with increased inflammation.
Yogurt is considered a fermented dairy product. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha, are all great probiotic sources. Probiotic foods help to restore and support a variety of microorganisms in the gut for a healthy microbiome.
It’s important to note that to get the most benefit from consuming yogurt regularly, you should look for a no sugar added or low sugar yogurt that contains live active cultures as listed on the label. Unsweetened regular yogurt or Greek yogurt can be easily sweetened or flavored with a small amount of raw honey, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, or more to help avoid consuming artificial flavors and sweeteners.
Oats are a staple for many. A hearty breakfast food rich in whole grains, oats are an excellent source of fiber and resistant starch. The fiber in oats has been associated with many health benefits, including supporting a healthy gut, lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar, and decreasing the risk of developing certain cancers.
Oats are considered a prebiotic food. Prebiotics are foods that are rich in resistant starches that help to promote the growth of those healthy microbes in your gut. Consuming a diet rich in prebiotic food sources has been associated with an increase in several types of beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacteria.
Some consider prebiotics to be food sources for probiotics, and it is often encouraged that these two are combined in the diet. Other prebiotic food sources include Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and barley. Remember that consuming a variety of these foods will result in more benefits for your gut than consuming just one type of prebiotic food.
They are small but mighty; the chia seed has become more popular over the last couple of decades, beginning with the introduction of chia seed pudding. Rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are considered a superfood for gut health and overall health. The fiber in chia seeds helps to support digestion, while the omega-3 fats help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Anti-inflammatory foods, such as chia seeds, are often forgotten about when talking about gut-supporting foods. Although probiotics and prebiotics take center stage, anti-inflammatory food sources can have excellent benefits to support a healthy microbiome just the same. Other anti-inflammatory foods on the list include avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and fatty fish such as salmon.
Also on the list of anti-inflammatory foods, avocados are a great source of fiber. With about 10 grams of fiber per fruit, avocados are also rich in 15 different vitamins and minerals, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids that have been shown to support heart health. Regular intake of avocado has been shown to provide many health benefits, including supporting a healthy gut and digestion.
These fruits are versatile and delicious. Their creamy texture allows them to be used in sweet and savory foods in replacement for more processed ingredients, such as mayonnaise, butter, and other foods that may be more pro-inflammatory. If you haven’t already gotten on the avocado toast train, now may be the time to give it a try. Your gut will thank you.
Green tea has been around for centuries, and therefore a lot of research has been accumulated over the years regarding the health benefits of consuming this comforting liquid. Green tea is rich in polyphenols, a plant compound associated with many health benefits, including reducing inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and oxidative stress.
Healthy bacteria in our gut are needed to help digest these polyphenol compounds, and some research has found intake of polyphenols helps increase beneficial bacteria present in the colon. Other foods high in polyphenols include dark chocolate, red wine, grapes, almonds, onions, blueberries, and broccoli.
Superfood Supplements for Gut Health
For those who struggle with eating adequate amounts of foods that help to support gut health, supplements were created. Among those supplements, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics are the most beneficial. Let’s look at the differences below.
Probiotic supplements are among the most popular gut health supplements around. Because a large population of people may be challenged with incorporating a wide variety of fermented foods in their diet, probiotic supplements can help bridge the gap between missing nutrients.
When looking for a good probiotic supplement, always choose one that contains live active cultures with colony-forming units (CFUs) in the billions. CFUs are the number of probiotic strains in the product, and the higher the amount the higher likelihood that you will see benefits from taking this supplement. Remember that these products were created to help supplement a healthy diet and not replace it.
Like probiotic supplements, prebiotic supplements were created to help fill in dietary gaps to ensure you are getting the most for your gut health. These supplements are best for those who are challenged with getting adequate sources of prebiotic foods in their diet but are encouraged to be combined with a healthy diet as able.
Prebiotics occur naturally in many foods. Look for a supplement that contains prebiotic food sources for a more natural approach. Other helpful ingredients to look for include inulin, chicory root fiber, and fructooligosaccharides, as these have been shown to be most effective in increasing beneficial bacteria in the gut.
If you are someone who struggles with getting both prebiotic and probiotic sources in your diet, you may want to consider a synbiotic supplement, like Seed. A synbiotic is a combination of prebiotic and probiotic sources. Although supplements should be taken only when you are unable to get these sources from your diet, this is a great option for those with a limited diet or lack of access to these types of foods to ensure they are still supporting their gut health.
Whole food sources are always the number one recommendation to get the most benefit; however, supplements can be helpful bridge the nutritional gap many suffer from due to limitations out of their control. The nice thing about synbiotics is that they are often designed to include prebiotics best known to support the strain of probiotics present; however, more research is still being conducted as synbiotics are still a relatively new product on the market. Always discuss any supplements with your health care physician before adding them to your diet.
Other Gut Health Tips
Although diet plays the largest role in supporting our gut microbiome, other non-diet considerations can be impactful on the health of these microorganisms. Below are some other considerations to improve your overall gut health outside of dietary adjustments.
It’s not uncommon to live with high levels of stress and not even know it. For those who live a fast-paced life, it can be difficult to see the signs of chronic stress. Unfortunately, this stress can wreak havoc on our gut health.
Help better manage your stress by incorporating exercise, meditation, breathing exercises, listening to music, spending time with friends, family, or pets, getting outside, or even seeking a mental health professional for coping strategies. Not only can this benefit your gut, but it can also benefit your overall physical and mental health in the long run.
Along with chronic stress, chronic sleep deprivation can cause serious harm to those gut microbes. Prioritizing 7-8 hours of sleep per night can make a significant difference in your health and your productivity throughout the day.
You can prioritize sleep by setting a bedtime and wake time to allow for a regular sleep schedule that best supports your work and life balance. Try creating a wind-down routine an hour before bed that includes shutting off all blue light devices, such as your phone, computer, and tv. Utilize products that help you to relax and prepare for sleep, such as sound and light machines, black-out curtains, and weighted blankets. You may be surprised by the difference a good night’s rest can make.
Maintain adequate hydration
Although it is always encouraged to keep hydrated, many forget to drink adequate water throughout the day. It may be tempting to reach for other flavored beverages, coffees, and teas, but water is the gold-standard beverage for gut health and overall health.
The average intake of water recommended is about 64 ounces per day or eight 8-ounce glasses. This should be increased on hot days when you may be perspiring more. A good rule of thumb to tell if you are adequately hydrated is to check the color of your urine. An adequately hydrated person’s urine will be pale yellow, while someone who is dehydrated will have darker yellow, more concentrated urine.
Conclusion: Superfoods and Gut Health
Gut health is incredibly important in supporting our overall health. The best way to support our gut is with our dietary choices, including incorporating rich sources of probiotics, prebiotics, anti-inflammatory foods, and foods high in polyphenolic compounds. For those who struggle to consume these foods, dietary supplements have been created to help bridge the gap. Although diet is essential in support of these microbes, other important lifestyle factors can contribute to gut health as well, including our stress levels, sleep, and hydration status.
Now that we have an idea of what can help support our gut the most, it’s time to start practicing. What are you missing in your diet or lifestyle that may be affecting your gut health?