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6 Superfoods for Gut Health & Better Digestion

6 Superfoods for Gut Health & Better Digestion

Written By: Emily Spring

Food is more than just fuel. For many, our choices about what to eat sometimes have more to do with emotional satisfaction, entertainment, or convenience than with health. While that’s certainly fine from time to time, the truth is that each decision about what’s for dinner impacts your overall health.

When we talk about gut health, we’re talking about the balance and quality of bacteria within our GI tracts and how that affects the rest of our bodies. Because it impacts so many aspects of our body’s daily functions, it’s critical to fuel our bodies with superfoods that will support gut health in the long term.

In this guide, we’ll review some of our favorite superfoods for gut health and flag a few foods to avoid. For other tips on how to improve your gut health, our resource center can help you familiarize yourself with foods and practices that will help you hop on a gut-healthy journey. Read on to learn what foods are good for your gut and how you can easily incorporate them into your diet.

Gut Health: It’s All About the Bacteria

Not all bacteria is created equal. In fact, some of it can be extremely beneficial to our bodies. In our gastrointestinal systems, there are trillions of tiny microbiota, which are the beneficial bacteria that reside in our digestive system – alongside fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms.

These microbiotas carry out many important health benefits and functions, like protecting against pathogens and other unhealthy bacteria, aiding in nutritional metabolism, and helping to maintain the health of the intestinal gut lining.1 They can also help to break down nutrients so that our bodies are better able to absorb them.

When it comes to maintaining gut health, some foods are particularly useful in supporting those microbiotas and in providing additional benefits, like helping with regular bowel movement or warding off bloating and gas.

Below are a few of our favorite superfood categories that are both nutrient-dense and delicious.

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What Foods Are Good For Your Gut?

When looking for foods that will support better gut health, you’ll want to focus on finding sources of probiotics and prebiotics, fiber, and fermented foods. 


Probiotics and Prebiotics

You’ve probably encountered these words before, but what’s the difference? Prebiotics are non-digestible and are consumed by our healthy gut bacteria. When we take prebiotics, it’s like we’re feeding the good gut bacteria so it can help us digest our food. Talk about synergy!

One type of prebiotic that’s super beneficial is antioxidant-containing polyphenols, which are very often the source of the bright colors in fruits and vegetables.

Probiotics are living microbes that, when consumed, can further support gut health. Eating probiotics is a bit like sending in the artillery; they provide reinforcements to the healthy bacteria that already exist in our guts.

Fiber

Not only does fiber affect the regulation of our metabolism, but it has also been linked to weight loss and reduced inflammation in the gut.2 Fiber is indigestible, which means it bulks up and softens your stool, leading to easier bowel movement.

Fermented foods

While foods like kimchi and kombucha might not seem like superfoods at first glance, they actually provide a helping hand to gut microbiota by supplying probiotics and decreasing inflammation.

Some of these compounds can be added to the diet in the form of supplements that are created from real foods. A supplement made of different varieties of mushrooms, for example, can support a gut-health-oriented diet with the inclusion of ingredients that contain probiotics, prebiotics, or fiber. If you’re a fan of mushrooms, identify the best mushrooms for gut health to improve your gut while also eating a food that you enjoy.

Alternatively, opt for research-backed mushroom gummies with polysaccharide-packed maitake mushrooms and microbiota-balancing prebiotics. Take it twice a day for a stress-free dose of gut-healthy support and whole-body energy.

4 Gut Health Superfoods

Now that you have a better handle on these compounds, let’s look at a few foods that contain them. Be sure to pack your pantry with the following:

  1. Oatmeal – Inexpensive and easy to source, oatmeal gets top marks as a gut health superfood because it’s rich in β-glucan, a soluble fiber packed with prebiotics that feed the bacteria in your gut.3 Oatmeal is also a complex carbohydrate that makes for a filling breakfast, which is why we recommend getting a dose of those prebiotics and staving off hunger by starting your day with a bowlful. Another option is to add a handful of oats to smoothies, quick breads, or yogurt for a hearty snack on the go.
  2. Kimchi – Salty, tangy, and rich in vitamin C, kimchi is a fermented food powerhouse that packs a punch. Because it contains probiotics, it can help maintain healthy digestion. Plus, it’s flavorful without adding a ton of calories, so it’s the perfect addition to an appetizer or meal. A staple of South Korea, this cabbage-based condiment is now fairly easy to find jarred in grocery stores. Add it to rice, or toss a few tablespoons into your favorite stir-fry. Trust us, your stomach will thank you.
  3. Olive oil – Yes, it’s okay to add some fat to your diet, especially if it’s oleic acid that some studies suggest may reduce inflammation. Olive oil also contains polyphenols, a helpful form of prebiotic that contains antioxidants. Use olive oil in your favorite homemade salad dressing recipe or drizzle it over whole grain bread for a rich flavor and a hearty dose of gut health.
  4. Garlic – You may be surprised to learn that the benefits far outweigh the potential case of garlic breath. In addition to being a great source of prebiotics, garlic is packed with healthy nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. With so many perks, it’s no wonder that garlic has been touted as a medicinal food for centuries, from ancient Japan to ancient Greece.4 Add a chopped clove or two to salads, noodles, and sauces for a tasty blast of prebiotic goodness.

3 Foods to Avoid

When it comes to gut health, certain foods will dilute or diminish the good bacteria in your GI tract, leading to less microbiota diversity and fewer health-promoting organisms all around. Sugar, processed foods, and fried foods can all contribute to the unpleasant symptoms of poor gut health, like bloating, gas, fatigue, and cravings. Here are a few harmful foods to avoid:

  1. Red meat – We get it; no one wants to hear that bacon is bad for you. Unfortunately, foods like bacon, steak, and hamburgers contain L-carnitine, a compound that alters the composition of bacteria in your gut. Red meat is also often a source of saturated fat, making it a dodgy choice for daily consumption. Limit your intake by replacing red meat with omega-3-rich salmon or hearty vegetable alternatives like portobello mushrooms.
  2. Processed foods – As a rule of thumb, the more processed a food is, the less likely it is to contain fiber and healthy protein and the more likely it is to contain saturated fat, refined sugar, and a lack of gut-healthy compounds like probiotics. Processed foods are also often cheaper, easier to source, and faster to prepare, so we understand why they show up so much in our diets. Cut back on processed foods by replacing quick snacks with cut-up vegetables or polyphenol-packed yogurt drinks.
  3. Alcohol – Though not technically a food, it’s both prevalent and damaging enough to warrant a mention here. Not only does it inhibit nutrient absorption in the gut over time, but it also can damage the intestinal wall, allowing bacteria to seep into the bloodstream through a process known as “leaky gut.” Limit consumption by replacing a drink here and there with a gut healthy-alternative like kombucha.

How to Start Making Gut-Healthy Changes at Home

If the nutrients we consume are the building blocks of our bodies, then it’s true that we really are what we eat. But if what we eat primarily consists of low-quality foods at the expense of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, our bodies begin to feel the toll.

It can be challenging to eat perfectly healthy for every single meal, every day, but keep in mind that even small, incremental changes can be impactful, particularly if you’re swapping out an unhealthy choice for something that contains probiotics or fiber.

Finding opportunities to replace processed, sugary, or fried foods with whole-grain options is an excellent way to implement gut-smart changes without overhauling your lifestyle. Choose a side salad instead of those french fries, or drop boxed cereal in exchange for a fruit-filled smoothie.

Your stomach will get a break, and your gut will get a blast of the support it needs. Plus, you can pop a supplement at two meals a day for an additional dose of gut and body support.

Bolster Your Gut Health with Superfood Support

With so many food metrics to keep track of, it can be hard to know which foods and supplements to reach for and how to introduce them into your diet. At Plant People, we’re here to help you unlock your potential by providing resources on healthy eating, healthy living, and plant-based healing.

We have more in common with plants than it may seem. Like any vegetable or tree, we require a balance of nourishment in order to grow and thrive. Starting with this foundation, we’ve combined clinical research and holistic science to create regenerative, doctor-formulated plant and mushroom supplements that unlock centuries of botanical intelligence for a stronger, smarter, better you.

Check out more supplements for the immune system, or take our two-minute quiz and get started on reaching your potential.

 

Written by Emily Spring 

Emily Spring is the Director of Marketing at Plant People. A longtime proponent of balanced living, she has enjoyed over 8 years driving growth in the lifestyle, health and wellness sectors with deep experience in functional solutions for optimizing anyone's everyday life.

 

Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy

 Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.

 Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.


Sources:

  1. World Journal of Gastroenterology. Role of the normal gut microbiota. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021
  2. Nutrients. Dietary Fiber, Gut Microbiota, and Metabolic Regulation—Current Status in Human Randomized Trials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7146107/
  3. Eat This. Surprising Effects Oatmeal Has On Your Gut, Says Science. https://www.eatthis.com/surprising-effects-oatmeal-has-on-gut/
  4. The Journal of Nutrition. Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/3/951S/4687053

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