Gut health is becoming quite a popular topic these days, and for good reason!
Our digestive health is a significant factor in maintaining good health. And this has been known for some time. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates said it best: "all disease beings in the gut".
The research continues to confirm today just how much of an influence our gut health has on our overall health, and this goes far beyond just digestion!
For instance, the majority of our immune system (about 70%) resides in the gut.
Our good bacteria play a vital role in the development and maintenance of the mucosal immune system in the gut.
These trillions of microorganisms live in the gut, and more specifically in the colon. Our beneficial bacteria that reside in our colon play a vital role in the development and maintenance of the mucosal immune system through various mechanisms: training the immune system to distinguish between harmful and non-harmful pathogens, stimulating the production of antibodies, improving the activity of immune cells, and protecting the intestinal lining against pathogen invasion.
Moving on, our digestive system is also home to our “second brain”, referred to as the enteric nervous system, which is embedded in the gastrointestinal lining and linked to the brain by the vagus nerve. This allows communication to and from the gut and the brain.
This means that our mental health can be significantly correlated and impacted by the status of our digestive health. In fact, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression have been associated with gastrointestinal conditions, and vice versa (1)(2)(3).
Did you know that more neurotransmitters are made in the gut than the brain? These neurotransmitters are released in the intestinal wall and also produced by our gut microbes.
So basically what we are trying to say is... your gut health is a big deal!
So how can you support your gut? It all starts with the food you put into your mouth. Find some of our top gut foods below!
7 Foods that are good for your gut health
Bone broth is a traditional food that dates back thousands of years as a staple in the diet of many cultures. And what does it have to do with gut health? Bone broth is a medicinal food as it is a rich source of amino acids and minerals that can help support healing in the body.
One of the abundant proteins found in bone broth is collagen. You may have heard of collagen for beauty effects such as hair and skin health but it also is recommended by many health professionals for gut healing. As the connective tissue lining of our gut is comprised largely of collagen, consuming collagen-rich foods such as bone broth may help to repair this delicate lining (4)(5).
Bone broth is a particularly rich source of the amino acids glycine, proline, and glutamine which have been shown to support the maintenance and repair of the intestinal tract (6)(7).
The integrity of the gut lining is essential for optimal nutrient absorption and protecting the bloodstream from toxins, foreign invaders, and pathogens. When it becomes compromised, this is known as intestinal permeability, or leaky gut.
Intestinal permeability is said to be at the center of illnesses such as autoimmune diseases as it promotes a state of chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation (8)(9).
A well-known spice known for its anti-nausea effects, ginger also has anti‐inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiulcer effects and has been used for many centuries as a potent medicinal home remedy (10).
Ginger has been shown to speed up stomach emptying, improving transit time in the digestive tract (11). Delayed stomach emptying is a common cause of symptoms of indigestion and discomfort in the stomach.
Ginger can be used to calm an upset stomach, stimulate digestion, reduce nausea, and reduce symptoms such as heartburn, gas, and bloating.
An easy way to enjoy the benefits of ginger is by drinking ginger tea. You can add some raw honey and lemon for additional health benefits.
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats are widely known for their anti-inflammatory and cognitive effects, but did you know they are also essential for a healthy gut?
Omega 3 fats help to maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and favor the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut (12)(13).
The richest sources of omega 3 fats include wild fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
Plant sources of omega 3 fats include flaxseeds, which are also a source of fiber to fuel your good gut flora. You can also supplement with an omega fish oil or algae oil.
An apple a day might very well keep the doctor away!
Apples are a rich source of the fiber, pectin, that can bind onto toxins to eliminate them in the bowels but also acts as a prebiotic to feed our good bacteria while keeping pathogenic bacteria from multiplying (14).
As our beneficial microbes goggle up this pectin, the byproducts they produce, known as short-chain fatty acids can reduce inflammation and support gut barrier function by providing fuel to the cells of the gut (15)(16).
There is a specific sugar molecule that researchers have found in leafy greens that feeds our beneficial gut microbes (17). This sugar is called sulfoquinovose and it is found in green vegetables in particular.
This specific sugar contains sulfur, a mineral that is needed to build essential proteins in the body but also a variety of important processes such as producing the antioxidant glutathione, detoxification, and the building and repairing of DNA.
Our beneficial gut bacteria feed on the sugar sulfoquinovose as a source of energy to be able to survive and proliferate in the intestinal tract, promoting good health.
If you needed another reason to eat your green vegetables....here it is!
Beans & legumes
Fiber is absolutely essential for optimal gut health as it is the fuel source for our microbiome. Beans and legumes are great sources of different fibers such as resistant starch and soluble and insoluble fibers. These resist digestion, meaning they reach the colon undigested where they feed our good gut bugs.
But that's not all.
Beans and legumes are rich in phytonutrients shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects by protecting our cells from damage (18)(19).
In addition beans and legumes are a great plant source of protein, an important building block for repair and healing in the body.
If you find you have a hard time digesting these foods, try soaking them overnight and cooking them well the next day. This helps to break down the anti-nutrients present in these carbohydrates which can promote digestive upset.
We all know probiotics are good for our gut, but what about probiotic-rich foods, are they worth the hype?
Fermented foods have been consumed traditionally for thousands of years in different cultures around the world such as Korea (kimchi), Japan (natto), India (lassi), Israel (leban), Germany (sauerkraut), and the Middle East (kefir).
These foods will contain their own variety of probiotics, increased nutrients, and also enzymes which can help you digest your food better.
Consuming fermented foods on a regular basis can promote a favorable environment for the microbiome and improve intestinal permeability and barrier function (20).
Be sure to buy fermented foods that contain live organisms (always buy from the refrigerated section!) or you can simply make them yourself!
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.