Best Foods for Gut Health
In the previous post we shared some insights about the importance of gut health and the microbiome, how the human gut microbiota can play a major role in host health, and shared some tips to help you improve the health of your gut. Many of those tips are associated with lifestyle changes that will not only benefit your gut but your overall health, energy levels and longevity. Reducing stress, getting better sleep, making healthy food choices, avoiding highly processed and sugary foods, drinking plenty of pure water, and fasting regularly, are among the many easy changes you can start implementing today. Besides these lifestyle changes, there are some specific foods and/or supplements that you can eat/ take on a regular basis that will benefit your gut microbiota, hence your gut and overall health. To understand the importance of these foods and supplements, we first need to understand what they are and their role in our gut and microbiome.
Intestinal microbiota, namely the bacteria in the gut, not only act on the host’s immune system to induce protective responses that prevent colonization and invasion by pathogens, but they also undergo a synbiotic co-evolution along with their host. A healthy microbiome means a healthy human, but the reverse is also true. It is such a close relationship that it is hard to define boundaries and define which one is affecting the other. Therefore, it is important to take care of both, your overall health and the health of your microbiome and gut.
We know that the microorganisms populating the gut are highly dependent on what we eat and what we eat will determine which will thrive. The foods you eat, and your hydration levels are among the most important and manageable factors within your reach to maintain a healthy microbiome. A balanced microbiome will help digestion and absorption of nutrients, vitamin synthesis, and immune system function.
That is certainly something important, so how can we support our microbiome?
Research shows that colorful vegetables and whole-plant foods, such as fruit, vegetables and whole-grain cereals are beneficial for the “good” gut microbes. These foods, long known to also be protective against cardiovascular and other metabolic disease, may be highly efficient in modulating the microbiota. Diets inherently rich in fermentable ﬁbers, polyphenols and prebiotics seem to help regulate some of the beneficial activities of the gut microbiota1.
Contrarily, according to a 2014 article, “negative gut environments, characterized by low microbiota diversity, increased relative abundance of undesirable microorganisms and increased production of toxicant chemicals, have been associated with high-fat, high red meat and low-fiber diets1.” Therefore, it is apparent that diets rich in meat, junk food, dairy, and eggs lead to aberrant gut microbiota proﬁles that have been associated with obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease1.
A 2016 study concluded that altered gut microbiota composition is strongly conducive to increased adiposity, β-cell dysfunction, metabolic endotoxemia, systemic inflammation, and oxidative stress. This study also highlights the importance of probiotics and prebiotics as gut microbiota modulators. Probiotics and prebiotics can help improve gut microbiota, leading insulin-signaling stimulation and cholesterol-lowering effects which can then improve metabolic and cardiovascular diseases2.
Whole foods and supplements beneficial for the gut microbiome are usually referred to as ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’. ‘Synbiotics’ is another term you may want to get accustomed to. The introduction of probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics into the human diet is favorable for the intestinal microbiota. They may be consumed in the form of raw vegetables and fruit, fermented vegetables, and some alternative sources, such as functional foods and pharmaceuticals3.
What are prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics?
In easy terms:
- Probiotics – Live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.
- Prebiotics – Non-digestible products that promote the growth of “healthy” gut bacteria.
- Synbiotics – Synergistic combinations of pro- and prebiotics.
Want to know more about each of these beneficial compounds? Click on the Name!
- Tuohy KM, Fava F, Viola R. ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his gut microbiota’–dietary pro- and prebiotics for the management of cardiovascular risk. Proc Nutr Soc. 2014 May;73(2):172-85. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113003911. Epub 2014 Feb 4. PMID: 24495527.
- Yoo JY, Kim SS. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Present Status and Future Perspectives on Metabolic Disorders. Nutrients. 2016 Mar 18;8(3):173. doi: 10.3390/nu8030173. PMID: 26999199; PMCID: PMC4808900.
- Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017 Sep 15;9(9):1021. doi: 10.3390/nu9091021. PMID: 28914794; PMCID: PMC5622781.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.