Great Food for Good Gut Health

Close up of hands in a heart on stomach
Image © Shutterstock / MK Sharp.

The gut is not just a repository for the food we eat, its overall health plays a fundamental role in our general wellbeing, writes Aleney de Winter.

I have always had a healthy appetite. My love of food has seen me eat my way around the world, scoffing everything from sublime street foods to Michelin starred magic, ticking all the right boxes according to the food pyramids – fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. Indeed, the only thing lacking in my diet was processed pap because my snooty tastebuds were averse.

Without ever really thinking about the health benefits of what I consumed I was accidentally eating a diet that was high nutrients and pretty much devoid of dietary no nos. And so, as I happily indulged in my love all things delicious, I thrived. Until I didn’t.

You see, as I aged, my gut decided to throw a spanner, which it jammed somewhat uncomfortably in my abdomen, in the works. Rather than simply going along with my plan to eat, drink and be merry, the recalcitrant community of microorganisms that lived in the digestive tract went on strike, rewarding me with severe bloating and extreme abdominal pain. Every. Single. Day.

What had I ever done to them? They had been fed, watered and smothered in flavourful love. Sure, I overindulged from time to time, but I was eating healthier than I ever had in my life. My diet was almost completely devoid of junk food, and everything I cooked was made from scratch. Processed foods didn’t even enter the equation. So, what was with the uprising in my gut?  Confused about what to eat and what not to eat, it didn’t seem to matter that I was filling up on so called “good” foods, because I was eating foods that threw the balance of my gut bacteria and in turn, my health, into disarray. What had started as a little discomfort had, in turn, led to impaired sleep, a foggy brain, lowered immunity and weight gain.

Good gut health is vital for physical and mental health and immunity. And that comes down to keeping on the good side of the trillions of healthy bacteria and their genetic material cells that live in our intestinal tracts (the gut microbiome). These microorganisms, which mostly consist of good bacteria, wards off infectious agents, break down food and deliver nutrients throughout our bodies to maintain general health and well-being. But it turns out that, especially as we age, these sensitive little souls are prone to throwing tantrums that impact our digestion, metabolism, immune function and brain health, and can lead to inflammation – which, left unchecked, can lead to physical and mental disorders.

So, what’s a girl to do to keep her gut happy? Feed it gut happy foods. Here are 12, that will have your insides singing…

1. Miso

There’s a reason why people in Japan like to start their day with a bowl of miso soup. Made from fermented soybeans and grains, Miso contains millions of the good bacteria that aid and stimulate digestion. It is also rich in essential minerals, various B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid.

2. Yogurt

Natural yoghurt is one of the best sources of probiotics (gut friendly bacteria) and can assist in boosting the immune system, improve bone health and promote gastrointestinal health. Made from milk that has been fermented by friendly bacteria – generally lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacterial (a probiotic that helps the body perform essential functions such as digestion) – it’s also thought to help certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as lactose intolerance and irregular bowel movements.

3. Onions

Famed for their immunity boosting powers, onions are a rich source of prebiotics that help build up gut flora and reduce cholesterol, and fibre, which promotes good digestion. They are also excellent sources of vitamin C, sulphuric compounds, flavonoids and phytonutrients and flavonoids that have been shown in studies to have anticarcinogenic properties and may help reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.

4. Raspberries

The little ruby red gems aren’t just irresistibly delicious, they are nutritional warriors. Packed with the fibre that supports good digestive health, reduce blood sugar by slowing digestion, and helps good gut bacteria grow, raspberries are also a great source of powerful antioxidants linked to lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and inflammation.

5. Kimchi

The sweet and sour flavour powerhouse that is Kimchi may just be your gut’s best friend with evidence suggesting that along with improving immunity and anti-inflammatory responses, regulating energy production, and supporting bone metabolism and blood clotting, the nutrient dense staple of Korean cooking works wonders in increasing good gut bacteria.

6. Hemp seeds

Growing evidence suggests whole hemp seeds are not only an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fibre required to optimise digestive health but can help improve immunity, regulate blood sugar levels and cholesterol. They are also rich in healthy fats, protein, and minerals. Bonus: those clever seeds from the hemp plant may also reduce symptoms of  PMS and menopause.

7. Collagen

I confess to being a little obsessed with collagen, but the benefits of the powerful protein are so many and varied, it’s hard for me not to get a little evangelical about it. Your gut will love it as much as I do because it contains amino acids such as glycine, glutamine and proline which support the intestinal tract and stomach. While you can, of course, add collagen to your diet via protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy, a daily collagen protein supplement ensures your daily needs are met.

8. Salmon

The team at Pure Health Hub frequently rhapsodise over the benefits of salmon due to the abundance of zinc, magnesium, collagen, and Omega-3 fatty acids known to benefit eye and heart health, boost memory, and fight inflammation. But those miraculous Omega-3s are also adept at reducing gut inflammation and improving the digestive process.

9. Garlic

From warding off vampires to making our food taste amazing, garlic is a culinary superhero. OK, so the vampire bit might be fiction, but its many health benefits are fact. Along with antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, garlic has been shown to boost immunity, help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and is naturally high in functional fibres that fuel the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

10. Ginger

Is there anything garlic can’t do? Not only does this culinary wunderkind have anti‐inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, and antiulcer effects its renowned for relieving nausea, aids in the production of stomach acids, helps your gut move food through the digestive tract and helps to relieves flatulence.

11. Kombucha

It’s been hard to escape kombucha in recent times, with the growing popularity of the fizzy fermented tea seeing it stocked everywhere from supermarket to fast food joints. Containing B vitamins, antioxidants and probiotics, the research on the efficacy of kombucha is still in its infancy, but the probiotic benefits of fermentation are well known and anecdotal evidence would suggest that its health benefits may include improved metabolism, immunity and liver function as well as supporting digestion and a more balanced gut microbiome. Kombucha that contains hemp offers even more benefits.

12. Lentils

Love a legume? Good job. Because along with lowering blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and fighting heart disease, lentils are an excellent source of the prebiotic fibre our gut bacteria craves. Low in sodium and saturated fat and high in potassium, folate, iron, potassium, fibre and slow-digesting resistant starches that delay the absorption of carbohydrates, they also help to improve intestinal health.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements or altering your diet.