Healthy food is the right balance of foods that give you vitamins, minerals and the correct amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibre. It also includes foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars, cholesterol and calories.
Our understanding of the importance of gut health is growing, from knowing how to check in on our gut health to eating a healthy diet to support our gut microbiome. But what exactly should be included in that diet?
“The answer is very simple on a general level. … It’s just a matter of quote-unquote ‘being healthier’ and eating a quote-unquote ‘healthy’ diet,” Dr. Aditya Sreenivasan, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, recently told CBS News, pointing to a focus on whole plant foods.
Sreenivasan generally advises eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less processed carbs like sugary drinks and processed and red meats.
To help break things down further, Dr. Kenneth Brown, gastroenterologist and host of The Gut Check podcast, shared four food groups that are good to incorporate into your diet to support gut and overall health:
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds can help support gut health by promoting “regular bowel movements and preventing constipation,” Brown says.
“Eating fiber-rich foods can also help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, reducing inflammation and improving overall digestive health,” he adds.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can help improve digestion, Brown says.
“Traditional probiotics do not always survive until they reach the colon but fermented foods act as a vehicle to deliver natural probiotics to your microbiome where it is needed most,” he explains. “Consuming fermented foods regularly can help reduce inflammation and improve digestive health.”
You can increase your fermented food options with simple swaps too, suggests Dr. Shilpa Ravella, transplant gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, pointing to sourdough as a good option compared to white breads, for example.
“These are technically both wheat, but they are two very different foods,” she explains.
Foods high in polyphenols
Polyphenols are molecules found in fruits and vegetables that give them their vibrant color.
“Polyphenols work like prebiotics, which feed our microbiome. Our microbiome then breaks down polyphenols into smaller molecules that help our guts, brain and immune system,” Brown says.
Foods high in antioxidants can help reduce inflammation in the body and support overall digestive health, Brown says.
“This is because antioxidants neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage,” he explains. These food options include berries, leafy greens and dark chocolate.
But remember, these recommendations may not be for everyone. People who have specific issues such as celiac disease or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) could require a different, more specific diet. If you’re experiencing an emerging pattern, worsening or sudden change in gastrointestinal symptoms, it may be time to speak to a doctor as it could point to food-related sensitivities or other gut-related issues.