First there was Atkins diet, then keto, and a range of raw and other dietary fads. These days, gut health is all the rage. And the best way to take care of the good microorganisms in the gut, according to doctors and research, is to nourish them with healthy foods.
The word “bacteria” usually has a negative connotation. People associate it with scary infections and being sick. In reality, the body is full of “good” bacteria that is needed to function properly. Good bacteria exists everywhere in our body, including the gut, and therefore play a crucial role in digestion and overall well-being.
The trillions of microbes that live in our gut have an important role, often helping to keep us healthy, but they have also been tied to increased risk of chronic conditions such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Several nutrients play a key role in gut health. “You need both soluble and insoluble fiber, a combination that helps to stimulate digestion,” said Amy Gorin, a registered dietician nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
Soluble fiber, which attracts water and slows digestion, helps to add bulk and move food through the gut. “Benefits [of eating fiber-rich foods] include lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugars, and feeding healthy gut bacteria,” according to Kayla Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Nutrition Rites, a nutrition counseling center.
Insoluble fibers, which can’t be completely digested, pass through our GI [gastrointestinal] tract mostly intact, Fitzgerald noted. Benefits include preventing constipation and reducing the risk of developing diverticular disease and colon cancer.
“You also want to look to foods that offer probiotics, beneficial bacteria that can help your health,” Gorin said. Probiotics are living microorganisms and may help everything from your gut health to your immune system, she noted.
Prebiotics, which basically serve as food for probiotics, are also important for gut health, Fitzgerald said. A fair amount of foods contain both microorganisms. But those who consider adding them to their diet as supplements should talk to their doctor to ensure these supplements would not interact with any medications and that the strain considered is the right one in case of a specific medical condition, she noted.
To compile a list of some of the best foods for gut health, 24/7 Wall St. consulted registered dietitians and nutritionists and reviewed several studies on what benefits certain foods may have on the gut microbiota.