Article at a glance
A healthy gut is vital for your mental and physical well-being.
Your gut hosts millions of microorganisms (in a microbiome) that work together to maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria.
Probiotics and prebiotics work to keep your microbiome balanced and healthy.
Gut-healthy foods help add probiotics and prebiotics to your diet and supply beneficial fiber and vitamins to your diet.
To help keep your gut healthy, you need to take care of your body by avoiding foods, drinks, and bad habits that work against the healthy bacteria in your gut.
It might surprise you to learn that your gut health can impact more than just your stomach. An unhealthy gut can affect your overall health as well as your mood, sleep, and skin allergies. If you’ve been experiencing gut issues, you may want to learn how to improve gut health. The first step is to look at what you eat and find ways to change your diet to help rebalance your gut. Before you do this, you should understand what’s in your gut and how it works. This means learning about microorganisms and how pre-and probiotics are vital for ensuring that those good microorganisms thrive.
Understanding Gut Bacteria
Your digestive system has a delicate balance of microorganisms that help you get nutrients from the food you eat. These microorganisms consist of bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and parasites that form part of your gut’s environment, known as the microbiome. They aid your body in fighting harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi and help your body expel toxins. Microorganisms also help you digest food, create vitamins, break down and absorb medications, and support the lining of your gut. Perhaps most surprisingly, your gut all produces serotonin, which helps improve your mood.
Because your gut performs many important functions, it’s vital to take good care of it. Poor gut health happens when your microbiome isn’t working as it should. There’s an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microorganisms that can leave the body susceptible to disease and health disorders. Poor diets, infectious diseases, and antibiotics are some things that can cause these disruptions in your microbiome.
Probiotics are foods and supplements that contain healthy microorganisms like bacteria and yeast that keep our guts healthy. With an unhealthy gut, eating probiotic-rich foods or taking probiotic supplements may help restore the balance between good and bad microorganisms.
The best probiotic for gut health is food — such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and kimchi. Those natural products combine the benefits of probiotics with the lack of any dangers or side effects of probiotic supplements. Because probiotics are a supplement and not a medication, they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means some manufacturers might make misleading claims and information. Research the best probiotic for gut health by talking to your doctor and looking at credible studies.
Prebiotics are the foods that help your probiotics thrive. Probiotics create certain acids that perform several functions including aiding in mucus production, providing energy to your cells, helping your immunity, and controlling inflammation. Prebiotics can also help make your bowel movements regular and stimulate serotonin and hormone production.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Gut
When those microorganisms in your gut are unbalanced, you’ll notice several symptoms. You might not think these symptoms are related to your gut at first because they don’t seem connected. But the connection is very real, and it’s an important one to consider for your overall health.
Signs of an unhealthy gut include:
An upset stomach that causes discomfort, bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation
Food intolerances, or difficulty digesting certain foods
Extreme cravings, especially for sugar
Feeling tired often
Migraines or frequent headaches
Weight loss or gain that is unintentional or unplanned
Skin allergies and rashes
Autoimmune problems such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or thyroid problems
Frequent mood changes
By contrast, a healthy gut usually means regular bowel movements, normal energy levels, a regular amount of bloating or gas, and no odd cravings or poor reactions to foods.
A List of Gut-Healthy Foods
If you’re struggling with some of the symptoms mentioned above, you might wonder how to get a healthy gut. The answer is simple: you feed what lives in your gut. The foods that you eat have a large impact on the microorganisms in your gut, and for this reason, it’s important to eat gut-healthy foods. Foods that are healthy for your gut contain lots of probiotics, prebiotics, or both.
This fruit contains inulin, a type of fiber that helps healthy bacteria in your gut grow.
Not only does yogurt have probiotics, but it’s also a great source of calcium, magnesium, protein, and vitamin B12. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) provides a Live & Active Cultures (LAC) seal to yogurts that contains a minimum of 100 million cultures per gram when it’s manufactured. Look for this seal when deciding what brands of yogurt are healthy for your gut.
Foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, and fermented sausage are filled with probiotics that help make your microbiome stronger so it can stay balanced.
Experts say we need at least 25 grams of fiber every day for the gut to perform at its best. Not only do whole grains provide our gut with fiber, but they also deliver additional nutrients like omega‑3 fatty acids. Go for healthy whole grains like barley, quinoa, black and brown rice, and farro, and foods like oatmeal, popcorn, and whole-wheat foods.
These vegetables are high in prebiotic fiber and loaded with minerals and vitamins. Leafy greens include lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, chard, mustard greens, and more. If you enjoy cooked Brussels sprouts, you’re in luck—you’ll get four grams of fiber and four grams of protein per cup.
Green peas are full of fiber, too, so you can add them to your diet.
Olive oil is host to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant elements that help balance your microbiome.
Like bananas, garlic contains inulin to fuel your healthy microorganisms.
Ginger has long been used as a remedy for stomach upsets, and there’s a good reason why. Its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immuno-supportive compounds support gut health.
Now that you know which foods will help you get a healthy gut, it’s time to figure out what to do with them. You’ll find thousands of recipes online by searching for “gut-healthy recipes.” You can also talk to your doctor or ask your local librarian for help finding books and other resources on the topic.
Tips for Gut Health
Another way to improve your gut health is to stay hydrated, get regular exercise, and limit the amounts of processed sugars and foods you eat. If you’re a smoker or drinker, consider cutting back or quitting. Not only can it help improve your gut health, but it could also help you avoid complications like heartburn, ulcers, and cancers.
Keeping your gut healthy is not only important but doable. Whether you’re experiencing unhealthy gut symptoms such as an upset stomach, food intolerances, or skin allergies — or you just want to make healthier choices, you can improve your gut health. Probiotics and prebiotics work differently to support a healthy gut. And, a diet rich in bananas, yogurt, leafy greens, and olive oil can help promote the growth of good bacteria. Check with your doctor about the best ways you can support your gut as part of your healthy lifestyle.