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The Best Superfoods For Gut Health & Digestion

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Several dietary behaviors contribute to a healthy gut, such as regularly eating fiber-rich foods and choosing minimally processed items with low levels of added sugar. 
  • Your gut requires nutrient-rich foods and beverages to stay healthy—sometimes called superfoods. 
  • Your dietitian can teach you to include more superfoods in your meals, like adding them to soups, salads, and smoothies.

Your digestive system metabolizes food into smaller, easier-to-absorb nutrients you need to function. 

Although your gut can handle a wide variety of foods—it most likely functions best when your meals have plenty of fiber-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans, and other less-processed options. 

Keep reading to learn about delicious foods that help maintain a healthy gut. 

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Top Superfoods for Gut Health

Millions of people in the US live with digestive problems, and if you’ve been coping with chronic symptoms, it can feel impossible to predict how your stomach will react to foods and beverages. 

Understandably, you may tire of this “Russian roulette” approach to managing your gut health.

Fortunately, there are evidence-based practices you can follow to maintain a healthy digestive system.

These include making dietary and lifestyle changes like completing more physical activity and managing stress. 

The next time you go shopping, try these nutrient-dense superfoods to help maintain a healthy gut. 

Fermented Foods

Fermentation is a food processing technique that allows products to safely over-ripen.

This culinary technique naturally preserves foods and has been used for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, and several other countries.  

While fermenting, bacteria consume substrate (sugars) and multiply.

The finished products have a slightly sour smell and are rich in diverse microbes. 

Although these foods contain bacteria, they don’t necessarily have probiotics (health-promoting bacteria) unless labeled on the front.

According to new research, they’re unlikely to have the same beneficial effects on your gut as probiotic supplements. 

However, they’re long believed to be healthful because they contain other essential nutrients (like polyphenols and short-chain fatty acids), and researchers continue to advocate including them in a gut-healthy eating plan.  

Try these fermented foods: 

  • Yogurt. 
  • Kefir (a runny, drinkable yogurt).
  • Kimchi (a Korean side dish with mixed vegetables).
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Kombucha (a fermented tea).

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High-Fiber Foods

Fiber adds bulk to your stool, impacts fecal transit time, helps you stay regular, and promotes satiety after eating.

Soluble sources of fiber (oats, beans, most produce) can also support healthy cholesterol levels.  

There are six primary sources of dietary fiber to enjoy.

As a bonus, these foods contain several other nutrients and antioxidants that make them a great addition to your meals:

  • Nuts (almond, cashew, peanut, pecan.) 
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, poppy, sesame.) 
  • Fruits (plum, peach, apples, avocado, etc.) 
  • Vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, carrots, bok choy, etc.) 
  • Beans (lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, etc.) 
  • Whole grains (quinoa, bulgur, millet, amaranth, oats, etc.) 

This list is a short sample of all the high-fiber foods you can eat. Contact your dietitian, who can offer even more ideas. 

Omega-3-Rich Foods

Omega 3 fatty acids have long been considered a healthful type of fat.

They’re anti-inflammatory, reduce gut permeability, and support healthy microbial levels. 

Additionally, they’ve been linked to improving heart health, reducing breast cancer risk, and possibly supporting brain health in aging populations.

Although supplements are available, food sources with omega-3 contain other nutrients that can benefit your digestive system. 

Enjoy these omega-3-rich foods

  • Cold water fish (salmon, trout, herring, mackerel). 
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia, and hemp hearts). 
  • Plant oils (flax, canola, soybean). 
  • Fortified foods (some eggs, milk, and soy products).  

Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics nourish probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract.

They’re readily available in high-fiber foods, but there are some that you might want to eat more often.

Specifically, they contain inulin, pectin (different types of fiber), and polyphenols, which will help maintain a balanced and diverse microbiome. 

Here are some prebiotic-rich foods: 

  • Apples.
  • Asparagus. 
  • Onions. 
  • Garlic. 
  • Chicory. 
  • Honey. 
  • Bananas. 
  • Tomatoes. 
  • Peas. 
  • Beans. 
  • Seaweed. 

What are Superfoods? 

A superfood isn’t a scientific term—it’s a marketing term that food companies created to highlight nutrient-dense foods, beverages, and products. 

Many dietitians would agree that all foods have beneficial properties and can be included in a balanced diet.

Still, when managing your gut health, some foods and beverages have nutritional properties that could make them more “super” than others.  

Common traits of a superfood are: 

  • Usually very colorful (except for some grains and seeds, which can be brown or grey.) 
  • Rich in anti-inflammatory compounds called antioxidants. 
  • Nutrient-dense and contains organic compounds proven to support health, like omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • They’re trendy! Many of these foods existed long before they earned a superfood title, but suddenly, they’ll be available in packaged goods, smoothies, juices, snacks, etc. 

How Do Superfoods Benefit Gut Health?

Superfoods may contain nutrients your gut loves, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health-promoting fats like unsaturated fats.

Eating them may help you maintain a flourishing gut microbiome. 

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Contain Beneficial Nutrients 

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that keep you healthy.

They’re abundant in food and beverages, and regularly eating nutrient-dense options may help reduce inflammation and keep your digestive health well-functioning. 

There are three big-picture ways nutrients can support a healthy gut: 

  1. Increasing or maintaining microbial diversity. 
  2. Increasing short-chain fatty acid production. 
  3. Modulate the gut immune response by maintaining a robust intestinal wall barrier. 

Notable beneficial nutrients include: 

  • Vitamin D (cod liver oil, fortified orange juice, fortified dairy products.) 
  • Vitamin C (oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, etc.) 
  • Vitamin E (seeds, plant-based oils, pumpkin, etc.) 
  • Vitamin K (collard greens, turnips, spinach, kale, etc.) 
  • Vitamin B2 (beef liver, fortified cereals, oats, yogurt, milk, etc.) 
  • Vitamin B3 (beef liver, chicken breast, marinara sauce, turkey, salmon, etc.)  

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Chronic inflammation has been linked to poor gut health.

Over time, inflammatory markers kill off helpful microbes in your gastrointestinal tract, which can unbalance your delicate microbiome levels. 

Without enough beneficial bacteria, you may experience digestive symptoms like excess gas production, bloating, and changes to your bowel movements (including frequency).  

Incorporating Superfoods into Your Diet

There are a lot of superfoods to try.

To help get you started, here are some meal ideas that incorporate superfood ingredients: 

  • Grilled cheese with whole grain bread, old cheddar, and kimchi. 
  • Shredded kale salad with walnuts, diced apple, and goat cheese. Dress with a white vinegar vinaigrette. 
  • A green smoothie with half an avocado, kiwi, mango, spinach, one tablespoon of hemp hearts, and plain kefir. 
  • Vegetable stir fry with peas, carrots, onion, garlic, and tempeh (fermented tofu). Top with sauerkraut and serve over brown rice. 
  • Grilled chicken with yogurt sauce (garlic, lemon juice, dill, and grated cucumber). Add roasted asparagus and buckwheat to create a balanced meal. 
  • Overnight oats with kefir, chia seeds, pomegranates, raspberries, one teaspoon of honey, and dark cocoa nibs. 

Nourish has several free meal plans you can try, depending on your gut health needs

Try our meal plans for increasing fiber, IBS, low FODMAP, and a four-week gut protocol to promote intestinal healing. 

Working with a dietitian while following these plans is strongly recommended for best results. 

Tips for Choosing and Preparing Superfoods

Choose foods that you’re most excited about.

If kombucha or kefir don’t appeal to you, you don’t have to drink them!

There are several other food and drink options you can enjoy instead to support a healthy gut.

Ask a dietitian for support if you need help including them in your diet. 

If you plan to increase your fiber intake, you should do so slowly, gradually adding more fiber-rich foods over a couple of weeks.

Additionally, you’ll need to drink more water to prevent fiber-related constipation. 

Sometimes, marketing behind a superfood can make it look superior to other comparable options, but there shouldn’t be a significant difference in their nutritional values.

For example, an unbranded box of quinoa should be as nutritious as Bob’s Red Mills.  

Learning to maximize your nutrition (without going over budget) is an important life skill.

Your dietitian can help you become a savvy shopper and confidently buy the best gut health products without overspending. 

Takeaway

Remember, many foods have “super” qualities and can be part of a balanced diet.

However, some foods and beverages contain more nutrients that may benefit gut health. 

Gut health superfoods include high-fiber grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, you can enjoy fermented foods and drinks and include omega-3-rich foods more often.

Dietary changes can support your gut microbiome, but you may want to target other lifestyle factors to maintain a healthy gut. 

In addition to eating more superfoods, try to improve your sleep, decrease stress levels, be more physically active, and limit alcohol intake.

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How a Dietitian Can Help

A registered dietitian is a nutrition expert and healthcare professional.

Through individual counseling, a gut health dietitian can help you build a meal plan that includes superfoods and other essential elements to keep you healthy. 

You may not know what to expect if you’ve never met a dietitian.

Here are questions to ask: 

Find a dietitian who accepts insurance through Nourish and learn which foods support a healthy gut. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are superfoods for gut health?

Here are some foods with super qualities that could benefit your gut health. 

  • High-fiber foods: nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. 
  • Prebiotic foods: asparagus, onion, apples—many of the high-fiber foods mentioned above. 
  • Omega-3 rich foods: salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, fortified eggs, chia seeds, hemp hearts, ground flax seed.  
  • Fermented foods (although a strain-specific probiotic supplement is likely more helpful): yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh.
What are the best foods to heal the gut?

Foods with anti-inflammatory properties may help heal your gut.

They contain antioxidants— organic compounds that reduce inflammation and promote overall health and wellness. 

Foods rich in antioxidants are minimally processed fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, nuts and seeds, beans, and whole grains.

What are three gut-destroying foods?

Some foods can aggravate your gut more than others, especially when consumed in large quantities. Three examples are:

  1. Ultra-processed foods: Sausages, commercial desserts, frozen treats, fried goods, sodas, etc. 
  2. Low-fiber foods (many are ultra-processed): White bread, white pasta, frozen dinners, etc. 
  3. Alcohol: Although technically a beverage, alcohol can deplete healthy microbe levels in your gut. 

A dietitian can teach you to build a balanced diet that includes all foods while maintaining a healthy gut. 

References

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