Gut health refers to the balance and diversity of bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microbes is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more. That’s because a diverse community of gut bacteria can influence our overall wellbeing from head to toe.
A healthy gut means a healthier brain and heart. It means a stronger immune system, balanced hormone levels, and a lower risk of chronic diseases. Following a diet heavy in red meat, processed foods, and sugary beverages can worsen gut health. Sleeping poorly and being riddled with stress also take a toll.
So what should you be including in your diet to ensure a healthier gut? We’ve compiled a list of some delicious (or just plain surprising) foods that studies show can improve gut health if you add them to your diet. Do your gut a favor and treat it to proper nourishment. Your entire body will thank you.
There is a growing consensus in the scientific community that a healthy stomach, filled with beneficial “good” gut bacteria can go a long way towards promoting a strong and robust heart. With this relationship in mind, researchers from Penn State University say that incorporating a daily serving of walnuts into a healthy diet is associated with increases in beneficial stomach bacteria.
These positive developments in gut bacteria count were then found to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
For the study, 42 overweight or obese adults between the ages of 30 and 65 were placed on an “average American diet” for a period of two full weeks. After that, the participants were randomly separated into three different diets. All three, however, involved less saturated fat than the original “American” diet they had adhered to for two weeks. One of the three new diets included whole walnuts each day, while the other two either completely or partially made up for the lack of walnuts and saturated fat with vegetable oils. Participants followed these new diets for six weeks.
Findings reveal that greater numbers of the bacteria Eubacteria eligens was associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure. Additionally, those who followed the walnut diet saw their Lachnospiraceae, another healthy gut bacteria, count go up. Greater numbers of this bacteria are associated with drops in blood pressure and cholesterol.
Avocados are called a superfood with good reason. Research shows the nutrient-packed fruit is good for the heart, cholesterol, weight loss, and even the brain. One recent study finds that avocados also have a positive effect on gut health. Adding avocado to just one meal a day can improve the diversity of microbes in the gut and the healthy substances they create.
The study shows that avocados are high in dietary fiber and monounsaturated fat. Moreover, having the fruit daily creates a greater number of gut microbes which break down fiber. Compounds called metabolites these microbes create also support gut health.
The study examined 163 adults between 25 and 45 years-old who all fall into the category of overweight or obese. Each person had one meal a day replaced at either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Part of the group had avocado with this test meal, while a control group had a similar meal that didn’t include avocado.
Results reveal that although avocados are rich in fat and participants eating the fruit consumed more calories, they also excreted more fat than the control group. Greater fat excretion means the participants were absorbing less energy from the foods that they were eating. This was likely because of reductions in bile acids, which are molecules our digestion system secretes that allow us to absorb fat. The amount of bile acids in stool was lower and the amount of fat in the stool was higher in the avocado group.
READ MORE: An avocado a day keeps poor gut health away, study reveals
Here’s a sweet way to show your gut some love: eat a mango! Mangoes contain both fiber and polyphenols, promote gut health and help reduce intestinal inflammation. In fact, eating mangoes helps relieve constipation better when compared to taking a supplement containing similar amounts of fiber, a recent study shows.
The study out of Texas A&M University involved 36 adult men and women with chronic constipation who were split into two groups. One group ate approximately 300 grams of mango — about two cups of the front, or one whole mango — per day over four weeks, while the other was given a supplement containing an equivalent amount of fiber (about 5 grams of dietary psyllium fiber) that participants simply added to their regular diets.
While participants found their constipation problems lessened, the mango group showed the fruit to be more effective in reducing symptoms and putting an end to the painful condition altogether. Specifically, it helped stools to return to regular consistency, shape, and at normal frequency for the participants. Mangoes also helped reduce biomarkers of inflammation.
The findings suggest that mango offers an advantage over fiber supplements because of the bioactive polyphenols contained in mangos. These help reduce markers of inflammation and change the make-up of the microbiome, which includes trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in our digestive track.
READ MORE: Belly’s Best Friend: Mangoes Prevent Constipation, Improve Gut Health
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Broccoli just might be the cure for digestive issues stemming from a problematic gut, a new study finds. In an experiment involving mice, findings show that rodents whose diets were supplemented with broccoli coped better with their digestive symptoms, such as leaky gut and colitis.
One chemical compound produced through broccoli consumption, referred to as indolocarbazole, or ICZ, is a catalyst for a healthy equilibrium in the gut and immune system. That’s because ICZ activates the Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in the intestinal lining, which helps regulate the gut. This stabilizing effect could help prevent the development of many gut-related conditions, including Crohn’s Disease and some forms of cancer.
Some individuals could suffer adverse consequences from the same protocol used on the mice in the experiment, but the study affirms that targeted treatment on the right population set shows promise. To receive the benefits found among the mice studied, an average person would have to consume about three-and-a-half cups of broccoli a day.
However, if that sounds excessive for your tastes, you could turn to a smaller serving of Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts have three times as much, which would mean just one cup of Brussels sprouts could get us to the same level.
Looking for a more natural digestive system cleanse? You may be able to find the ingredients right in your own backyard. A new study finds that adding crickets to your daily diet regimen may be good for your gut and offers several health benefits.
The study recruited 20 men and women (ages 18 to 48) to eat a breakfast that includes muffins or shakes made from 25 grams of powdered cricket meal for two weeks. Some participants were fed an insect-free dish to serve as a control group. All participants then returned to their normal diets for another two weeks, before switching roles for a follow-up period. The control group ate the buggy breakfast, while those who enjoyed the cricket meal treats initially were served the control option.
While none of the participants complained of any ill effects from the cricket breakfast, the study notes an increase in a key metabolic enzyme that supports better gut health, and a decrease in an inflammatory protein associated with cancer and depression. Also spotting a significant amount of “good” gut bacteria that known to promote overall digestive health.
With what we now know about the gut microbiota and its relationship to human health, it’s important to establish how a novel food might affect gut microbial populations. Thus, cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition.
Fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha
Yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha tea may not be staples in many diets. A recent study by Stanford School of Medicine researchers shows, however, that large servings of these and other fermented foods give the immune system a big boost.
Thirty-six healthy adults participated in a 10-week diet that included either fermented or high-fiber food. Each of the diets resulted in different effects on the gut and immune system. Larger servings of the fermented foods increased overall microbial diversity and produced stronger effects. For example, the levels of Interleukin 6, an inflammatory protein that has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress, decreased.
“Microbiota-targeted diets can change immune status, providing a promising avenue for decreasing inflammation in healthy adults,” says Christopher Gardner, director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “This finding was consistent across all participants in the study who were assigned to the higher fermented food group.”
Conversely, the high-fiber diet did not result in a decreased level of inflammatory proteins and the gut microbes remained stable in all participants.
As you can see it’s not hard to help improve gut health — all you need is a quick trip to the grocery store (or your pet shop for the crickets). Of course, no matter what any study finds, it’s always recommended that you talk to your doctor before making any dietary and lifestyle changes.