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Our gut serves as the foundation of our health. In fact, Hippocrates once said, “All health starts in the gut.” Without a healthy gut, we are susceptible to many common chronic diseases and imbalances. Our gut microbiome largely influences every other system and function within the body. That’s why supporting our microbiome is an effective starting point to improve overall health!
Building a gut-friendly diet around specific foods and supplements is a powerful plan to follow to improve your health and is one of the easiest ways to support gut health in particular.
A gut-friendly diet includes specific foods and nutrients that are proven to support gut health. By using a food first approach, a gut-friendly diet can help support those who experience a variety of gut issues to improve their gut. In combination with healthy lifestyle habits, eating gut healthy foods is always what I recommend first to start seeing significant wins in your overall health!
Your gut microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms. In fact, in total, your gut microbiome likely weighs five pounds. Now, that’s a lot of bacteria!
The gut microbiome consists of healthy and pathogenic organisms. Despite common belief, this balance of healthy and harmful organisms are necessary for a healthy microbiome. Yes, we actually need “harmful” pathogens to stay healthy! Biodiversity is so important. Diversity of species is essential to balance, and the gut thrives on balance and harmony. When things are working properly, we have a diverse, abundant community of microbes. Trouble arises when the gut microbiome suffers from imbalances and pathogenic bacteria overtake their beneficial counterpart.
Whether our gut is healthy, or not, can impact our overall health including:
Common gut dysfunctions, such as dysbiosis, H. Pylori infections, bacterial overgrowth, and yeast overgrowth, can negatively influence our overall well-being. In fact, these gut dysfunctions have been associated with allergies, eczema, fatigue, depression and anxiety, autoimmunity, nutrient deficiencies, estrogen dominance, high cholesterol, obesity, and other chronic health issues. This is why balance within the gut microbiome is so important. When pathogenic bacteria crowds out the good bacteria, problems can quickly arise.
Alternatively, those who have a strong, balanced gut microbiome are likely to experience less chronic symptoms and more energy, clear skin, stable mood, balanced hormones, healthy weight, and more.
An unhealthy gut can promote a host of unwanted symptoms in the body. These signs can show up as gut-related symptoms, but in many cases, there are common symptoms outside of what we would associate as gut issues. Signs of an unhealthy gut include:
Whether you struggle with gut dysfunction, have an autoimmune condition, or are taking preventative measures, adopting a gut healthy diet is one of the best ways to support a healthy, balanced gut. A gut healthy meal plan is suitable for anyone. However, it is most urgent for those who are experiencing current gut dysfunction or have a history of gut issues.
For example, a gut healthy meal plan is advantageous for those experiencing symptoms related to poor gut health or an imbalanced gut microbiome, such as:
Creating a gut-friendly meal plan is much simpler than it sounds. The goal is to include more foods into our diet that are proven to support a healthy gut, while eliminating or limiting foods that can often lead to gut imbalances.
Arguably, diet is one of the most influential factors on gut health. The food you eat is also food for your gut bacteria. Healthy food feeds healthy bacteria whereas unhealthy foods feed bad bacteria. This is also why diversity in food is so important. Eating a diet full of inflammatory, processed foods, like gluten, refined sugar, conventional dairy, GMO’s, pesticides, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners, create a stress response in the body. As a result, pathogenic bacteria thrive, feeding off these sugary, artificial foods.
On the contrary, eating a nutrient-dense diet, including plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, has an opposing effect. Whole food sources, like grass-fed meats, whole eggs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and coconut oil, favors the beneficial bacteria in the gut. If you only eat certain types of food, you’re only feeding specific strains of bacteria and your gut can be out of balance. This is true even if it’s healthy foods you are eating. Believe it or not, the foods you eat have a massive impact on the state of your gut!
When it comes to gut health, there’s specific foods and nutrients proven to support the microbiome. Let’s take a deep dive into each one below!
Probiotics, in the form of food (and supplements when needed), are proven to support the overall healthy bacteria balance in the microbiome. They work to reduce inflammation in the gut, while improving gut integrity. They reduce proinflammatory cytokines, which are chemicals that are released in immune response. Probiotic bacteria also defends against harmful pathogens. As a result, good gut bugs increase, while bad gut bugs decrease.This can significantly improve autoimmune and gut-related conditions, such as IBS, IBD, and Celiac disease.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea. It’s a great alternative to soda or alcohol, while also providing you with a hefty dose of probiotics! I recommend finding one without any added sugars
Look for grass-fed and organic or ideally raw A2 yogurt which will contain the most beneficial live probiotics. Full fat coconut yogurt is another great option if you cannot tolerate dairy.
During the fermentation process, kimchi and other fermented vegetables (ie. pickles, sauerkraut, pickled beets and carrots) contain live and active probiotics. They are a perfect addition to salads or to enjoy on the side.
Apple cider vinegar is a fermented product, which provides a healthy dose of probiotics. Try adding a splash to your morning glass of water or mixing into a homemade salad dressing!
Sourdough bread is another great source of probiotics, as it’s fermented bread. Always look for bread baked with the freshest and least ingredients. I love Cocobakes for sourdough. Keep in mind not all sourdough will be suitable for those with Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
We know just how important probiotics are for the gut, but prebiotics are equally important. Consuming prebiotics has been shown to reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system– both of which are critical to supporting gut health and autoimmunity.
So what are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are food for your gut bacteria. They actually feed the good microbes in your gut! Prebiotics are a group of nutrients that are degraded by gut microbiota. Their relationship with human overall health has been an area of increasing interest in recent years. They can feed the intestinal microbiota, and their degradation products are short-chain fatty acids that are released into blood circulation, consequently, affecting not only the gastrointestinal tracts but also other distant organs (study).
Your body cannot break down the fiber in prebiotic foods. Instead, they pass through your small intestine undigested and once they reach your colon, are fermented in your gut. This fermentation process feeds the good bacteria which allows them to survive and multiply in the gut. This process also creates short chain fatty acids such as butyrate, acetate, and propionate as a byproduct. These short chain fatty acids are extremely beneficial for gut health as they can help promote regular bowel movements, support a healthy gut lining, and help with the absorption of nutrients.
The three most common and researched prebiotics are:
Chicory root contains high amounts of the prebiotic fiber inulin, which can improve digestion, bowel function, and liver detoxification. I suggest trying sipping on chicory root tea. It has a distinct flavor that works wonderfully as a steeped tea.
This unique vegetable provides about 2 grams of inulin prebiotic fiber per 100 grams. It’s also rich in potassium and thiamine. Shred jerusalem artichoke onto salads or mix into smoothies.
Onions contain inulin and FOS, which as we know strengthens the gut. They’re also rich in the antioxidant flavonoid, Quercetin. Add onion into your favorite stir-fries or on top of salads or sandwiches, or just about anywhere else.
Garlic is a prebiotic herb with antimicrobial effects. To reap the nutritional benefits, it’s best eaten raw. Or you can crush or chop it and let it sit. This activates a beneficial enzyme that supports the gut. Mix raw garlic into your favorite veggie dishes.
Slightly unripe bananas are a huge source of prebiotics. They contain prebiotic resistant starch and can be mixed into smoothies or added to baked goods.They’re also high in fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals.
Jicama is a crunchy snack that’s often described as a cross between a potato and an apple. It’s rich in prebiotic fiber, vitamin C, and amino acids. Raw jicama is a great snack with homemade hummus or guacamole.
Leeks contain high inulin content, making them a great prebiotic food source. They are in the same family as onions and garlic and can be added to almost any dish for extra prebiotics and flavor.
Asparagus contains high amounts of inulin along with other important vitamins and minerals. It’s a great gut-healthy veggie option. Roasted asparagus is a nutrient-packed side dish for any meal.
Tomatoes have been found to both feed the good bacteria in your gut and also help the bacteria attach themselves to the intestinal walls. Raw tomatoes can be added to sandwiches or salads. Or, make your own homemade salsa with chopped tomatoes.
Many prebiotics make for great toppings on salads or mixed into stir frys!
Vitamin C serves as an antioxidant, which protects against the damage of free radicals in the body and reduces inflammation. Studies have shown the impacts of vitamin C specifically on the gut and it’s quite impressive. One study proves that vitamin C can actually positively alter the gut microbiome by increasing beneficial bacteria.
In addition, vitamin C can support the pH in our gut. An imbalanced pH often leads to poor digestion, malabsorption, and eventually, nutrient deficiencies. It’s important to regulate gut pH in order to support a healthy functioning digestive system and immune system. When gut pH is at an optimal level (usually between 1.5-3), it can digest the foods you eat well enough to absorb the nutrients.
I find it best to get your vitamin C from food sources rather than ascorbic acid supplementation.
Try adding more kiwi, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and apples to your diet. Enjoy fresh or cooked as many of these vitamin C-rich foods are a flavorful addition to your diet!
Add more potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and Bell peppers to your diet to improve vitamin C levels. You can enjoy these fresh or cooked, add to salads, and add to many soup recipes.
Think of superfood powders as super concentrated fruits and vegetables. As an example, to get the same amount of antioxidants in 2 teaspoons of beetroot powder, you would need to consume almost two pounds of beets! Adding superfoods to your meals, smoothies, oatmeal, or even in lattes is an easy way to increase vitamin C. I love camu camu, acerola cherry, and acai powder, just to name a few.
If you think you might be lacking in vitamin C through diet, this vitamin C powder by Earthly is a great way to improve food based vitamin C through the help of a supplement. It contains concentrated amounts of superfood powders high in vitamin C, such as Camu Camu to support gut health and immunity.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid, known for its role in supporting the gut microbiome and strengthening the gut lining. By improving the gut lining, the gut microbiome can thrive with increased amounts of healthy, beneficial bacteria and reduce the risk of intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut syndrome.”
And, while most people consume adequate amounts of glutamine, the body naturally loses glutamine as we age. So, paying attention to your glutamine consumption is a good habit to form. In fact, IBS and other gut issues have been shown to improve with increased consumption of L-glutamine due to its gut healing properties!
Bone broth is rich in glutamine and gelatin and aids in detoxification, reduces inflammation, improves digestion, and contains many essential vitamins and minerals. Add bone broth to soups, sauteed vegetables, smoothies, or even sip it on its own midday as a gut healing snack.
Consuming adequate protein can support glutamine levels in the body. Choose grass-fed and finished beef, pasture raised chicken and eggs, wild caught seafood, and raw organic nuts and seeds.
Zinc is a trace mineral that largely supports a healthy immune system. As we know, the gut and immune system are closely connected. Zinc works to tighten the gut lining and improve bacterial balance in the gut microbiome, which both support healthy immunity!
Oysters are high in antioxidants and minerals such as zinc and selenium that support gut health, immunity, hormones, and detoxification. They also contain the perfect amount of copper to ensure your zinc to copper ratio is balanced, which is a key factor for optimal health! Enjoying fresh oysters once a month is a great way to keep your zinc levels in check.
Have an open mind with this one! Beef liver is nature’s best superfood. It is rich in fat soluble vitamins, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals such as zinc to support gut health and inflammation. I recommend mixing ground beef liver to ground grass-fed beef so you don’t even taste it! You can get fresh quality beef liver here or from a local farmer you trust.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc and easy to enjoy in salads or as a quick snack!
Collagen is proven to support autoimmune disease, boost digestion, and so much more.
I like to refer to collagen as the super “glue” that holds everything together. Our body naturally produces collagen, which is essentially a long chain of amino acids. In fact, collagen is the most abundant protein in our body that makes up 90% of our connective tissue and bone, and about 70% of our skin.
Collagen is a gut healing powerhouse! It aids in healing, sealing, and improving the integrity of the intestinal lining. As a result, intestinal permeability is reduced and leaky gut symptoms improve. When the intestinal lining is compromised due to damage or inflammation, we need to promote new smooth muscle cells to heal and repair the intestinal wall. Studies have shown that collagen speeds can speed up this process and is a key component to repairing and healing the stomach lining.
How to make sure you’re getting enough collagen into your gut healing meal plan?
While diet is always a great place to start, some individuals will benefit further from taking a collagen supplement. I recommend adding collagen powder into your beverages since it is so easy to incorporate. You can add a few scoops to your morning breakfast smoothie, soups, or even add it to your coffee or latte in the morning. My personal favorite way to add collagen into my diet is to enjoy this collagen matcha latte a few days per week.
A 2017 study found that the importance of fiber is connected to the importance of our gut microbes. Fiber helps good bacteria increase in number and kind. The more microbes we have in our intestines, the thicker the gut lining and the better the barrier between our body and our busy bacteria population. The barrier lowers inflammation throughout the body and the bacteria aid in digestion. When microbes are starved of fiber, they feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, possibly triggering inflammation and disease.
Fiber comes in two forms- soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps clear stool out of the gut. Alternatively, insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and aids in regulating bowel movements. Both kinds of fiber are important for gut health.
Add fruits such as berries, bananas, apples, avocados, and pears to salads, deserts, or enjoy as a snack.
Try incorporating fiber-rich and nutrient dense vegetables such as spinach, kale, arugula, and Brussels sprouts into recipes or enjoy as a side dish. Vegetables contain the best source of dietary fiber essential for gut health!
Butternut squash, zucchini, pumpkin, spaghetti squash and incredible sources of iron and nutrients that support the gut. In addition, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and parsnips are not only high in fiber but autoimmune-friendly, too!
Enjoy seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed, pumpkin seeds. Add them to your smoothies, salads, or enjoy them as a quick snack.
On occasion and if you tolerate grains well, enjoying moderate amounts of sprouted grains, such as quinoa, certified gluten-free oats, sprouted jasmine and basmati rice, and sourdough can improve your fiber intake.
I suggest making it a goal to include at least one source of fiber at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to meet your daily fiber needs.
In addition to including more of these gut healthy foods, it’s important to limit how many gut-destroying foods you consume. Unfortunately, with today’s Standard American Diet, most Americans consume far too many processed foods, which can hinder gut health. Eliminate or eliminate these foods:
Food is powerful for healing the gut, but sometimes we need a little more help from our friends. In this case, supplements can be a game changer for many individuals. However, customizing your vitamins, minerals, and probiotic selection based on micronutrient and stool testing is always the best thing to do (and exactly what I do inside my Microbiome Makeover program).
Gut health directly affects immunity, metabolism, hormonal balance, cognition, and gene expression. It’s no surprise that the health of our gut is directly linked to overall health! By implementing a gut-friendly meal plan including the nutrients listed above, you can better support your gut throughout the healing process.
And if you’re looking for custom meal plans and recipes specific to healing the gut and reversing autoimmunity, check out my meal plan subscription that combines all of these gut-friendly foods into easy to follow weekly menus!
I would love to connect with you! How do you incorporate gut healthy foods into your diet?
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.