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Found: The Cheapest Foods To Cleanse Your Gut Daily

Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN
January 15, 2019
Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
By Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC is a registered dietitian, health coach, and author with a passion for helping people simplify their wellness routine and build sustainable healthy habits.
Image by Naoko Kakuta / Stocksy
January 15, 2019

Nourishing your gut health is one of the most important ways you can support overall wellness. While limiting foods that negatively affect gut health is an important piece of the big picture, you also need to stock your kitchen with the foods and beverages you need to support a healthy gut. If you're on a budget, I have some good news for you: It doesn't have to be crazy-expensive. Here are some of the cheapest gut-healthy foods.

First, let's talk about gut health.

Sometimes my new clients are surprised when I ask a lot of questions about their digestion. It's important, though, because the state of our gastrointestinal system affects our physical, mental, and even our emotional health in profound ways.

When doctors tell you to track and examine your bowel movements, that's because they provide clues as to how well your GI system is functioning. The gut is also where much of our immune system function happens.

The gut-brain connection is also an important part of overall wellness, as the two communicate via the enteric nervous system, a not-so-little "second brain" comprised of two layers of over 100 million nerve cells lining your GI tract all the way from your esophagus to your rectum.

Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria in the gut that help digest food, produce vitamins, and fight invading pathogens that could make us sick. Good food sources include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Because different bacteria perform different functions, variety is key to continuously replenish and repopulate, a supplement that provides multiple varieties of bacteria can be a big help in staying consistent with your intake.

Prebiotics1 are nondigestible fibers that, as they ferment in the gastrointestinal tract, offer benefits to the body by acting as food for those probiotic bacteria, so to speak. Not all dietary fibers are prebiotics (though they still offer benefits), but some good food sources of prebiotics include raw chicory and dandelion greens, onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, bananas, chickpeas, apples, and oats. Sometimes you'll see products labeled "synbiotics"—this means that product combines probiotics and prebiotics.

Some other gut-healthy essentials include healthy fats, clean proteins, low-glycemic carbs, and vegetables. Hydration is another key. It helps fiber absorb water to form stool bulk, and it also helps keep things moving through the GI tract.

Does a healthy gut have to be expensive?

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to buy lots of special products with gut-health claims on the labels, and targeted ads when we're online or scrolling through social media on our phone can prime us to think we need to buy specific items. The truth is that lots of inexpensive foods can be part of your gut-health routine.

Healthy gut fridge and freezer essentials.

First off, make sure your appliances are set to safe temperatures2. That's below 40 degrees F for the fridge and 0 degrees F for the freezer. Nothing kills that gut-healthy awesomeness like food spoilage or a foodborne illness.

Stock up on powerhouse veggies like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kale. You can expect to spend anywhere from $1.50 to $5 per pound, depending on the time of year, the region, and whether you purchase organic or not. Frozen varieties offer up the same nutritional benefits and are often available at a lower price point, typically costing about $1 to $3 per pound, so don't ignore the freezer aisle.

For an easy side dish, I love the Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection—a mix of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and red and green cabbage. Try it sautéed with some garlic, and enjoy with your favorite protein. I love it with eggs and roasted sweet potato for breakfast.

With fruit, you do want to be mindful that large amounts of even naturally occurring sugars like fructose can be problematic when dealing with gut issues, but when you're craving sweetness, berries are a good option. Their high fiber content helps slow the breakdown of that fructose, and they're packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants.

Frozen berries are my go-to year-round because the flash-freezing process helps lock in that nutritional goodness. Also, you don't have to worry about them going bad before you can use them. A bag of frozen berries will typically cost you about $1.99 to $3.99. Enjoy them thawed with yogurt or oats or cooked into baked goods or made into sauces. You can also enjoy them still frozen as a snack or in a base for a smoothie.

To work in probiotics, enjoy plain Greek yogurt and kefir. My clients love Lifeway Kefir and strained kefir cups, which are 99 percent lactose-free and provide 12 different types of beneficial bacteria. Try them in smoothies, dips, or instead of milk in overnight oats or chia pudding. You'll spend about $2.99 for a 32-ounce bottle of kefir or around $1.79 for the cups.

When I was working on healing my own gut health after having to be on four rounds of antibiotics in early 2018, I found myself eating sauerkraut straight from the jar. You can make your own using cabbage and salt for virtually nothing, or you can buy it. Try the different options from Farmhouse Culture (about $6.99) or Trader Joe's (about $4).

Though wild fish; organic, free-range poultry; and grass-fed beef may cost more per pound, when you purchase smaller amounts and bulk up your plate with veggies, it makes it easier to justify the higher cost. If it makes more sense for you to purchase a larger amount during a sale, you can freeze what you're not going to use within a few days.

And don't forget about eggs! These little guys are a cost-effective nutrient-packed option. You can spend anywhere from $1 to $8 a dozen depending on where you're shopping and whether you purchase organic and/or pasture-raised. I love Vital Farms and Handsome Brook Farm (about $6.99), but I also often buy the $3.99 organic cage-free eggs from Trader Joe's.

Some of my clients who typically avoid grains make an exception for Food For Life's Ezekiel sprouted grain bread and English muffins, as the sprouting process increases digestibility. Stash them in the freezer to keep them fresh, and toast up as needed ($2.69 to $6.99).

Healthy gut pantry staples.

Onions and garlic are all super-cheap, usually costing a dollar or less per pound. Use them in soups, sauces, marinades, or even roast them. I also make pickled red onion a lot, which ends up costing less than $1 per batch.

For an easy, healthy carb source, you can find sweet potatoes for as cheap as $1.99 per pound. Some people may feel better avoiding beans and grains, but if you're keeping them on the menu, keep dried or canned chickpeas (less than $1 per pound) and gluten-free oats on hand.

Healthy fats are important for supporting a healthy gut. If you need to just pick one oil, I love avocado oil. It's a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, and it has a neutral flavor and high smoke point, which makes it incredibly versatile. Chosen Foods is my go-to ($9.99).

Trader Joe's wild-caught sardines packed in olive oil make a great easy protein option that also provides healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3s, and vitamin D ($2.49). I love them mashed up and tossed into an arugula salad, but you can also add them to sauces—maybe to go with your $2.69 cauliflower gnocchi?

Hemp, chia, and ground flaxseeds are a great way to add healthy fats, fiber, and flavor to your food. Try them in your oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt or kefir bowls, or in baked goods. Mixing chia or ground flax with water makes a handy egg substitute in vegan dishes. I even use hemp hearts as an alternative to nuts in pesto. Many retailers offer them at around $5 per 1-pound bag, but you can also stock up in the bulk bin section of your local Whole Foods or other health food store. Store these in the fridge after opening to maintain freshness. 

Nuts and seeds are a great healthy snack to keep around because they provide healthy fats to help fight inflammation3 and nourish the body, a little protein, and important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. My clients also love minimally processed bars like an RXBAR as a grab-and-go option that provides those benefits without insane amounts of sugar (less than $3 per bar).

Soups can be tricky because so many are packed with all kinds of WTF, but bone broth deserves a place in your pantry. Amino acids proline4, glycine5, and glutamine6, which are present in bone broth, have been associated with improved gut health. It also contains collagen7 and gelatin8, which have been noted for their benefit to the intestinal lining.

Enjoy Trader Joe's organic chicken bone broth ($2.99) on its own, or use it as a soup base. If you have a little more money to spend, Bonafide Provisions is a delicious bone broth you store in the freezer. Expect to spend about $10 to $13 per 24-ounce bag.

The bottom line?

Supporting a healthy gut doesn't have to be expensive. Stocking up on the basics (especially when they're on sale) can help make it easy to cover your bases. If you're feeling like your budget is in a place where you need to pick your battles, so to speak, start with the stuff that is an everyday part of your diet, since that's what will add up over time.

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