You Can Buy Everything You Need To Heal Your Gut For Under $20. Here's Your Shopping List
More than anything else, food is the prescription remedy that has the greatest power to heal your gut and improve overall health. You can lower inflammation, reduce your risk for chronic diseases, get lean, and fix digestive issues—all starting with your next meal.
As a doctor who specializes in gut health, I spend a lot of time discussing inflammatory, gut-wrecking foods you should avoid. Yet, equally important is choosing the right foods to eat. "What do you put in your cart, Dr. Pedre?" readers and patients often ask. The whole, unprocessed foods I recommend in my book Happy Gut mean you get more nutrients from eating less food. In other words, without counting calories, you will naturally consume more nutrient-dense foods and fewer calorie-dense foods.
Gut-healing diets have a reputation for being expensive. Some recommended food items like wild-caught salmon can be, but you can stock your cart with plenty of essentials for under $20. Like me, many of my patients and readers have families, and a strict budget means they’ve got to be price-cognizant. The good news is with the right strategies and a little market savvy, you can buy gut-healing foods on the tightest budget.
Doing that takes a little know-how. Two excellent sources are the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. These lists, updated yearly, catalog the most- and least-contaminated produce. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, this list will help you make the most-informed choices. As much as possible, stay away from the "dirty dozen."
While they may not be available to everyone, shopping at farmers markets is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning. You can find some great deals there, and if you befriend your local farmers, they’ll usually throw in a little extra for your loyalty. For those who love convenience and discounts, stocking up on nonperishable items from Thrive Market or Amazon will likewise save you time and money. You can also shop sales at your local grocery store when gut-friendly items are marked down.
Keeping these things in mind, here’s how I fill my cart for under $20. While this isn’t a complete list of what I buy, these are among my favorite biggest-bang-for-your-buck gut-healing, nutrient-dense foods that often land in my grocery cart. (If any of the seven favorites I’ve listed aren’t on sale, I’ve provided alternatives for most of them.)
1. Leafy green vegetables
Any green is a nutrient superstar, rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and so much more. Load up on as many varieties as you can, including spinach, kale, and dark-leaf lettuces, whatever’s on sale. One of my gut-healing favorites is dandelion greens. Prebiotics are nondigestible fibers found in foods like raw dandelion greens that feed your healthy gut bacteria. In fact, 24 percent of these leafy greens’ total weight is prebiotics, and they are also great for liver and kidney detoxification. I found 10 ounces of organic dandelion greens at my local market for $2.49.
2. Cruciferous vegetables
Another affordable, can’t-go-wrong produce purchase. Look for what’s in season and on sale, and don’t be afraid to buy the flash-frozen variety if it's a better deal. Studies show that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage provide distinctive compounds that your gut bacteria utilize. Researchers found a significant difference1 in the gut bacterial community among participants after 14 days of eating liberal amounts of cruciferous vegetables, compared with a fruit- and vegetable-free diet. I found organic broccoli on sale for $1.49 a pound.
3. Sweet potatoes
One study2 looked at the impact of purple sweet potato anthocyanin on human intestinal microbiota and concluded they might have prebiotic-like activity by generating short-chain fatty acids and modulating intestinal microbiota. Topped with a little ghee, grass-fed butter, or unrefined coconut oil, they make a satisfying, healthy side dish. Alternatives: pumpkin, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash. The sweet potatoes I purchased were $1.38 for 2 pounds.
4. Coconut milk
Thankfully, more stores offer smart alternatives to cow’s milk, which is one of my big no-no’s, because dairy can cause or exacerbate asthma, allergies, eczema, and so much more. My favorite is organic, unsweetened coconut milk. Research3 shows that medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), a special type of fat in coconuts, improve the intestinal ecosystem and permeability. You can find coconut milk in BPA-free cans or cartons. Cans are more economical. Just make sure you’re buying the full-fat version and dilute it with filtered water before you use it. And avoid any products that contain the gut-inflammatory food additive carrageenan. A can of Thai Kitchen coconut milk ran me $3.19, and that's before diluting it to extend its life!
Fresh if they’re in season, and frozen when they aren’t, berries offer a terrific bang for your buck and are nutrient powerhouses. Research4 shows that the polyphenols in berries improve your gut microbiome, plus they contain impressive amounts of prebiotic fiber to support colon health. I found 10 ounces of organic frozen blueberries on sale at my market for $3.
A great source of dietary fiber and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid that converts to the longer-chain, anti-inflammatory eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Ground flaxseeds are a great add-on for extra fiber in your morning smoothies or stirred into a dairy-free kefir to aid digestion. Buy them whole and organic, grind in a coffee grinder, and keep them refrigerated. I found organic flaxseeds for $3, although chia seeds are a great alternative depending on your local pricing.
Research5 shows that walnuts help beneficially alter your gut microbial community. These fiber-loaded nuts are rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Alternatives: Almonds, walnuts, hemp, sesame, sunflower seeds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts also make good nut choices, as do unsweetened nut butters. (And remember: Peanuts are a legume, not a nut. So say no to peanuts!). I got a quarter-pound of walnuts for just $0.99.
My total bill? $15.54. By shopping smartly you can find these and other gut-healing essentials without crashing your budget. Food is my go-to first step to heal the gut and help my patients feel better.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Cornell University before attending the University of Miami School of Medicine and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show and ABC and is the author of Happy Gut: The Cleansing Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain. Dr. Pedre is a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is certified in yoga and medical acupuncture.