5 Foods That Are Phenomenal For Gut Health, That Most People Overlook
You've heard it said "You are what you eat." But the way I see it, we are more what our gut microbiome eats—that includes all the trillions of bacteria and yeast in our gastrointestinal tract that affect our immune system, brain, hormones, and, of course, our digestive health. Every food we eat either feeds gut health or can feed into gut health issues.
After starting one of the first telehealth functional medicine clinics in the world over a decade ago, I have spent countless hours consulting patients on their gut health journey. Most of them have come to me after doing all the "right" things but still struggling with underlying gut issues.
And upon diving into their health case, I see the problem. They aren't looking at the big picture. With an abundance of foods on the planet, all with their own brilliant designs, we tend to overlook ingredients that can contribute to a thriving gut microbiome.
Without further ado, these are my top five underrated foods that can help improve your gut health:
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and red cabbage all contain sulfur—one of the most abundant minerals in your body, responsible for important functions including repairing DNA and recycling your main antioxidant, glutathione. This antioxidant helps support oxidant balance throughout the body, including in your gut, which is important for its integrity and health.
Pro tip: Cooking these vegetables down or having them in soups and stews can help break down some of the fiber and sugars and make them easier to digest.
Ginger is not just a flavorful addition to your meal; it's been used for thousands of years as a tool for soothing the stomach due to its calming herbal bioactive properties. In fact, studies have shown ginger's anti-inflammatory actions in the body after just one month1 of consistent use. Try adding more ginger to your recipes or slice up some fresh ginger root for a post-meal tea!
If you haven't heard of resistant starch, it's a little tool that I often like to recommend to my patients for their gut health. This type of starch works because it can resist the digestive process and also acts as food for your gut bacteria. Not only can it be beneficial for your gut, but it can also support metabolic health (e.g., blood sugar levels), and therefore overall wellness.
Resistant starch is found in foods like oats, legumes, cooked rice and potatoes, and green bananas. It is also found in potato starch and hi-maize resistant starch powders that make it easier to add to smoothies or other recipes for an added gut-supporting boost.
If you like to cook, chances are you already use a fair share of garlic. But with its inherent antibacterial and antifungal properties, it might be time to up the amount you're eating! Because of this, garlic has been shown to help keep a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, helping the beneficial strains dominate and keeping unwelcome microbes from creeping up2. Plus, garlic is high in inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that fuels good bacteria and allows them to thrive in your gut. Get creative and add garlic to dressings, homemade condiments, and anywhere else you can sneak it a little extra flavor!
Olive oil is packed with heart-healthy polyphenols and fatty acids, which also help to promote good bacteria in your gut. Fatty acids and polyphenols aren't just limited to olive oil; other foods like almonds and flaxseeds are rich in both of these nutrients. A great way to add more olive oil to your diet is to pour it over roasted vegetables, salads, and other meals to add a little boost to whatever you're about to eat.
So next time you are grocery shopping, be sure to load up on these foods. You may be surprised by just how much your gut health can improve by diversifying your meals with these nutrient-dense foods.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.