gut health
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The Best Foods for Your Gut — and Why You Should Care

Your gut health has a greater impact than you’d think
gut health
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Gut health is a complicated topic, and the conversation around it touches on everything from bloating to mental health disorders. But without getting caught up in complexities, there are some basic things about gut health everyone should know.

For one, it’s important to understand what gut health even is. Gut health has little to do with the size of your stomach; it’s actually about what’s going on beneath the surface, in your digestive tract. The healthier your digestive tract, the smoother your digestion — and your ability to properly digest your food is of critical importance. Digestion is where most of your nutrient absorption takes place. It’s also where your brain receives some signals regarding your hunger and fullness. When things in your gut are out of balance, the rest of your body’s systems may also be affected.

“There are up to 500 types of bacteria in the gut,” says Katherine Brooking, a registered dietitian and co-creator of AppforHealth.com. “They comprise our microbiome." You might have heard references to “good” and “bad” gut bacteria. Your gut contains a balance of both "good" and "bad" bacteria. "Good" bacteria is thought to aid with digestion and improve overall health, while "bad" bacteria may have the opposite effect. 

"Research suggests the gut bacteria in healthy people are different from those with certain diseases,” Brooking says. Here are some of the health impacts of these bacteria, followed by some foods that may help improve your overall gut health. 

Short-term health effects

Short-term health effects
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When you aren’t taking proper care of your digestive tract, certain symptoms are likely. “If you have a healthy gut, you’re less likely to experience bloating, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation and other gastrointestinal ailments,” says Brooking. When these ailments strike, there are ways to help combat them, such as drinking water or eating foods with fiber.

Long-term health effects

Long-term health effects
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If you don’t have a healthy digestive system, you’re going to feel some digestive discomfort. But that’s not the only concern to keep in mind when thinking about your gut health. “Scientists believe that gut bacteria and gut health are closely linked to overall health and the likelihood of getting conditions like diabetes, depression and colon cancer,” says Brooking. “It’s thought some kinds of bacteria may protect against ailments, while others may raise the risk.” In the long term, taking care of your digestive tract can help you to avoid disease.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics
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Typically, when you think of foods that are good for your gut, probiotics are one of the things that come to mind. Simply put, probiotics are “good” bacteria that exist in your gut naturally that help keep your digestive tract healthy. Prebiotics, meanwhile, are a class of nutrients that feed the good bacteria in the gut and help them to thrive.

Eating for gut health

Eating for gut health
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You can actually ingest probiotics and prebiotics, which may help maintain a healthier gut microbiota. “Ingesting probiotics can help balance your ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria to keep your body working the way it should,” Brooking says. Some people increase their intake of probiotics by taking a pill. There is some research that shows these pills can be beneficial and some research that isn’t as definitive. Other people try to get their probiotics through incorporating probiotic-rich foods into their diets. These foods, along with other gut-healthy foods, tend to be nutritious, as well. So eating more of these foods doesn’t really have much of a downside. Here are a few of the best foods for your gut.

Asparagus

Asparagus
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It’s a good idea to add this spring vegetable to your dinner table. There are lots of great ways to cook asparagus, and it’s rich with gut-healthy prebiotics. Asparagus is particularly notable for its high levels of the prebiotic fiber inulin.

Broccoli

Broccoli
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Good for your brain and good for your heart, broccoli is also good for your gut. Studies done on mice suggest that the green vegetable promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate
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Sweet! Eating dark chocolate is actually great for your gut bacteria, since it contains both probiotics and prebiotics. But that’s not all dark chocolate can do — here are some other health benefits you might not know about.

Garlic

Garlic
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Garlic is more than just an ingredient to add flavor to your food. It has lots of health benefits, including the beneficial effect of prebiotics. The more prebiotics you eat, the more you allow your naturally occurring healthy gut bacteria to thrive.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes
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Also known as sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes aren’t the most common vegetable, but they are well worth seeking out. The tubers have lots of prebiotics and have shown in some studies to promote the growth of certain good-for-you bacteria in your gut.

Kimchi

Kimchi
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Like some other foods on this list, kimchi is made of fermented vegetables, in this case cabbage. However, it includes some strongly flavored ingredients that make it taste spicy. Kimchi is typically served with Korean food and offers lots of healthy probiotics.

Mangoes

Mangoes
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Mangoes are not only a delicious and nutrient-rich snack, but they are also great for your gut bacteria. A study in 2018 showed that women who ate mangoes had better indicators of healthy gut bacteria. Cut a mango to eat it on its own or blend chunks of the fruit into a refreshing smoothie.

Miso

Miso
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Miso is an ingredient commonly used in Asian dishes such as miso soup. Ingesting too much of it might not be a good idea, since it’s relatively high in sodium, but in moderate doses it’s pretty good for you. Miso has probiotics that can help improve your gut health.

Onions

Onions
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Eating onions might be worth the bad breath, because they’re packed with prebiotics. Sauté them, eat them sliced on a burger or use them in any other recipe, since they can add tons of flavor to simple dishes.

Pickles

Pickles
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You won’t get these health benefits if you order them fried, but eating normal, chilled pickles is a great way to add some probiotics to your diet. Not all pickles will have probiotics, but some do. Shelf-stable may not still contain live probiotics due to the varying storage conditions.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut
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Sauerkraut is surprisingly rich in nutrients, with vitamins such as vitamins B6, C, and K and minerals such as iron and manganese. But in addition to those benefits, sauerkraut has probiotics due to the fact that it is a fermented food. Not only do these probiotics help improve your gut health in general, but they also help your digestive system to absorb more of these key nutrients from your food.

Tempeh

Tempeh
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Tempeh is a plant-based protein source made of fermented soybeans. A study from 2014 showed that tempeh increases the growth of certain healthy bacteria. In addition to all the protein, tempeh offers other nutritional benefits including iron and magnesium.

Whole grains

Whole grains
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Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and whole-wheat bread are filled with fiber. Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system. All the fiber in these foods is one of the many reasons eating carbs is actually good for you. And if you cut out carbs completely, your digestive system could suffer the consequences.

Yogurt

Yogurt
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Since yogurt is a fermented food, it contains lots of probiotics that can help increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut. Greek yogurt has more protein than some other types, so it is generally regarded as healthier. But almost all yogurts have this gut-healthy benefit.

A nutritious diet

A nutritious diet
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Really all nutrient-rich foods are good for your gut, in a sense. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet is important for keeping your digestion running smoothly. There’s no one gut-healthy food that’s the end-all, be-all of gut health! You can eat all the kimchi you want, but if the rest of your diet is lacking, you probably won’t feel your best. The idea that quick-fix diet “secrets” can improve your health is one of the nutrition myths you should stop believing.

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