Best Foods for Gut Health

A healthy gut can reduce your risk of diseases like colon polyps, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. Here are the best foods to help you, and some other foods to limit for gut health.

healthy salad made with gut health foods

Leafy greens and avocados are gut healthy foods.

© Jenifoto406 |

When you think about gut health, you are thinking about the last part of your digestive system, called your colon. Both the foods you eat and the foods you avoid affect your gut health. Eating for a healthy colon can help you avoid gut problems like colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulitis. Picking the best foods for gut health can also help you avoid digestive problems like gas, diarrhea, and gut sensitivity called irritable bowel syndrome.

Gut Healthy Foods
Gut Healthy Diet Recommendations

What About Probiotics?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), only vitamins and minerals are more popular as dietary supplements than probiotics. People use probiotics to add healthy bacteria to their gut. Everyone has bacteria living in their gut, but healthy bacteria are important for digestion and for the health of your immune system. People often use a probiotic supplement to maintain gut health or to restore healthy gut flora and bacteria after a bout of diarrhea.

Although using probiotics to kill bad bacteria or to restore gut health naturally seems like a good idea, NIH says no health claims for probiotics have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, at least not yet.

Probiotics are actively being researched, and researchers are learning that probiotics are complicated. In order for them to be effective, we still need to learn which probiotics work best,  and that may vary from person to person. You also need to know how much to use and for how long. On all those questions, the jury is still out. NIH says, if you want to try a probiotic supplement for gut health talk to your health care provider.

Gut Healthy Foods

There is much more agreement on gut-friendly foods than on probiotics. NIH says the basic strategy should be to eat more fruits, vegetables, and add foods high in fiber. As for food to avoid for a healthy gut, avoid red meat, processed meats, and fatty foods. [5]

John Hopkins Medicine suggests these food tips for gut health:

  • Eat lots of whole grains for fiber.
    Good gut health requires at least 25 grams of fiber every day. Gut bacteria break down fiber into nutrients that improve immune system health. Avoid refined carbohydrates, which are stripped of their outer shell where all the nutrients are. Look for brown bread and rice as opposed to processed white rice and white bread.
  • Eat lots of leafy green
    leafy green vegetables are good for gut health

    Leafy green vegetables are rich in vitamins B, C, K, and A. © Olivier Tabary |

    vegetables like spinach and kale.
    These vegetables promote healthy gut flora and they also provide vitamins B, C, K, and A.

  • Eat lean proteins like fish and poultry and avoid red meats and fatty meats.
    Foods that are high in fat, especially fried foods, can make your bowel more sensitive and trigger contractions of your colon.
  • If you are prone to gas or bloating, avoid high-sugar fruits like apples, pears, or mango.
    Try eating more berries, citrus fruits, and bananas. These fruits stimulate the good bacteria in your gut.
  • Learn to love avocado.
    Avocado is a gut-friendly vegetable packed with fiber and potassium. Adding some avocado to your diet promotes healthy digestion and gut health.

Gut Healthy Diet Recommendations

Rush University Medical Center says to follow these diet recommendations to reduce your risk of colon cancer and improve colon health:

  • Make at least half your diet plant-based.
    Fill at least half your plate with foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, or whole grains.
  • Limit red meat and processed meats.
    Processed meats include hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) your risk of colon cancer goes up by 15 to 20 percent if you eat a hamburger or a hot dog every day. If you eat red meat, limit your serving to the size of a deck of cards and no more than three times per week.
  • Avoid adding sugar or buying foods with added sugar.
    The natural sugar in dairy products and fruit is fine for colon health, but added sugar leads to added pounds, and obesity has been linked to colon cancer.
  • Intake at least 30 grams of fiber a day.
    The ACS recommends at least 30 grams from sources like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. If you have trouble eating enough fiber, consider a fiber supplement like Metamucil. Fiber will prevent constipation and lower your risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.
  • At least half of your grains should be whole, and you should get 3 to 5 servings daily.
    Whole grains can include barley, whole wheat, wild and brown rice, oatmeal, or quinoa. You won’t get the same gut-friendly benefits of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from refined grains like white bread, rice, and pasta.

A final tip is to maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, get down to a healthy weight. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Lack of activity and obesity are bad for gut health and may increase your risk for colon cancer.

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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