Gut Healing Foods: The Comprehensive Guide to a Happy Gut
Learn all about the importance of gut health and how you can improve it naturally in this comprehensive guide. I include a list of gut healing foods — and the foods to consider avoiding — to begin the process of healing your gut. Plus, I share an easy recipe for fermented vegetables, too!
Table of Contents
- Signs of leaky gut
- Is leaky gut scientifically proven?
- What is the main cause of leaky gut?
- The gut and immune system are at the core of a leaky gut
- How to improve gut health naturally – gut healing foods list
- Does sugar irritate the gut?
- What other foods negatively affect gut health?
- Gut bacteria and mental health
- Is diabetes related to a leaky gut?
- Final thoughts
It seems fitting to acknowledge Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. His infamous quote, “All disease begins in the gut,” rings true even today.
An unhealthy gut may be linked to several chronic health conditions, such as allergies, pain, insulin resistance (a hallmark of type 2 diabetes), fatigue, and nutrient deficiencies.
Many of you expressed interest in my lacto-fermented vegetables recipe, which is based on a beginner’s guide to lacto fermentation. Both were designed to encourage thought and action in favour of a healthy gut.
As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, I unswervingly discuss the importance of gut health and balancing gut bacteria as a foundation for optimal health.
After all, the gut is home to billions of bacteria (both good and bad!)
They’re not only concerned with digesting and absorbing food, though.
Gut bacteria have a profound and complex impact on overall health. This includes immunity, energy levels, and perhaps even waistlines.
Good bacteria may also affect the brain.
In fact, gut bacteria and mental health are inextricably linked, according to some studies.
When your gut isn’t happy (microbial imbalance), it can lead to a leaky gut.
The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes — viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa — that live on and in the human body. Microbiome imbalance is when there’s an overgrowth of harmful bacteria or not enough good bacteria in the gut.
Signs of leaky gut
The signs of leaky gut are often general and nonspecific. This can make diagnosis tricky. But, in general, someone with a leaky gut may experience one or more of the following:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Difficulty concentrating
- Skin issues (acne, eczema or rashes)
- Joint aches and pain
- Mood changes
- Autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s or celiac disease
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Is leaky gut scientifically proven?
While there is doubt about whether or not leaky gut as a syndrome exists, it’s clear that the gut is, in fact, porous. Its cells are bound together by “tight junctions.” Much like tiny membranes. When these junctions become damaged, the gut leaks.
Leaky gut is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it has been studied and researched since 1970.
What is the main cause of leaky gut?
Even though the origins of leaky gut are unknown, researchers have discovered that external factors might influence how permeable the gut is.
Chronic stress and constipation, exposure to environmental pollutants such as pesticides, a nutrient-poor diet, or antibiotics that harm beneficial bacteria are reported to cause microbial imbalance. Such disruption is also referred to as dysbiosis.
Allegedly, dysbiosis is the leading cause of a “leaky gut.”
The gut and immune system are at the core of a leaky gut
The idea is that leakage occurs when harmful bacteria burrow tunnels in the gut lining or fence, and some of them escape with food particles into the blood. That triggers the immune system (because it detects a threat) to launch an attack.
The body’s natural response is irritation, discomfort, and inflammation.
Good gut bacteria help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and keeping the intestines free from harmful pathogens. They also produce vitamins, break down plant fibres, and support the immune system.
How to improve gut health naturally – gut healing foods list
There are a number of natural ways to improve gut health.
Functional medicine practitioners advocate a gut health diet to maintain healthy gut flora (microbes that live in the gut).
The general recommendation is to spot the light on specific foods — the ones to phase out or perhaps avoid and the ones to add — to support healthy gut flora.
How do I get a happy gut?
Following are several dietary modifications that might help improve gut health:
- Eat a diet rich in fibre — including gut-healing foods like:
- Limit ultra-processed foods and refined sugar like:
- soft drinks
- sugar-laden breakfast cereals
- table sugar, made from cane juice, corn or sugar beets
- Cut down or avoid alcohol since it is considered a gut irritant
- Add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Examples include:
- omega-3 rich foods (salmon, mackerel, sardines, nori, and seaweed)
- Work with a registered dietitian and your medical team to discuss the short-term omission of gluten and dairy. These are typically reported as triggers for some folks.
- Consider including fermented foods in your diet. These might support a healthy gut microbiome. Examples include:
- Make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein is essential for repairing the gut lining. Good sources include:
- Keep an eye on your intake of fat, emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides, polysorbates, carrageenan, guar gum and canola oil), and gliadin (found in wheat and some grain products) — all of which have been linked to a weakened gut barrier.
- Some key nutrients have been shown to help strengthen the gut barrier. Fortify your intestinal flora with:
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
- dietary fibre and resistant starch (for example pears, apples, berries, whole grains, legumes, artichokes)
- methionine and glutamine (amino acids found in protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, fish and dairy)
- perhaps probiotic supplements
Keep in mind that the evidence around probiotic supplements is lacking.
One recent review noted that probiotics failed to consistently alter the gut microbes of healthy adults.
However, exploratory research, published in Nature showed that gut microbiome changes — influenced by probiotics use — were linked to improved cognitive performance under acute stress.
It’s important to note that each person’s response to probiotics is unique, and the type of strain and amount can impact results.
Short-chain fatty acids are also crucial for gut health. They’re produced when dietary fibre is fermented in the colon and help to nourish the cells that line the gut.
Does sugar irritate the gut?
Many diseases linked to a leaky gut are observed in Westernized countries — where a diet rich in fats and refined carbohydrates is the norm.
Fructose, a sugar found in fruit, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has been linked to leaky gut. As a matter of fact, fructose overuse might damage the tight junctions — igniting inflammation.
What other foods negatively affect gut health?
Similarly, dairy and grains contain common compounds that are triggering for some folks.
According to one systematic review, fat may also alter the makeup of your gut microorganisms. In fact, some evidence suggests that a diet high in saturated fat (typically found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy, butter, cream, lard) may promote inflammation.
In contrast, a plant-based diet might lead to healthier and more protective gut bacteria. However, more robust evidence is needed to confirm these findings.
Gut bacteria and mental health
Leaky gut, leaky brain? Perhaps.
While more research is needed, some studies suggest that gut bacteria and mental health might be connected.
It’s thought that when the gut barrier is compromised, toxins and bacteria that enter the bloodstream — also travel to the brain and trigger inflammation.
Research suggests that inflammatory compounds provoke the brain’s vagus system. This, in turn, impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to symptoms of depression.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a key player in the body’s stress response. This system of pathways encapsulates the complex interactions among the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. These structures work together to maintain balance in the body. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been linked to a number of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
Is diabetes related to a leaky gut?
There might be a link.
Gut permeability is also thought to be associated with type 1 diabetes in both human and animal models, according to some evidence.
Healthy gut habits for type 2 diabetes are similar to those for the general population: eat a diet rich in fibre and protein, consider fermented foods and healthy fats while avoiding ultra-processed foods, sugar and refined carbs.
A nutrient-rich diet that includes an abundance of gut healing foods – when combined with lifestyle changes – is a powerful tool for gut health.
How do you show your gut love? What are some of your favourite gut healing foods? Leave me a comment below.
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- 2 tbsp Himalayan salt, sea salt or pickling salt
- 1 litre water, see Recipe Notes
- 1.5 cups cauliflower, small florets
- 6 radishes, cut in quarters
- 1 carrot, large, cut in strips
- 1 cup Indian green beans, ends trimmed
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
- 5 green chili, long, whole
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- Combine salt and water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt is dissolved. Let it come to room temperature before adding to the vegetables
- Place the remaining ingredients in a clean, dry jar.
- Pour the salt water over the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
- If necessary, add more water to cover the vegetables.
- Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature for 2-3 days. If any mold or scum has formed on the top, simply remove.
- Check for the 3 signs (as above) to assess if the fermentation process is successful.
- After the fermentation process is complete, transfer the jar to the refrigerator.
- These fermented vegetables will last for at least a month or longer in the refrigerator.
Top Tips For Making Easy Fermented Vegetables
- Rinse the vegetables in un-chlorinated water rather than tap water.
Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation. Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can.
- Wash your vegetables thoroughly under cold water
- Use a 2 quart jar that’s clean and dry
- Salt type is important. Don’t use salt with iodine – iodine can inhibit fermentation
- Ensure that all the vegetables are fully submerged in the salt water. You can add some more on top to cover the vegetables completely (yes, I will add more!)
- Label the jar with the date when you started fermentation. That way, you’re not left to guess
- In the Summer, the vegetables will ferment faster versus the Winter – which could take up to 7 days
- Remember, the top of your vegetables (in the jar) are exposed to oxygen, which can promote growth of yeast and mold – but everything below the brine should be fine because of an oxygen-free environment. If you notice any mould, discard the layer.
- Always use a clean spoon when serving, versus eating out of the jar. You want to avoid contaminating the entire batch with germs from your mouth
- Once in the fridge, these will keep for several month. Enjoy
Keep in mind that the nutritional values provided are approximations and suggestions, and might fluctuate depending on ingredient variations, portion sizes, and recipe adjustments. This nutrition facts table cannot account for your individual needs. Your body — including your hunger and satiety cues — change daily. It’s perfectly fine to eat more or less on different days. Instead of letting food guilt take over, consider mindful eating.
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.