The Top 5 Most Overlooked Foods For Improved Gut Health
"You are what you eat.” This common phrase couldn’t be more true, but not in the way you might think. More accurately, the phrase should be “You are what your microbiome eats.” The trillions of bacteria and yeast in your gastrointestinal tract are fueled by the food you eat on a daily basis and it can affect aspects of your health beyond digestion including your immune system, brain, and hormones.
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I have worked with thousands of patients on their gut health journey. And the interesting thing is, many people who come to me are actually doing all the “right” things but still struggle with gut problems. But the deeper I dive into their case, I see the problem.
Since every person’s biochemistry and microbiome are vastly different and brilliantly designed, it can be easy to overlook the big picture. Without taking into account this bio-individuality, food becomes a “one-size-fits-all” mentality and you can forget about certain foods and nutrients that contribute to thriving gut health.
Instead of hyper-focusing on what foods to avoid, focus on the ones you can and should be eating. Without further ado, these are my top five underrated foods that can help improve your gut health.
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People have been harnessing ginger’s healing properties for thousands of years as a tool to help soothe upset stomachs. In fact, studies (1) have shown ginger’s ability to help lower inflammation in the body after just one month of consistent use. One way to incorporate more ginger is by making tea with sliced ginger root and hot water.
2. Sulfur-rich vegetables
Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and asparagus are abundant in sulfur. Responsible for repairing DNA, this mineral also recycles your body’s main antioxidant, glutathione, which works to support oxidant balance throughout your body and in your gut.
Since these vegetables can be harder to digest if you are already struggling with gut problems, I suggest eating them in soups or stews as the cooking process makes them easier to digest by breaking down some of the fiber and sugar content.
Garlic is a staple in pretty much every savory recipe. But did you know it has powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties? Because of this, garlic helps keep your microbiome balanced by fighting off (2) harmful bacteria. Also, garlic contains a type of prebiotic fiber called inulin that fuels the growth of good bacteria. Next time you’re cooking dinner, toss in an extra garlic clove or two - your gut and tastebuds will be thankful!
4. Resistant starch
Resistant starch is a tool I recommend for many of my patients who need a little extra help with their gut health. This type of starch can actually resist the digestive process and act as food for your good gut bacteria. It can also help support overall wellness by improving metabolic health through stabilizing blood sugar levels.
You can find resistant starch in legumes, potatoes, green bananas, cooked rice, and oats. It is also found in potato starch and hi-maize resistant starch powders which are great for adding into smoothies and other recipes to make adding this to your diet a lot more convenient.
5. Olive oil
The secret of olive oil is found in its polyphenol and fatty acid content that both help facilitate the growth of good bacteria in your microbiome. Try getting in more olive oil by pouring some over your finished meal or in homemade salad dressings as an added nutrient boost. You can also find fatty acids and polyphenols in other foods like flaxseeds and almonds so you can experiment with additional ways to get in these nutrients throughout your day.
So next time you are at the grocery store, stock up on these foods and experiment with different ways to incorporate them into your meals. You may be surprised at just how much your gut health can improve by enriching your diet with these important nutrients.
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- Zick SM, Turgeon DK, Vareed SK, Ruffin MT, Litzinger AJ, Wright BD, Alrawi S, Normolle DP, Djuric Z, Brenner DE. Phase II study of the effects of ginger root extract on eicosanoids in colon mucosa in people at normal risk for colorectal cancer. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2011 Nov;4(11):1929-37. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-11-0224. Epub 2011 Oct 11. PMID: 21990307; PMCID: PMC3208778.
- Khodavandi A, Alizadeh F, Harmal NS, Sidik SM, Othman F, Sekawi Z, Jahromi MA, Ng KP, Chong PP. Comparison between efficacy of allicin and fluconazole against Candida albicans in vitro and in a systemic candidiasis mouse model. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2011 Feb;315(2):87-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2010.02170.x. Epub 2011 Jan 10. PMID: 21204918.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.