Must is a strong word, but no kidding, there’s a very good reason for these 9 gut-friendly foods you must have In your diet.
I’m going to share with you 9 nurturing foods that can really help your digestive health. These foods:
- provide the variety of protein, vitamins and minerals your gut requires to work effectively
- nourish your immune system and hormones that work in synergy with your digestive system
- provide fibre to ensure you eliminate effectively
- deliver beneficial fats to heal the gut lining
I get great results with my clients by incorporating these 9 gut-friendly foods into their diets on a regular basis.
In no particular order, here are the 9 gut-friendly foods you must have in your diet:
Nature’s best fast food.
These little powerhouses of goodness are quite simply one of the most nutrient-dense foods and a high-quality, low-cost protein. Eggs are excellent sources of protein (the white), fat and many vitamins and minerals (the yolk). They are one of the few food sources that provide gut-healing vitamin D, albeit in much lower quantity than sun exposure, but still significant.
Try to buy organic eggs to get healthier omega 3 content. Use organic veg box suppliers such as Abel & Cole or Riverford or your local farm shops or farmers’ markets. The salmonella risk is very low when you buy healthy, organic eggs (as opposed to battery hens’ eggs). Latest research shows clearly that eggs do not cause increased cholesterol, nor increase the risk of heart disease.
Eggs don’t appear to have any direct effect on the microbiome, but when they replace low-quality cereals for breakfast and their satiety stops you reaching for a mid-morning sugary snack, then that does have a positive effect for your gut. The fats and vitamins A & D are also healing for your gut lining – a crucial protector of future health.
USES: They’re adaptable for use as a meal (omelettes, frittatas), snacks (hard-boiled egg), in baking and as healthy home-made mayonnaise.
Nuts & Seeds
Fat ‘n’ fibre in a nutshell.
Nuts & seeds provide you with essential fats that can help to heal your gut. They’re pretty useful to protect your heart too. They’re also rich in fibre, essential for good bowel movements and an efficient transit time. Due to their fat and fibre content they are very filling; if you need to snack less your gut gets a very beneficial rest from constant carbohydrate snacking.
Nuts & seeds are rich in magnesium which is an essential nutrient for your bowel muscles preventing constipation. Magnesium also supports stress and seeing as digestive problems put further strain on your adrenal glands, this can only be a benefit.
Most nuts have enough natural oils to be made into a nut butter without adding further oil. For those with compromised digestive systems, nuts are often best tolerated as butters rather than whole nuts which require more digestion.
For a healthy chocolate, nutty bar try these
Nutty choc oat bars
USES: A great grain alternative for baking and a super portable snack as whole nuts, seeds or their or butters. Seeds such as sesame and sunflower are easy to sprinkle over finished meals.
A powerful tool in your digestive toolbox.
Coconut has many powerful properties your gut will love. As a carbohydrate, the flesh has a very high percentage of fibre aiding regular bowel movements. It’s also hugely immune supportive. It’s anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoal due to its monolaurin content with studies showing elimination of major pathogens such as:
- H. Pylori
- Candida Albicans
- Giardia Lamblia
- Herpes Simplex 1
These are pathogens I see a lot on functional stool & blood testing.
In addition, coconut’s medium-chain fats are easily absorbed and used as energy, rather than stored as body fat. Your body recognises it as a natural fat as opposed to a hydrogenated fat which we now know are the problematic fats for health. By switching to coconut oil if you automatically reduce hydrogenated vegetable oils this is a double positive. Hydrogenated oils create inflammation in your body, not only affecting your gut but systemic inflammation leading to conditions such as heart disease.
To make healthy Bounty Bars have a peek here
USES: Use as oil for cooking at high temperatures, the flour for grain-free baking and desiccated coconut as a topping, or in granola. Add blocks of creamed coconut or tinned coconut milk to soups, curries etc.
Deserved status as a gut-lovin’ fruit.
Bananas are such a versatile fruit and are wonderfully tummy-friendly. They are soothing to the digestive tract due to their pectin content, a soluble fibre that can normalise bowel function, so can be equally good for constipation or diarrhoea.
They are also an excellent source of potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6 & vitamin C. Ripe bananas have more anti-cancer, immune-supporting properties & are easier to digest. This means the glucose in the banana feeds you and not your bad bacteria.
Conversely, they also have benefits when they are unripe too as a resistant starch – resistant to being digested until it reaches your large intestine. This acts as a prebiotic which effectively feeds your beneficial bacteria and doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels.
Pack in the oily fish.
Salmon not only packs a protein punch but is also rich in potassium, selenium, vitamin B12, niacin and phosphorous. Salmon is healing food for your gut due to the high content of omega-3 oils which can reduce inflammatory markers and symptom scores. Research shows benefit from 600g of salmon per week. Wild salmon offers the best ratio of omega 3:6 fats that provides the optimal balance.
Listening to Ben Brown a leading naturopath speak recently, he stated that salmon (and berries – number 9) reduce disease activity. Studies have shown this with just one variable – the salmon OR the berries. So what you can achieve with plenty of salmon and berries on top of a Mediterranean-based diet is pretty impressive.
Wild Alaskan salmon tends to be on the cleanest sources of fish containing the lowest concentration of heavy metals and pesticide residues.
USES: Cook in a stir-fry, steamed, or oven-baked – it’s a quick cook fish. Tinned is a great back up. Smoked salmon is a quick snack.
Herbs & Spices
Provide flavour and intensely-packed nutrients.
Fresh herbs should be a natural addition to most meals. They add flavour and a massive kick of nutrients and chlorophyll (which gives it its green colour) which helps your liver to detoxify. This is imperative when you have digestive issues, particularly when you are actively trying to eliminate any pathogenic bacteria, yeasts or parasites.
Spices are sadly under-used in many people’s diets. Yet they pack a mean nutritional punch in very small amounts. The phytonutrient and antioxidant levels are the highest per gram of any foods. Most notable gut-friendly herbs & spices are garlic, ginger, turmeric, mint, chamomile, cinnamon & fennel.
The detail of benefits is beyond the scope of this blog, but garlic, for example, is a natural antibiotic and turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon, as well as its widely known benefit of stabilising blood sugar, is also a powerful anti-fungal providing benefit in anti-candida protocols.
USES: Drink as herbal teas, in smoothies or add to your cooking. Fresh herbs such as coriander, parsley, chives are a nutrient-dense addition to a finished dish.
Dark green leafy veg (DGLV)
The mighty king of veg.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve recommended DGLV, I’d be a very rich woman. This collection of veg has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits as well as being a fabulous natural detoxifier.
This is the number one group of veg to recommend to women who also need to eliminate their used hormones, so if you’re peri-menopausal with gut problems, start packing in the DGLV pretty damn quick. This also applies if you are younger but have have any oestrogen-dominant condition. Mild symptoms are pre-menstrual mood swings and tender breasts to more severe conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids.
Here’s a list:
- mustard greens
- collard greens
- bok choy
- Swiss Chard
- and lettuces such as
- butterhead (round)
Kale, salad greens and spinach are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, and broccoli and bok choy are also rich in many of the B-vitamins. All DGLV are magnesium-rich, a mineral important for managing stress and helping your bowels to produce a comfortable bowel movement.
Magnesium is used in over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body, translating to thousands of biochemical reactions happening every day, so its wider benefits are significant.
These mighty veg feed your beneficial gut bacteria helping to correct dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria) and restore digestive wellness.
Your gut is not a standalone body system. It works in synergy with all other body systems, most notably the immune system and the endocrine system keeping your immunity and hormones regulated.
Did you know that 90% of your serotonin (your happy hormone) is manufactured in your gut?
Did you know that 70% of your immune system is based in your gut?
USES: As side veg for meals or shred in omelettes, soups, stir-fries or raw in green smoothies. Many can be used raw in coleslaws too.
Just don’t be without this. Really.
Here are some awesome benefits:
- Promotes healthy digestion by healing & sealing your (leaky) gut
- Reduces joint pain & inflammation
- Promotes strong & healthy bones
- Inhibits infection caused by cold & flu viruses
- Fights inflammation
- Promotes healthy hair & nail growth
- Known as anti-ageing
The active ingredient that your gut loves is collagen. This is the glue that holds the body together, it breaks down into gelatin which is the ‘jelly’ consistency of the broth that appears when refrigerated. Broth also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium & other minerals which are easily absorbed by the body. This helps to nourish you even if you have compromised digestive capacity or insufficient absorption.
To read about how to use bone broth to heal your gut have a look here
USES: This is a wonderful nutrient you can get in to your family by stealth. Use in sauces, soups, bologneses, curries and for reheating leftovers.
Berry, berry good for you.
These are to fruit what DGLV is to veg! Abound with antioxidants and nutrients, these little berries are awesomely important for your gut health.
Their antioxidant status is supreme, the vitamins and minerals packed into these little berries is nothing short of amazing. Antioxidants protect the cells lining your gut by controlling inflammation and help support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
It is also believed that antioxidants might be particularly important for people with inflammatory gut conditions or infections such as H. Pylori – this bacterium is widely known to cause stomach ulcers. Remember what
I said back in number 5 (salmon) – these berries have disease-reducing potential with no other variables!
Leaky gut (where the gut lining is disrupted and leaks food molecules into the bloodstream causing food intolerances) leads to the development of autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions, therefore antioxidant foods are key for supporting gut dysregulation and preventing further problems.
Last but not least, they are a low-sugar fruit. Just as a comparison here’s some sugar content of fruits (courtesy of The Paleo Diet.com/fruits and sugars):
Flavonoids in berries have shown potential to reduce neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain). There is much research and recognition now of the gut-brain link if one food can support inflammation within the gut and the brain then that’s worth eating!
My clients with gut issues nearly always have anxiety, depression or low mood. They find their gut worsens when they’re anxious and their gut worries make them anxious creating an ongoing vicious cycle.
USES: You can’t beat berries sprinkled on gut-friendly breakfast pancakes (my pancake recipes):
or use berries on porridge or granola for breakfast.
Creating fun and nutritional meals can be a challenge, which is why I’ve put together the 14 Day Gut-Friendly Meal Plan to help you integrate these gut superfoods into your weekly meals. Buy the Meal Plan here.
Jane Barrett is a registered nutritionist and expert in digestive health helping women & children with digestive issues take control of their health through food. She offers support through meal plans, online courses & personalised 1:1 programmes on Zoom.