The Best Foods for Good Gut Bacteria

The Best Foods for Good Gut Bacteria

There are 1,000 kinds of good bacteria living in your digestive tract. Here's what to feed them.

Your digestive tract contains a metropolis of bacteria that helps digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Recent research finds, however, that maintaining a proper mixture of gut microbes has a plethora of health benefits that goes beyond the body’s ability to properly digest food.

“Your health is directly tied in to gut microbiome and the diversity of the bacteria in your gut,” says Steven Fox, MD, Medical Director of Gastroenterology at Mercy Health Muskegon in Muskegon, Michigan. Here's the lowdown on how.

The perks of good gut bacteria
Having a healthy population of gut bacteria can prime the immune system to react more aggressively to a pathogen, so that your body can take immediate action when something goes wrong.

A diverse array of microbes also reinforces the inner lining of your digestive tract. There is evidence linking changes to the gut microbiome or a lack of diverse bacteria to painful digestive tract conditions such as hernias, colon cancer, and other inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

“Overall, individuals who do not have a diverse gut bacteria tend to have poorer health,” says digestive expert Dr. Fox. "It's directly related to obesity, type 2 diabetes and multiple autoimmune processes such as arthritis, diabetes and thyroid disorders."

Foods that promote gut-friendly bacteria
While these conditions may sound scary, some experts believe there's one big thing you can do to promote a diverse bacterial environment in your digestive tract: indulge in gut-friendly foods like prebiotics, which provide nutrients that help good bacteria grow and function. Dr. Fox recommends foods high in fiber, including fresh fruit and green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, peas, arugula and Brussels sprouts.

Some foods explicitly contain good bacteria, which also help promote healthy gut microbacteria. “Probiotic foods such as yogurt contain healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus, which help with the digestion of dairy products,” adds Dr. Fox. Avoid processed foods that are high in refined sugar and in saturated fat, because they have been found to disrupt and alter the gut microbiome.

The relationship between food and gut bacteria needs further research. But by staying conscious of what you eat, you can improve the diversity of good bacteria vital to your health, and treat your body to lifelong health benefits.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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