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Over the last few years, you’ve probably heard the messaging that, “your gut is your second brain.” But what exactly does that mean?
“We have more bacteria in our gut than we have human cells in our entire body,” explains Briana Owen, a holistic health and nutrition specialist based in Scottsdale, AZ. “When our gut bacteria communicate with our brain, they help us digest and pull nutrients and vitamins from food and they also keep our immune system strong. Our gut is also responsible for detoxification, which is what keeps our body and organs healthy and strong. Your gut is where health or illness is born.”
And our guts are working harder than ever because of all the toxins (from household to environmental) they are exposed to on a daily basis. “The body’s healthy bacteria is meant to process outside elements — but when it is overwhelmed, it slows down, toxins build-up, and this results in compromised functioning of the body,” says Christina Towle, certified clinical nutritionist and founder of Hudson Valley Nutrition in New York. “This, in turn, leads to weight gain, disease, and weakened immune systems.” An imbalanced gut can also lead to uncomfortable digestion symptoms, such as bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea.
Gut-Friendly Grocery Shopping List
As you might expect, diet plays an enormous role in helping to correct and maintain a healthy gut — so it’s important to incorporate foods that feed the good bacteria. Eating the right foods may also help counteract some of the things we ingest that our guts view as “foreign invaders,” including prescription or over-the-counter medications (NSAIDs in particular), sugar, gluten, and artificial sweeteners.
1. Vegan broth
Towle suggests sipping on vegan broth throughout the day, and is partial to the brand Grace’s Goodness. “Sipping helps the body take a break from breaking down food and helps the body play ‘catch-up’ while still satisfying cravings,” she says. “And this particular broth is dense with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties with the added belly benefit of soothing ginger.”
These green stalks are a prebiotic food containing inulin, which does not get broken down until it reaches the large intestine. “In the large intestine, probiotics act like a food source that helps our gut properly absorb nutrients and fight disease,” says Owen. Try one of these delicious ways to cook with asparagus.
3. Manuka honey
A spoonful of sugar, in the form of manuka honey that is, is a sweet treat you can feel good about. “One teaspoon has been proven to improve the gut microbial balance,” says Towle. Manuka honey hails from New Zealand, and is more potent than standard honey bee honey.
4. Soaked or sprouted beans
Soaked or sprouted beans are high in fiber, which Owen says helps promote healthy bowel movements that aid your body in detoxifying. One serving of beans contains anywhere from 8 to 10 grams of fiber, which is one-third of the recommended amount for the day. Fiber also is slower digesting, meaning it keeps you fuller longer and stabilizes blood sugar, helping to eliminate the sugar cravings that do a number on your gut health. Adequate fiber makes sure the gut is properly fed so it can heal over time.
As one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature, matcha reduces inflammation and allows gut repair and regeneration. “Matcha can also help rebuild the gut lining once it has become damaged,” says Owen. “The polyphenols in matcha act as a prebiotic, keeping our gut bugs fed and providing the means for production of short-chain fatty acids, which also repair damage in the gut lining.” Consume matcha tea with a non-dairy milk like almond or coconut milk in the morning or afternoon in the place of coffee for an energy boost and gut-healing benefits. Try our Matcha Green Tea Smoothie.
6. Coconut oil
Some of the most common digestive problems are related to overgrowth of bacteria and fungi in the intestines, which cause bloating, gas and stomach upset. “Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, and can help kill off bad bacteria or yeast that might be overgrown in the gut,” says Owen. Replace your vegetable oil or canola oil with coconut oil for gut-healing benefits — just add one tablespoon to your lunch and/or dinner.
7. Sauerkraut and kimchi
These fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria and enzymes that provide the gut with good gut bacteria to help improve digestion and increase immunity. Enjoy sauerkraut and kimchi as a side dish, as a sandwich condiment or on top of a grain bowl.
“Get as many of these foods in a day as you can,” recommends Owen. “And shoot for two to three of these daily to start.”
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