Can Gut-Friendly Foods Actually Improve Your Digestion?

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Nutrition

Wolfing down junk food and chugging sugary drinks can wreak havoc on your digestive system. A study published in the journal Gut found that diets that are way too liberal with sugar and fat can cause major inflammation and plunge your gut microbiome into disarray. That means the plethora of viruses, fungi and bacteria in your intestines end up struggling to do their job causing you some major grief. Enter: gut-friendly foods.

These super-powered ingredients have been touted as the heroes of your digestive tract, stepping in to right all the wrongs of your poor diet. While you’ll spot more than just a few foods sporting giant “gut-friendly” labels, it’s not exactly clear what this descriptor means.

No stress; we’re here to crack the code and find out whether gut-friendly is worth the hype or just another way to sell kombucha.

What Do Gut-Friendly Foods Do?

It might sound counter-intuitive, but your gut needs bacteria. Essentially, your body is a delicate ecosystem of more than 40 trillion different kinds of bacteria, all working in unison to make sure you’re (mostly) firing on all cylinders. The problem is that a bad diet can upset the balance, throwing a wrench in the middle of this high-functioning workforce.

READ MORE: Come Back Stronger: The 8 Best Foods for Muscle Recovery

For example, some diets might kill of tons of useful bacteria, leading to digestive problems, circulatory issues and even mood swings. Yes, that’s right: research has found that big changes in the gut’s enteric nervous system can send signals to your brain triggering an emotional cascade.

Gut-friendly foods represent an antidote, helping maintain those levels of helpful bacteria and restoring any you’ve lost. You may have heard about pro- and prebiotics. Well, these guys promote the growth of “good” bacteria in the gut. But gut-friendly foods aren’t just limited to these enigmatic characters. You can replenish your levels by eating a diverse (healthy) diet, for example, or eating more whole grains which have been shown to max out growth of various bacteria.

But for a more targeted approach, you could grab a few of these gut-friendly heroes off the shelves next time you go shopping:

1. Olive Oil

bottle of olive oil on table of gut-friendly foods

If this isn’t already a staple in your home, add it to your shopping list. Olive oil packs a ton of health benefits, but it’s also one of the best wingmen for your gut bacteria. One study noted that olive oil can act as a natural prebiotic promoting the growth of certain vital bacteria. Word of warning: olive oil is heavy on calories and high in fat, so make sure you don’t go overboard. (Yes, that means skipping the overly generous Jamie Oliver glugs of the good stuff next time you’re cooking.)

2. Kombucha

Heralded as the ultimate gut guardian, this fermented tea has been shown to help replenish your reserves. It’s also rich in vitamins. However, this drink isn’t for everyone. It’s not unheard of for some people to experience side effects like nausea, allergic reactions and headaches while sipping on kombucha.

READ MORE: Nutritionists Reveal the Biggest Weight Loss Myths They’ve Ever Heard

3. Sauerkraut

For most, this sour cabbage treat is barely palatable. But for the converts? There are some real benefits to snack on. However, most store-bought versions of this German dish are pasteurised, a process that usually kills off the good bacteria in this fermented food. Whip up your own at home with this recipe our colleagues in the US put together.

4. Kimchi

This is a different take on fermented cabbage that’s spicy and moreish. Look for refrigerated versions rather than jarred counterparts as the former will usually have more of their good bacteria intact.

5. Tempeh

tempeh kebabs representing gut-friendly foods

Fan of tofu? Give tempeh a try. This is a fermented variation of this soy-based staple turning it into a probiotic powerhouse. You can bake it, grill it or even slap it on the braai. Bonus: it’s high in protein, so any dish containing this ingredient will do double duty as a digestive dynamo and muscle maximised.

READ MORE: The New Age of Nutrition: Why AI Will Change How You Eat

6. Yoghurt

Back in the day, finding yoghurts with probiotic cultures in SA was a bit of a struggle. Fortunately, most grocery stores now stock more than a few options, so you can grab a gut-friendly snack to go. We like Woolworths’ range of fruit-flavoured yoghurts which are bolstered with a probiotic bounty.

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