Gut health and digestive health impacts the body as a whole. An unhealthy gut can lead to poor mental health, a weakened immune system and gastrointestinal diseases, per Healthline. Several superfoods are thought to promote gut health and improve digestion.
“Our gut plays such a tremendous role in our total health,” says Sotiria Everett, clinical assistant professor of family, population and preventive medicine at Stony Brook Medicine in Stony Brook, New York, per The Washington Post.
“Anything we eat that will benefit or influence our gut is favorable.”
Let’s take a look at five superfoods thought to improve gut health and digestion.
What is a superfood?
Superfoods are natural foods such as berries, nuts and vegetables packed with nutrients and maximal health benefits.
“Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression,” registered dietitian Beth Czerwony told the Cleveland Health Clinic.
Why is gut health important?
A healthy gut can improve health throughout the entire body, including mental health, reports Harvard Health. Maintaining a balanced diet is essential to gut health and digestion.
“A healthy gut means you have a stronger immune system, a better mood, effective digestion that’s free of discomfort and a healthy brain and heart,” says Dr. Sabine Hazan, a gastroenterologist and founder of Ventura Clinical Trials in Ventura, California, per Forbes Health.
Several factors, including your diet, influence and promote gut health such as exercise, stress management and sleep, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Foods high in fiber, probiotics, fermented foods and a colorful, balanced diet can boost gut health and digestion.
Studies show an association between gut health and mental health, autoimmune diseases, the immune system, gastrointestinal disorders, insulin resistance, weight management, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Some signs of an unhealthy gut include: high stress, poor sleep, irritable bowel, unexplained changes in weight, food intolerances and skin irritation, reports Healthline.
5 superfoods to promote a healthy gut and digestion
1. Yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics
Yogurt is rich with probiotics, or healthy bacteria, which lives in your gut and boosts digestion to keep your gut healthy, according to research.
“Research today is making some important connections between the types of bacteria that live in your body and your overall health. Studies have linked these bacteria to a wide variety of conditions ranging from mood disorders to infections,” reports Harvard Health.
“There is some evidence that probiotics, like those found in yogurt, can help improve symptoms of some digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and certain types of diarrhea.”
There is evidence that some of the probiotics in yogurt, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, can improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, per a 2021 study. A large review of studies found that adults suffering from irritable bowel syndrome who consumed milk products containing Bifidobacteria for a duration of 3-6 weeks experienced significantly improved symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and abdominal pain.
Research also shows that probiotics, found in yogurt, may protect against diarrhea, constipation and benefit the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Apples may improve the gut microbiome
Apples are packed with nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, carbohydrates and antioxidants, per Healthline.
Pectin, a type of fiber, is found in apples and acts as a prebiotic — positively impacting the gut microbiome and promoting healthy digestion, according to research.
“Apples contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber, which is a prebiotic. This feeds that good gut bacteria in your colon microbiome,” says Emily Rice, staff dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, per Business Insider.
Recent research shows that regularly consuming apples can positively alter your gut microbiome, resulting in increased protection from chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Also, the skin of an Apple contains 4.5 grams of fiber (about one-third of recommended daily intake), both soluble and insoluble fiber which both play essential roles in digestion such as preventing diarrhea and constipation, per Business Insider.
3. Kefir can treat gastrointestinal diseases
Kefir is an excellent source of probiotics and nutrients such as protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamin B12, according to Healthline. Kefir products are made using Kefir grains, which are often added to milk and other dairy products. Kefir is also made with water and coconut water.
“Studies are ongoing, but it seems there are many benefits of kefir,” says registered dietitian Amber Sommer, per Cleveland Health Clinic. “Like other foods that contain probiotics (good bacteria) and postbiotics (bacteria byproducts), kefir boosts gut health and provides a number of other health benefits.”
“Kefir contains approximately 12 active probiotic strains. When you eat probiotic and postbiotic-rich foods like kefir, it adds more good bacteria to your gut. They keep harmful bacteria in check and support gut health,” reports the Cleveland Health Clinic.
According to an analysis on the effects of the probiotics found in Kefir, regularly consuming these probiotics can treat and prevent several gastrointestinal diseases such as: pouchitis, antibiotic associated diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and infectious diarrhea.
A 2014 study found that adults suffering from chronic constipation who regularly consumed kefir products experienced significant improvement in their symptoms. At the end of the study, 80% of participants reported increased satisfaction in bowel satisfaction.
4. Ginger combats inflammation in the gut
Ginger boasts a wide array of health benefits. The spice is known to provide nausea relief, decrease bloating, ease “morning sickness” in pregnant women and promote a healthy digestive process, per Johns Hopkins Medical.
“Gingerol, a natural component of ginger root, benefits gastrointestinal motility ― the rate at which food exits the stomach and continues along the digestive process. Eating ginger encourages efficient digestion, so food doesn’t linger as long in the gut,” reports Johns Hopkins Medical.
A large 2018 review of studies reports that ginger’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are beneficial to digestive and gut health as well as an ability to relieve discomfort caused by gas in the digestive tract. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help combat inflammation in the gut.
5. Fermented foods like sauerkraut promote gut health
Regularly consuming fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and natto can increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut, resulting in improved digestion, immunity and overall gut health, reports Healthline.
“Naturally fermented foods are getting a lot of attention from health experts these days because they may help strengthen your gut microbiome — the 100 trillion or so bacteria and microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Researchers are beginning to link these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to neurodegenerative diseases,” reports Harvard Health.
A small Norwegian study found that individuals who incorporated sauerkraut into their diet for six weeks experienced improved irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and boosted gut microbiota health.
Researchers involved in a 2021 study from the Stanford School of Medicine asked healthy U.S. adults to add fermented foods such as cottage cheese and kimchi to their diet for a 10-week duration. Participants experienced a significant increase in “the diversity of gut microbes and decreases molecular signs of inflammation.”
“This is a stunning finding,” said Justin Sonnenburg, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology, per Stanford Medicine News. “It provides one of the first examples of how a simple change in diet can reproducibly remodel the microbiota across a cohort of healthy adults.”