The best gut-healthy foods for any meal plan
Help your clients achieve a balanced microbiome with a variety of gut-healthy foods.
What we eat has a significant impact on gut health, so as a dietitian, it’s important to include a variety of digestive-friendly foods in your client’s meal plan [1,2]. A healthy microbiome is associated with improved immune system, heart health, and digestion, which is why adjusting your clients’ diet, lifestyle, and supplementation in accordance to their microbiome levels can positively impact their health and wellbeing.
Keep reading for some of the best gut healthy foods you can incorporate into any client’s meal plan to further benefit their microbiome.
Tip: If you have athletic clients, check out this article on how you can help them achieve a balanced microbiome for better sports performance.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit various gastrointestinal diseases, improve symptoms of poor digestive health (like diarrhea, constipation, IBS, lactose intolerance, and IBD) and can even reduce side effects during antibiotic use .
Probiotics can be obtained through supplements or fermented foods, such as:
- Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage cheese
Polyphenols are plant compounds that are not fully absorbed; as such, they are broken down in the large intestine and help promote the growth of beneficial gut microbiota like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli . Polyphenols also reduce concentration of bad bacteria (like Clostridia) in the gut, which helps to keep your client’s digestive system functioning at its best .
Some foods that are rich in polyphenols include:
- Red wine
Prebiotics are typically composed of fiber, and can promote the growth of several beneficial bacteria within the gut, including Bifidobacteria . Studies show that prebiotics not only help balance the gut microbiome, but they may also reduce insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels in people with obesity .
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of prebiotics, but they may also be found in some herbs and resistant starches. Some gut healthy foods that are rich in prebiotics include:
- Flax seeds
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Whole grains are high in fiber and other nondigestible carbohydrates, which have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (like Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, and Bacteroidetes) and boost digestive health .
Some foods rich in whole grains include:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
Tip: if your client suffers from a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, proceed with caution, as studies have found that a gluten-free diet can cause negative changes in the gut microbiota . As such, it’s better to include other fermented foods, probiotics, and supplements in their meal plan as a replacement for whole grains.
Plant based diets
Consuming a diet rich in plant-based foods can greatly benefit the gut microbiome. Research indicates that plant-based diets promote a diverse ecosystem of gut microbiota while also reducing the growth of reduced Clostridium and Enterococcus species, both of which are harmful to the gut microbiome [9,10]. However, following a plant-based diet doesn’t always have to mean saying no to meat, eggs, or dairy products–it simply means choosing to eat more foods from plant sources.
Here are some plant-based gut healthy foods to incorporate into your client’s diet:
- Proteins (such as beans, lentils, quinoa, and hummus)
- Fats (such as avocado, oils, and nut butters)
- All fruits and vegetables
- Grains (such as brown rice, farro, barley, and bulgur)
Learn more about meeting your client’s nutritional needs on a vegan diet with this helpful article.
Digestive health can be challenging to navigate, but specific gut healthy foods can make a significant difference when it comes to your client’s microbiome. Polyphenols, probiotics, whole grains, plant-based foods, and prebiotics are just a few options to include in any meal plan to improve digestive health, reduce GI distress, and benefit certain diseases.
- Xu, Z., & Knight, R. (2015). Dietary effects on human gut microbiome diversity. The British journal of nutrition, 113 Suppl(Suppl 0 ), S1–S5. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114514004127
- Heiman, M. L., & Greenway, F. L. (2016). A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Molecular metabolism, 5(5), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2016.02.005
- Ritchie, M. L., & Romanuk, T. N. (2012). A meta-analysis of probiotic efficacy for gastrointestinal diseases. PloS one, 7(4), e34938. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034938
- Kumar Singh, A., Cabral, C., Kumar, R., Ganguly, R., Kumar Rana, H., Gupta, A., Rosaria Lauro, M., Carbone, C., Reis, F., & Pandey, A. K. (2019). Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency. Nutrients, 11(9), 2216. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092216
- Sorrenti, V., Ali, S., Mancin, L., Davinelli, S., Paoli, A., & Scapagnini, G. (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients, 12(7), 1908. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071908
- Carlson, J. L., Erickson, J. M., Lloyd, B. B., & Slavin, J. L. (2018). Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber. Current developments in nutrition, 2(3), nzy005. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzy005
- Beserra, B. T., Fernandes, R., do Rosario, V. A., Mocellin, M. C., Kuntz, M. G., & Trindade, E. B. (2015). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prebiotics and synbiotics effects on glycaemia, insulin concentrations and lipid parameters in adult patients with overweight or obesity. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 34(5), 845–858. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2014.10.004
- Cooper, D. N., Martin, R. J., & Keim, N. L. (2015). Does Whole Grain Consumption Alter Gut Microbiota and Satiety?. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 3(2), 364–392. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare3020364
- Wu, G. D., Compher, C., Chen, E. Z., Smith, S. A., Shah, R. D., Bittinger, K., Chehoud, C., Albenberg, L. G., Nessel, L., Gilroy, E., Star, J., Weljie, A. M., Flint, H. J., Metz, D. C., Bennett, M. J., Li, H., Bushman, F. D., & Lewis, J. D. (2016). Comparative metabolomics in vegans and omnivores reveal constraints on diet-dependent gut microbiota metabolite production. Gut, 65(1), 63–72. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2014-308209
- Tomova, A., Bukovsky, I., Rembert, E., Yonas, W., Alwarith, J., Barnard, N. D., & Kahleova, H. (2019). The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 47. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00047
- Garcia-Mazcorro, J. F., Noratto, G., & Remes-Troche, J. M. (2018). The Effect of Gluten-Free Diet on Health and the Gut Microbiota Cannot Be Extrapolated from One Population to Others. Nutrients, 10(10), 1421. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101421
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