12 Foods for Better Gut Health

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Photo of Dr. Patricia Shelton Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Patricia Shelton
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
12 Foods for Better Gut Health

Your gut has a massive impact on your health and well-being way beyond simply digesting your food. The relationship between the gut and general health is complex, but much of it relates to the bacteria living there. Trillions of bacteria inhabiting the digestive tract, collectively known as the "microbiome", comprise a mixture of beneficial, neutral, and potentially harmful bacteria.

The balance of the different varieties of bacteria has far-reaching effects on many aspects of health. A favorable balance of gut bacteria means you are more likely to have a strong immune system, be at a healthy weight, have healthy skin, and have good mental well-being. (1,2,3) Imbalances in gut bacteria, on the other hand, are linked to various health problems including obesity, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, allergies, asthma, eczema, and infections.

The basis of a gut-friendly diet starts with a balanced and varied high-fiber diet. Foods that are good for your gut include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, whole grains, papaya, pineapple, and more. Scroll down to view the full list of foods that promote gut health.

List of Foods For Better Gut Health

1 Live Yogurt
Plain yogurt with raspberries
Live yogurt contains probiotics, live microorganisms that have beneficial health effects (4,5). They are often referred to as "friendly" bacteria, as they help keep the gut healthy. They occur naturally in the body, but it may be possible to increase the levels of these beneficial bacteria through foods and supplements. Probiotics help to balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut, by pushing the bad guys out. Choose natural, unsweetened (preferably organic) yogurt to avoid added sugars and sweeteners, and try coconut or soy yogurt if dairy is a problem.
Nutrition Facts for Non-Fat Yogurt.
2 Fermented Foods
Kimchi in a bowl
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso, and natto are also great sources of probiotics. Probiotics improve digestion in general and may help alleviate common digestive problems such as IBS, constipation, and bloating. (6) Studies show probiotics reduce abdominal bloating and flatulence in people with IBS and may also help relieve IBS pain. (7)
Nutrition Facts for Kimchi.
3 Whole Grains
Brown Rice
Whole grains are a top source of dietary fiber, which is an essential element for a healthy gut. Western diets are typically low in fiber and most people would benefit from increasing their intake. Swapping refined grains (white bread, white rice etc.) for whole grains is a great way to increase your fiber intake. A high-fiber diet benefits digestion, helps prevent constipation, and reduces the risk of many diseases of the digestive system. (8,9). Fiber also favorably influences the balance of gut bacteria. (10)
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Brown Rice.
4 Papaya and Pineapple
Papaya and pineapple contain natural fruit enzymes, which may help the body digest fats and proteins. These enzymes may help relieve mild digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating and can have a gentle laxative effect. (11,12) Fruits in general are another top source of dietary fiber to help keep the digestive system healthy.
Nutrition Facts for Papaya.
5 Asparagus
Asparagus is a good source of prebiotics to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are carbohydrates or fiber that reach the colon relatively unchanged, as the human body cannot digest them. Here they feed the friendly bacteria, encouraging them to grow and thrive and their numbers, therefore, increase and outnumber the bad guys. Specifically, these kinds of prebiotics have been shown in studies to increase a beneficial bacterial strain called bifidobacteria (13). Other good prebiotic food sources are chicory, artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, and bananas.
Nutrition Facts for Asparagus (Cooked).
6 Ginger
Ginger roots
Ginger has been traditionally used as a digestive aid for centuries. It is a digestive tonic, which may be helpful for indigestion. Some research shows that ginger may help to relieve spasms in the digestive tract and reduce inflammation. It also has anti-nausea properties and has been shown to enhance the natural movements of the intestines that aid digestion (14).
Nutrition Facts for Ginger.
7 Turmeric
Slices of turmeric and turmeric powder
Studies show that turmeric relieves indigestion (15) and reduces the symptoms of IBS. (16,17) Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory effects, which help to protect the gut against problems involving inflammation, such as inflammation of the esophagus caused by reflux. (18) There is also preliminary evidence that it may be helpful for people with inflammatory bowel disease, although more research is needed to be sure. (19,20)
Nutrition Facts for Ground Turmeric.
8 Flax Seeds
Flax Seeds
Flaxseeds (Linseeds) have gentle laxative effects and can help relieve constipation. (21) They are a "bulk forming" laxative; this is a type of natural laxative from plants with a high fiber and mucilage content that expand when combined with water. This increase in volume in the bowel stimulates a reflex muscular contraction and a bowel movement. One tablespoon of either whole or ground seeds dissolved in a full glass of water once or twice a day may help to improve gut function and relieve constipation. There is also some evidence that flaxseed may have favorable effects on the microbiome. (22)
Nutrition Facts for Flax Seeds.
9 Peppermint Tea
A cup of peppermint tea with peppermint leaves
Both peppermint leaf and peppermint oil have a long history of use for digestive disorders. (23) Studies have found that peppermint can reduce symptoms of indigestion such as gas and stomach cramps (24). It seems to work by relaxing the muscles of the gut (23) and helping gas to dissipate. Peppermint oil has also been shown in studies to reduce symptoms of IBS. (25,26) Tea made from fresh peppermint leaves likely contains more active ingredients than tea made from a tea bag.
Nutrition Facts for Peppermint.
10 Kiwi Fruit
Slices of kiwifruit
Kiwi Fruit contains a natural fruit enzyme called actinidin that helps the body digest proteins and can therefore act as a digestive aid. (27) One study found that eating three gold kiwi per day relieved constipation, abdominal discomfort and indigestion. (28) Another demonstrated that eating the same three gold kiwi per day led to improvements in IBS symptoms. (29) Kiwi fruit have also been shown to favorably alter the composition of intestinal bacteria and kiwi fiber has the ability to retain water, which is beneficial for bowel movements. (30)
Nutrition Facts for Kiwifruit.
11 Broccoli
Broccoli Stalk
Broccoli and vegetables in general are another top source of dietary fiber and should be eaten in plentiful amounts for optimum digestive health. Regular consumption of broccoli has been shown in studies to favorably alter the composition of gut bacteria. (31,32) Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards etc.) contain substances called glucosinates, which are natural plant compounds that gut bacteria can metabolize, producing beneficial effects.
Nutrition Facts for Broccoli (Cooked).
12 Water
A glass of water
Water is essential for keeping things moving through the gut. Plenty of water in combination with fiber reduces transit time (time taken for food to pass through the digestive tract). Shorter transit times tend to result in fewer harmful byproducts being produced in the digestive system and a healthier gut environment overall. When foods takes longer to pass through the digestive tract, certain gut bacteria have more time to form harmful substances as they break down their food (33) and this increases the risk of digestive and other health problems.
Nutrition Facts for Tap Water.

Tips for a Healthy Gut

  • Limit consumption of added sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and meat, which can all encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Manage stress, as prolonged stress hampers digestion and can alter the balance of gut bacteria. Take positive steps to manage stress, such as meditation, eating foods that reduce stress, yoga, or walking in nature.
  • Physical activity reduces transit time, which is the time taken for food to pass through the digestive tract, keeping the gut healthy and helping prevent constipation.
  • Eating more slowly gives more time for the process of chewing and the enzymes in your saliva to begin the process of breaking down your food. It also decreases the chances that you'll overeat, by giving your body time to sense the food that you've eaten and secrete hormones that signal that you're full.
  • Avoid probiotic shots, drinks, and flavored yogurts, as these are generally high in added sugars and often contain artificial flavorings and sweeteners. Instead, opt for the natural probiotic foods listed above.

Data Sources and References

  1. Sanchez M, Darimont C, Panahi S, Drapeau V, Marette A, Taylor VH, Doré J, Tremblay A. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women Nutrients. 2017 Mar 15;9(3):284. doi: 10.3390/nu9030284. 28294985
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  3. Hill MJ. Some current concepts in intestinal bacteriology Cancer Res. 1981 Sep;41(9 Pt 2):3778-80. 7260945
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  15. Thamlikitkul V, Bunyapraphatsara N, Dechatiwongse T, Theerapong S, Chantrakul C, Thanaveerasuwan T, Nimitnon S, Boonroj P, Punkrut W, Gingsungneon V, et al. Randomized double blind study of Curcuma domestica Val. for dyspepsia J Med Assoc Thai. 1990 Apr;73(4):217-22. 2203870
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  18. Czekaj R, Majka J, Magierowska K, Sliwowski Z, Magierowski M, Pajdo R, Ptak-Belowska A, Surmiak M, Kwiecien S, Brzozowski T. Curcumin: A Potent Protectant against Esophageal and Gastric Disorders J Gastroenterol. 2018 May;53(5):618-630. doi: 10.1007/s00535-017-1385-3. Epub 2017 Aug 30. 28856444
  19. Dewint P, Hansen BE, Verhey E, Oldenburg B, Hommes DW, Pierik M, Ponsioen CI, van Dullemen HM, Russel M, van Bodegraven AA, van der Woude CJ. Curcumin therapy in inflammatory bowel disease: a pilot study Gut. 2014 Feb;63(2):292-9. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2013-304488. Epub 2013 Mar 23. 23525574
  20. Moss AC. Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 May;5(5):642; author reply 642. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2007.03.002. 17478350
  21. Noureddin S, Mohsen J, Payman A. Effect of flaxseed or psyllium vs. placebo on management of constipation, weight, glycemia, and lipids: A randomized trial in constipated patients with type 2 diabetes Complement Ther Med. 2018 Oct;40:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.07.004. Epub 2018 Jul 10. 30219432
  22. Mattioli S, Ruggeri S, Sebastiani B, Brecchia G, Dal Bosco A, Cartoni Mancinelli A, Castellini C. Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health Animal. 2017 Apr;11(4):705-712. doi: 10.1017/S175173111600207X. Epub 2016 Nov 7. 27819218
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  24. Madisch A, Heydenreich CJ, Wieland V, Hufnagel R, Hotz J. Efficacy of a fixed peppermint oil/caraway oil combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia Arzneimittelforschung. 1999 Nov;49(11):925-32. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1300528. 10604046
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