Ultimately everyone interested in performance nutrition has heard about the importance of optimizing your gut health. The gut is the body’s location where all food is broken down and enters the bloodstream as nutrients.
A healthy gut is critical to us to being able to digest fiber, controlling our immune system, and keeping our brains healthy (1). Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes that can contribute to weight gain (and other health conditions) if chronic (2).
Unfortunately, your gut’s microbiota balance may be in jeopardy if you consume a mostly Western diet. In one study of 1,000 healthy men and women, researchers found that a Western diet was correlated with significantly lower microbiome diversity (3). Lower diversity of microbes is one contributing factor to gut dysbiosis. The main culprits of imbalance were fried foods, sodas, fatty sweets, and processed meats (3).
Thankfully, there are plenty of steps you can take to improve your gut health, and many don’t require much money or time. Diverse gut microbiome doesn’t have to come from pills or supplements. Instead, it can be achieved by eating a variety of whole foods. I have outlined a few foods to consume for the promotion of diverse and beneficial gut microbiome.
Fruits and Vegetables
All different types of fruits and vegetables are excellent promoters of a healthy microbiome. The reason for this is two-fold. Fruits and vegetables themselves are high in a diverse number of healthy microbiota. Additionally, most fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which is digested by your guts microbiome, strengthening them (4). Increase your fiber intake by consuming the following fruits and veggies: raspberries, artichokes, green peas, and broccoli. Additionally, apples, artichokes, and blueberries have been shown to increase Bifidobacteria, beneficial bacteria that can prevent inflammation and enhance gut health (5-7).
Beans and Legumes
Like many fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes are also high in fiber, and consuming them will increase your gut microbiome’s efficiency.
Like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber. Whole grains- as compared with simple carbohydrates like potatoes- are not absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, they are broken down by microbiota and promote their growth in the colon. The breakdown of whole grains encourages the growth of Bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and Bacteroidetes in the gut, all of which are beneficial to human health (8, 9).
The fermenting process involved introducing bacteria or yeast to convert sugars of foods into organic acids or alcohol. The different food product of this process tends to be rich in lactobacilli, a beneficial bacteria family. It has fewer quantities of Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation (10). Examples of fermented foods to include in your diet include plain yogurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh.
Finally, a group of foods that contain high levels of polyphenols is essential to include in your diet if you’d like to improve your gut health. Polyphenols are plant compounds found in certain foods. They have also been connected to reduced blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress (11). Like fiber, polyphenols cannot always be digested by human cells, so they are broken down in the colon by the gut microbiome, strengthening it (12). Good sources of polyphenols include dark chocolate, red wine (in moderation), green tea, certain nuts like almonds, and blueberries.
Including even a handful of these groups of foods in your diet regularly can lead to a healthier gut microbiome, which may present as weight loss or increased performance. Pro- and pre-biotic pills help supplement gut health, but many times are incomplete and lack essential diversity. Therefore, it is always best to improve your gut first with whole foods and add a pill if you feel it is right.
Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients. Patterson E, Ryan PM, Cryan JF, et al. Gut microbiota, obesity and diabetes. Postgrad Med J. 2016;92(1087):286-300. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2015-133285
Zinöcker MK, Lindseth IA. The Western Diet-Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):365. Published 2018 Mar 17. doi:10.3390/nu10030365
Gunnars, K. Why Is Fiber Good for You? The Crunchy Truth. Healthline. 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fiber-good-for-you
Shinohara K, Ohashi Y, Kawasumi K, Terada A, Fujisawa T. Effect of apple intake on fecal microbiota and metabolites in humans. Anaerobe. 2010;16(5):510-515. doi:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2010.03.005
Vendrame S, Guglielmetti S, Riso P, Arioli S, Klimis-Zacas D, Porrini M. Six-week consumption of a wild blueberry powder drink increases bifidobacteria in the human gut. J Agric Food Chem. 2011;59(24):12815-12820. doi:10.1021/jf2028686
Ramnani P, Gaudier E, Bingham M, van Bruggen P, Tuohy KM, Gibson GR. Prebiotic effect of fruit and vegetable shots containing Jerusalem artichoke inulin: a human intervention study. Br J Nutr. 2010;104(2):233-240. doi:10.1017/S000711451000036X
Furrie E, Macfarlane S, Kennedy A, et al. Synbiotic therapy (Bifidobacterium longum/Synergy 1) initiates resolution of inflammation in patients with active ulcerative colitis: a randomised controlled pilot trial. Gut. 2005;54(2):242-249. doi:10.1136/gut.2004.044834
Costabile A, Klinder A, Fava F, et al. Whole-grain wheat breakfast cereal has a prebiotic effect on the human gut microbiota: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(1):110-120. doi:10.1017/S0007114507793923
Cooper DN, Martin RJ, Keim NL. Does Whole Grain Consumption Alter Gut Microbiota and Satiety?. Healthcare (Basel). 2015;3(2):364-392. Published 2015 May 29. doi:10.3390/healthcare3020364
Alvaro E, Andrieux C, Rochet V, et al. Composition and metabolism of the intestinal microbiota in consumers and non-consumers of yogurt. Br J Nutr. 2007;97(1):126-133. doi:10.1017/S0007114507243065
Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009;2(5):270-278. doi:10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498
Cardona F, Andrés-Lacueva C, Tulipani S, Tinahones FJ, Queipo-Ortuño MI. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health. J Nutr Biochem. 2013;24(8):1415-1422. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.05.001