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5 Optimal Gut Superfoods [+2 Bonus Spices] Your Tummy Will Thank You For
April 21st 2021
by: Vincent Pedre M.D.

As the HAPPY GUT® doctor, I talk all the time about why gut health is at the center of our overall wellness. The state of our gut affects not just our digestion but also our mood, energy levels, metabolism, and ability to focus and think clearly.

Have an unhappy gut and it sets you up for a lifetime of health issues. But don’t take my word for it! The research doesn’t lie:

  • Research has linked multiple autoimmune diseases — including inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, autoimmune hepatitis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and systemic lupus — to a leaky gut.
  • Gut dysbiosis is a known risk factor for chronic inflammation, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
  • Alterations in gut health have been linked to higher risk of allergic disease, including food allergies and asthma.
  • Dysbiosis and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression.
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. If you’ve got something going on with your health, there’s a good chance that your gut health has something to do with it.

Why is Food So Important for Gut Health?

You might be wondering why your gut has such an important influence on your health. If you think about it, besides our skin, our gut is the main way that we interact and communicate with the outside world. Everyday foods from the outside world come in and our guts have to break them down and transform them into usable, absorbable nutrients for our bodies. And besides sleeping, eating and drinking are the main ways that we take care of ourselves. After all, we are what we eat, breathe, touch and absorb.

Every single day, multiple times a day, we decide which foods to put in our gut and fuel our bodies with. What you eat can be the greatest source of healing for your body or your biggest poison.

If those foods are low in nutrients and high in inflammatory molecules, they sabotage our gut’s ability to look out for us. On the other hand, if those foods are rich in nutrients and beneficial fibers, it gives our gut the tools it needs to help us thrive.

Food is the way we take care of ourselves and it’s the foundation upon which to build a HAPPY GUT®.

Knowing this, there’s a good chance you want to take out some of those low-nutrient, high-inflammation foods that are undermining your gut health. After years working with patients on improving their gut health, I can say that there are three main foods sabotaging gut health more than any others. Together, I call them the Gut-Inflam-Food Triangle.

The Gut-Inflam-Food Triangle

1. Gluten

No one wants to hear it, but gluten — the main protein found in grains like rye, wheat, spelt and barley — is a major contributor to digestive issues, IBS, and an unhappy gut. In fact, studies have shown that going gluten-free can improve IBS symptoms in as much as 50% of people.

2. Dairy

There’s ample evidence showing that IBS patients commonly report milk [lactose] intolerances, and dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities. In fact, many people have difficulty differentiating lactose intolerance from IBS, since they have such similar symptoms and often overlap. If you want to have a HAPPY GUT®, eliminating dairy at least for the time being is an important piece of the puzzle.  

3. Lectins

Last year I did a whole series of blogs called The Lectin Paradox, where I debunked the most common and pervasive myths about lectins. I don’t believe that lectins should be eliminated from the diet in all cases, but if you’re struggling with IBS or digestive issues, a lectin elimination diet is key. Research has shown that lectins can affect the gut microbiota and have systemic effects on inflammation and immune function as well as block the absorption of other important nutrients your body needs to thrive.

You might look at the list above and think you don’t have to worry because you don’t have lactose intolerance or celiac disease. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Why?

You might look at the list above and think you don’t have to worry because you don’t have lactose intolerance or celiac disease. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Why?

For example, one person might have a food allergy, like a common peanut allergy, and this is mediated by IgE antibodies. This type of allergy can result in an immediate reaction, and even lead to anaphylaxis. Another person might have an immune reaction to a food, like in the case of Celiac Disease to gluten, and this is mediated by a combination of IgA and IgG antibodies. It’s also possible that you have a sensitivity to just one part of a food, such as in the case of lectins where it’s just the lectin protein that causes an issue. This is why it’s so important to try eliminating these foods; that’s the only way you’ll really know how they’re influencing your gut health.

When you take out foods that are triggering gut and gut-related issues in your body, it gives your body a chance to heal, just like it did for Mavic:

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“The cleanse was tough in the beginning. I experienced withdrawal symptoms from the food groups that I had to eliminate. But it was just a headache / migraine for about 3 days.

After the cleanse, my hives and rashes are gone, my rosacea has disappeared. And I have continued to stay close to the same diet until now. And I feel good. I don’t worry about rashes, hives, rosacea and eczema anymore plus I feel more energized, I sleep well, and also realized I got rid of brain fog, which I thought was just because I am getting old.”

Optimal Gut Superfoods Your Tummy Will Thank You For

When you’re trying to optimize gut health, it’s important not to get stuck in a never ending cycle of elimination. Unfortunately, this is a mistake I see all the time in the health and wellness world — people just keep eliminating foods groups and focus only on avoiding foods that are “bad,” instead of focusing on incorporating foods that are good. So let’s talk about some of the best foods (and spices!) for a HAPPY GUT®.

1. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

Fermented foods are probably the #1 superfood for gut health. Why? Because fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that can improve symptoms like bloating, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, and also more serious digestive issues. For example, research has established a strong connection between the gut microbiome and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. These diseases are characterized by a loss of diversity in the gut microbiome and ferments can help promote re-diversification of the gut microbiome.

2. Coconut Yogurt

Coconut Yogurt

Yogurt is another fermented food that’s chock full of beneficial bacteria. That said, most yogurt is made from homogenized and pasteurized cow’s milk and can be irritating to the digestive system. Luckily, there are now a ton of plant-based yogurts, like those made from coconut milk. These foods help not only with digestive issues but also with nutrient absorption. How? They can help support the growth of favorable gut bacteria that release byproducts like butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid essential for good health) and nutrients like vitamin B and vitamin K.

3. Nut Milks

Nut Milk

Switching to nut milk might just be the easiest thing you can do to improve gut health. The good news is that nut milks are delicious. My favorites are cashew, almond, and macadamia. Just make sure you’re looking for brands with minimal added ingredients (like guar gum) and completely avoid carrageenan, which has been shown to cause IBS in a rat model. You can also make nut milk at home (here’s a Homemade Almond Milk recipe to get you started).

4. Arugula

Fresh Arugula

Dark leafy greens are one of the best foods for gut health because they’re not only chock full of phytonutrients, they also contain plenty of fiber that help keep your digestion regular, which can ensure that the gut, intestines, and colon are being cleaned out properly. The fibers in greens are also the food that beneficial gut bacteria eat, so eating plenty of leafy greens can help promote microbial diversity, as well as keep your colon healthy.

5. Bone Broth

Bone Broth

Bone broth is filled with natural collagen and amino acids like glutamine, which is a key regulator of gut health. For example, the authors of one review study wrote that: “In gut physiology, glutamine promotes enterocyte proliferation, regulates tight junction proteins, suppresses pro-inflammatory signaling pathways, and protects cells against apoptosis [death] and cellular stresses during normal and pathologic conditions.” That’s a long way of saying that glutamine prevents leaky gut, inflammation, and digestive disease. Researchers have also studied bone broth for its direct immune-boosting properties. For example, researchers from the University of Nebraska found that chicken broth was able to inhibit the migration of certain immune cells, which creates an anti-inflammatory effect, and thus helps reduce symptoms of illness. This benefit may be thanks to an amino acid called glycine, which can bind to the surface of certain immune cells. If you want to try bone broth, you can make bone broth at home or buy it frozen at most grocery stores.

[BONUS ‘Gut-Superfood’ Spices]

1. Tumeric

Turmeric is known as the ultimate anti-inflammatory spice, and for good reason! The authors of one study wrote that turmeric’s “unique anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and ability to modulate gut microbiota make it a potentially useful addition to our collection of treatments for IBS.” You can add more turmeric to your diet by taking turmeric powder and making it into fresh tea or golden milk, or you can add the fresh root to soups or other cooked dishes.

2. Ginger

Ginger is a superstar for digestive issues, especially nausea. In fact, it’s been studied as a complementary treatment for nausea, vomiting, and fatigue caused by chemotherapy. You can make ginger tea or take fresh ginger root and juice it or put it in the blender. Then, just add a tablespoon to a glass of water and drink it down! I also love adding ginger to soups and stir fried veggies.

Clearly, food is the foundation of a healthy gut, and eliminating the wrong foods (I’m looking at you, gluten, dairy, and lectins) and incorporating the beneficial ones can make all the difference for gut health. That said, food isn’t the entire story; in fact, some lifestyle factors that seem unrelated to digestion can affect your gut more than you know. To learn more about how to support a healthy gut, check out The Top Ten Tips for a Healthy, Happy Gut here.

2 Comments

  1. Beth

    Could you explain to me what IgA and IgG mean please? I had a food sensitivity test. Some of the foods I’m sensitive to are in these different categories. And I’m not sure what it means. I’ve tried googling it and I really can’t get a straight answer. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Vincent Pedre M.D.

      Thank you for asking. We’ll write a blog post about it in October.

      Reply

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