Superfoods for gut health and healing should be at the ready in your home, at your desk, and nearby at all times.
This is because when it comes to feeling good, nothing makes a bigger difference than a happy belly.
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Gut health versus gut healing
Gut health and gut healing are similar ideas but have a distinct difference between them.
Health is the state of well-being.
Yet healing is a verb, which is an active state of change towards improvement in health.
We should strive for both, but most people need to focus on healing the gut, not just health.
The healing process requires intense nutrition and at the same time, easy-to-digest foods as well.
This is why you won’t find “healthy” things like high fiber beans and whole grains on this list. While high in fiber, they can be surprisingly upsetting to the gut for some people, contain anti-nutrients, and are even inflammatory in the body when not eaten properly.
Rather, foods that have known healing properties in them make the cut here.
Superfoods for gut health and healing overview
This table gives you a quick overview of the 15 superfoods for gut health and healing reviewed in this post.
“Increased microbiome” indicates foods that are known to improve the number and diversity of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Foods with minerals that help heal the gut are in the third column while foods that may decrease inflammation in the gut are in the “decrease inflammation” column.”
The “helps absorb” column is for foods that enhance your ability to break down food due to their enzyme or high nutrient content. The final column lists foods that may help decrease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
|Super-food||Micro-biome||Antacid effects||minerals||inflammation||Helps absorb||Helps |
|micro-biome||Antacid effects||Minerals||Inflammation||Helps absorb||Helps |
|Fermented chia seeds|
|*Apple cider vinegar|
|Extra virgin olive oil|
|micro-biome||Antacid effects||Minerals||Inflammation||Helps absorb|| Helps |
Fermented cabbage, also known as raw sauerkraut, helps with just about every aspect of gut healing. This is because the fermentation process increases the vitamins available in cabbage. A powerful superfood, raw sauerkraut also contains digestive enzymes that aid digestion.
For these reasons, it helps the body absorb nutrients that heal the gut lining.
Raw sauerkraut also helps improve gut pH for many people and is a natural source of both prebiotics and probiotics.
Because of all of these things, raw sauerkraut also acts to reduce indigestion (antacid effects).
Well-known for its ability to reduce nausea, ginger has a lot of other soothing effects on the gut too.
Ginger is good for digestive health because it is rich in antioxidants and is able to help improve the emptying of the stomach.
Ginger for digestion is a tool to have around at all times. This is because it also contains natural digestive enzymes and what’s more, it enhances the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients.
For this reason, it is super helpful for indigestion and symptoms of acid reflux for many people.
Bonus: Ginger can help reduce irritable bowel syndrome because it helps increase the movements of the muscles in the gut.
Prebiotics are a hot topic these days because they help support the diversity of the microbiome. The unsung heroes of prebiotics are mushrooms of all kinds.
Research shows that mushrooms help support healthy immune function, which in part is due to their effects on supporting a healthy microbiome [R].
In other words, mushrooms help beneficial bacteria thrive in the gut.
Related post: 12 Medicinal Mushrooms You Will Want to Try
Always a feel-good food for me, the seaweed in sushi is healing for the gut too. This is in part because it contains alginate which helps strengthen the gut lining’s mucus layer [R].
Seaweed is rich in a diverse range of antioxidants too, such as iodine, which help reduce free radicals in the gut.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing though. Seaweed is a big part of the diet in Japan, which puts them at risk of too much iodine. However, most people also combine seaweed with foods that bind iodine, such as broccoli and cabbage.
Tip: buy organic seaweed as it is less likely to contain heavy metals than its conventional counterparts and combine it with a wide variety of vegetables.
Plus, it’s a great way to make your soup have more flavor and complexity too. Instead of grabbing bouillon, use bone broth for soups, stews, and slow-cooked meals.
Eating liver was once commonplace in most homes, but now people sometimes never taste a bite of it.
However, if you don’t eat pasture-raised beef or chicken liver, you are missing out on the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.
Rich in all gut-healing vitamins and minerals, eating liver helps heal the gut by supplying the nutrients it needs. And yes, it contains a lot of antioxidants too that help to reduce inflammation.
If you could pick one food that helps to reduce toxins in the gut, that food should be raw broccoli sprouts.
Concentrated in a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts dampen inflammation in the gut and help the body clear toxins through the liver.
Additionally, broccoli sprouts can help reduce constipation, reduce cancer risk, and minimize the risk of getting a stomach ulcer too.
And broccoli sprouts are rich in nutrients and prebiotics (as if that were a surprise!). A little goes a long way: a typical serving size is around 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup.
Eating broccoli everyday can help too, even if you haven’t given broccoli sprouts a try. But you should try broccoli sprouts too.
I mean, they can contain over 100 times as many antioxidants as broccoli florets.
Tip: Leafy greens like kale and arugula also contain similar compounds that dampen free radicals in the body.
Wild-Caught Fatty fish
Most people know that eating fish helps to cut inflammation in the body, and this also happens to benefit the gut.
Fatty fish like sardines and wild salmon also are rich in protein and minerals like selenium and zinc that help heal the gut too.
If that wasn’t enough, research now shows that eating fish improves gut microbiome diversity too [R].
When you ferment foods, they are almost always better for the gut, and chia seeds are no exception.
Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which is a good thing.
But just like any fiber-rich foods, chia seeds can be upsetting to the gut for some people because they contain anti-nutrients.
The fermentation process helps the body process the nutrients from chia better and makes the nutrients more available for absorption.
If you want to ferment chia seeds, simply mix 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into 4 tablespoons of water to hydrate them, then add to yogurt and refrigerate overnight. You can also mix these hydrated healthy seeds into your kombucha.
Don’t skip the fermentation step because these seeds do contain lectins that can be upsetting to the gut if you don’t.
Related post: Chia vs Flax vs Hemp: Gut Health Friends?
Apple Cider Vinegar With the Mother
Most people who use raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother) will tell you that they notice that their digestive tract feels better.
This is because it contains live and active probiotics, fermentation compounds, and acetic acid. Acetic acid can be helpful for people who suffer from low stomach acid.
Also helpful for fighting unwanted microbes, apple cider vinegar is a helpful antiseptic too [R].
Tip: make sure to dilute apple cider vinegar when you use it. For example, mix it with extra virgin olive oil and serve it as a vinaigrette dressing.
Licorice tea or licorice capsules help calm the stomach.
Research even shows that licorice may help better than antacids for indigestion. I’ve known people who find licorice root very effective in helping to reduce nausea symptoms too.
Some studies even show that using licorice is more effective than antacids for reducing acid reflux [R].
Licorice also helps with liver health because it has helpful antioxidants that reduce free radical damage in the body.
Tip: Don’t overdo licorice because it can increase blood pressure in some people or drop potassium levels: check with your doctor before adding daily licorice to your diet.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Using extra virgin olive oil helps just about every aspect of your digestive system, from keeping bowels regular to improving the microbiome. For these reasons, extra virgin olive oil is top on the list of powerful superfoods for the gut.
Make sure you choose extra virgin olive oil, not light olive oil, and use it consistently to get the most benefit. After all, the traditional Mediterranean diet would include over 4 tablespoons of olive oil a day on their plates!
A surprising benefit of extra virgin olive oil is that it may be helpful for weight loss, too. This is because it helps curb appetite and also helps to reduce abdominal fat.
If you are missing out on fiber in your diet, avocados are a simple way to boost your fiber intake. Avocados contain 10 grams of fiber per cup, which is almost half of your fiber needs for one day.
The bonus is that the type of fiber is soluble fiber, which promotes healthy bacteria in the gut. Research also shows that avocados reduce the bile acid content of bowel movements and increase short-chain fatty acids, a gut-healing compound [R].
Just be careful if you have histamine intolerance: avocados contain histamine and can cause GI upset for people with this condition.
Using peppermint is helpful for irritable bowel syndrome according to a review of 12 studies [R]. Acting to reduce spasms in the gut, peppermint oil is helpful in reducing symptoms of nausea and also increases the speed of stomach emptying [R].
Not surprisingly, peppermint is anti-inflammatory too, making it helpful for gut health and healing.
Tip: some, but not all, people experience reflux when using peppermint, so it’s best to avoid it if you do. However, other studies show it is helpful for this condition as well, so it could be worth trying out.
Superfoods for gut health include enzyme-rich foods.
Enzyme-rich foods are often fermented foods too, which is really nice. This is because fermented foods also contain healthy bacteria and many other healthy compounds.
For example, most fermented foods contain digestive enzymes that can help heal the gut. This is because they help break down your food into the nutrients that nourish your gut.
These enzyme-rich probiotic foods include kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
Raw honey also contains digestive enzymes too.
Supplements for gut healing
Superfoods are a cornerstone for gut healing, and adding targeted supplements can also help speed the process up.
*A few good choices are:
- Natural multivitamins and minerals by Seeking Health, contains zinc, antioxidants, and natural B-vitamins to speed intestinal repair
- Bovine colostrum by Sovereign Laboratories for helping reduce inflammation and healing leaky gut
- Optimal GI Plus- by Seeking Health contains L-glutamine as fuel for intestinal cells
- Probiota 12 Probiotics by Seeking Health
- GastroDefense Daily: by Sovereign Laboratories, contains probiotics, prebiotics, and colostrum
Related post: The Power Of One: The Power of Food | The Healthy RD
This post is not meant as medical advice and is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat diseases. As with anything, make sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement. All rights reserved.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.