Superfoods For Gut Health To Support Digestion

Jul 27, 2022 Digestion Healthy Eating

Superfoods For Gut Health To Support Digestion

Quick Health Scoop

  • Gut health is the overall status of our gut microbiome and how it helps or hinders our digestive health as well as other aspects of our health [1]
  • Some nutrients that support gut health: Vitamins A, C, D, and the B vitamins, Zinc, Selenium, Magnesium, fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]
  • There is no official scientific definition of a superfood, but generally, they’re considered foods that are high in nutrients that are beneficial for your body
  • Some sources of nutrient-rich foods that may be considered superfoods are fruits such as apples and berries, vegetables such as kale and broccoli, yogurt, oats, and salmon

What is Gut Health?

To understand what we mean by gut health, let’s (briefly) review the workings of the digestive system. Our digestive systems break down the food we eat into energy that our bodies can use. Some foods contain nutrients and other substances that may help digestion, while others may not. However, it’s not just about what we eat. Our stomach and intestinal tracts aren’t empty caverns, they are filled with living organisms. Your gut microbiome (the collective environment) hosts gut microbiota (communities of microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa) [2]. Your gut bacteria can be beneficial bacteria to the process of digestion or can hinder it.

Your gut microbes are very diverse. There are both helpful and harmful microbes. It’s the balance that’s important. When our gut microbiome balance is thrown off, either from our diet, an illness, or the use of antibiotics, then we might experience negative effects in other parts of our body [1].

Ideally, for digestive health, we’d like to have a healthy gut, which is really a healthy gut microbiome filled with healthy bacteria. So how can we help it along?

 

What are the Essential Nutrients for Gastrointestinal Health?

Our gut flora, those trillions of microorganisms, assist in healthy digestion as well as regulating how energy is used and supporting our immune system [3]. Any changes in our gut can negatively impact healthy gut bacteria. That’s why maintaining balance is important for better gut health. So which nutrients might assist our good bacteria in the gut? Below are a few:

  • B Vitamins: This group of eight vitamins, referred to as the B Complex, is important for many metabolic processes. Specifically, they help to break down the food you eat into cellular energy [4].
  • Vitamin D: This vitamin supports a healthy immune response, and over 70% of immune cells are present in the gut [5].
  • Essential minerals: Zinc, Selenium, and Magnesium are essential minerals that assist in many body processes, including in the gut [6].
  • Fiber. Dietary fiber (from grains and plants) needs to be broken down by bacteria in your gut and doing so keeps them active. Fiber is either soluble fiber, easily broken down, or insoluble fiber, more difficult to digest [3].
  • Polyphenols. These plant compounds act as antioxidants in the body to help fight oxidants (free radicals) and they also support the growth of bacteria in your gut [7].
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: The Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) support heart health [8].

What Makes Food a Superfood?

You’ve probably heard the term “superfood” and made assumptions about what it means, whether that meaning is healthy food, whole foods, or plant-based foods that provide health benefits. There is no official science-based definition of a superfood, but it is generally understood to be a food source that offers beneficial nutrients for the body. For this blog, we’ll use the Merriam-Webster definition:

Superfood (noun): a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.

10 Superfoods for Gut Health to Boost Digestion

Now that we know a little about gut health, which nutrients affect it, and what to look for in a superfood, what should we eat? We’ve accumulated a list of ten popularly proclaimed “superfoods” that will be healthy additions to your diet.

  1. Apples: Red, green, golden. No matter the color, apples contain health-promoting nutrients, including Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, folate (Vitamin B9), polyphenols (antioxidants), and fiber [9].
  2. Berries: High in flavonoids, a type of polyphenol with antioxidant properties that gives berries their rich color [10]. Berries also provide Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin C [9]. Blueberries, raspberries, tart cherries, and cranberries all provide antioxidant benefits and are a great addition to your diet.
  3. Dark Leafy Greens: There are lots of types of green leafy vegetables, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and collard greens. Not only are these greens low in calories, but they are also high in nutrients such as folate (vitamin B9), Vitamins A and C, fiber, and antioxidants [10].
  4. Oats: A great source of prebiotic fiber, especially soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves into a thick gel that slowly passes through your body. This process allows you to feel fuller after eating and promotes healthy gut bacteria [11]. Besides eating oats for oatmeal, they’re a great addition to smoothies, homemade granola bars, and even different types of bread.
  5. Salmon: A protein source that provides the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is beneficial for heart health [8]. Salmon is also a source of Selenium and some of the B vitamins [9].
  6. Nuts & Seeds: Nutrient-dense foods high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, like the plant-based Omega-3 ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid), as well as essential vitamins and minerals [9]. When looking to incorporate nuts and seeds into your diet, aim for unroasted, to limit added fat from oils, and unsalted. Some good nuts and seeds to incorporate include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseed.
  7. Beans & Legumes: Plant-based protein sources that provide fiber and polyphenols, as well as essential nutrients like Magnesium, Phosphorous, and Iron [9]. Not to be confusing, beans are a type of legume, but not all legumes are beans (peas, for example). The most nutrient-dense options include lentils, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and peas.
  8. Cruciferous vegetables: Think broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. These veggies are part of the cabbage family and are loaded with polyphenols, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is more difficult to digest by your gut microbiota, but it helps get things moving through your digestive tract [11].
  9. Yogurt: Yogurt (also spelled yoghurt) is a fermented food that contains good bacteria, just like your gut. This popular dairy product is made by a fermentation process of adding bacteria to milk. The result is a tangy, creamy texture that is great for smoothies, desserts, or eating alone! Yogurt is a source of protein, Calcium, Vitamin B12, and good gut bacteria [12]. Make sure to read the nutrition labels, as many yogurts have added sugars or artificial sweeteners. For the most nutrient-dense choice, try either plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a fermented milk drink containing bacteria and digestive enzymes that help break down the food you eat [13].
  10. Pumpkin: A source of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Potassium [9]. It’s also lower in calories and is extremely versatile: it can be eaten by itself (steamed or roasted) or in baked goods like pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and the list goes on. As a bonus, you can roast the seeds. Not only do they contain antioxidants and essential nutrients like Zinc and Vitamin K, but pumpkin seeds are also a delicious snack.

The Bottom Line

Gut health is the function of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract, including the balance of the microorganisms that live in the gut microbiome. There are nutrients thought to benefit good bacteria in the gut and digestive tract and there are many digestive superfoods that contain these nutrients. While there is no scientific definition for “superfood”, it’s generally thought of as foods that are high in beneficial nutrients for the body. As always, it is best to eat a well-balanced diet that includes many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein to ensure you are meeting your daily nutritional needs and keeping your gut happy.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.

References

  1. “The Microbiome.” The Nutrition Source, 1 May 2020. Accessed on June 20, 2022: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/.
  2. Valdes A M, Walter J, Segal E, Spector T D. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and healthBMJ 2018; 361 :k2179 doi:10.1136/bmj.k2179. Access on June 17, 2022: https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179.
  3. “Nutrition for Gut Health.” Nutrition for Gut Health | University Hospitals. Accessed on June 21, 2022: https://www.uhhospitals.org/services/clinical-nutrition-services/patient-resources/diet-information/nutrition-for-gut-health#:~:text=The%20good%20news%20is%20we,to%20keep%20our%20gut%20healthy.
  4. The Nutrition Source. “B Vitamins.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed on June 23, 2022: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitaminb.
  5. Wiertsema, Selma P et al. “The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies.” Nutrients 13,3 886. 9 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13030886. Accessed on June 20, 2022: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33803407/#:~:text=With%2070%2D80%25%20of%20immune,the%20local%20mucosal%20immune%20system.
  6. Yang, Qi et al. “Role of Dietary Nutrients in the Modulation of Gut Microbiota: A Narrative Review.” Nutrients 12,2 381. 31 Jan. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12020381. Accessed on June 20, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071260/.
  7. [polyphenol study]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199944
  8. Costantini, Lara et al. “Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota.” International journal of molecular sciences 18,12 2645. 7 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms18122645. Accessed on June 20, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5751248/.
  9. Agricultural Research Service: FoodData Central: Food Search. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed on June 20, 2022: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/.
  10. AHA: Healthy For Good. “Get Smart About Superfoods.” American Heart Association. Accessed on June 21, 2022: https://www.heart.org/-/media/aha/h4gm/pdf-files/superfoodsfinalsmaller.pdf?la=en.
  11. Guan, Z.-W.; Yu, E.-Z.; Feng, Q. Soluble Dietary Fiber, One of the Most Important Nutrients for the Gut Microbiota. Molecules 2021, 26, 6802. https://doi.org/10.3390/ molecules26226802.
  12. El-Abbadi, Naglaa Hani et al. “Yogurt: role in healthy and active aging.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99,5 Suppl (2014): 1263S-70S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.073957. Accessed on June 21, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6410895/.
  13. Barbara Bolen, PhD. “Why Enzymes Are an Important Part of Your Digestive System.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 11 Nov. 2021. Accessed on June 23, 2022: https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-digestive-enzymes-1945036.

Authors

Amy Mills Klipstine

NatureMade Sr. Copywriter

Amy has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a credentialed English teacher, though she left the classroom to write full time. She especially enjoys creating educational content about health, wellness, and nutrition. Her happy place is in the kitchen, and when not writing, you can find her trying out “kid-friendly recipes” and “healthy desserts for chocolate lovers” from her Pinterest board.

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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