Your gut bacteria do a lot. They influence energy, weight, digestion, aging, and more. Gut bacteria even change the way you think. That means building a stronger gut - and populating it with helpful bacteria - can improve your life a lot, even outside of your digestive system.
You can change your gut bacteria a few different ways:
This article will focus on food. What you eat (and just as importantly, what you don’t eat) has a major impact on the state of your gut. Here’s how to feed your gut bacteria and help them thrive.
Remove inflammatory foods to heal your gut
Inflammation plays a major in gut health, as well as aging, fatigue, digestion, and stress. Pathogenic gut bacteria (the bad ones) either produce inflammatory compounds in your gut or thrive in inflammatory states, which contributes to dysbiosis (an imbalanced gut). E. coli is a notable example; our guts all have it in small amounts, but if it gets out of control it can cause major gut inflammation and digestive issues [1,2].
Pathogenic bacteria thrive on certain foods. Cutting those foods out of your diet can help you curb inflammation and make your gut more resilient. Keep your eye on the following:
Alcohol. Alcohol contributes to inflammatory bacterial overgrowth in a major way . Regular drinking is the worst, but a single night of binge drinking also causes short-term gut inflammation. Alcohol also damages your gut lining, causing further inflammation and weakening your ability to fight off pathogens . Keep the drinking to a minimum; your gut will thank you.
Excess sugar and refined carbs. In small amounts, sugar can actually be good for your gut . Too much sugar, though, plays a role in inflammatory dysbiosis . This doesn’t mean you need to eat a low-carb diet - in fact, complex carbs are an excellent source of fuel for good gut bacteria (more on that in a minute). Just keep the sugar to a minimum.
Artificial sweeteners. There’s a lot of hype about artificial sweeteners being terrible for you, despite relatively few studies on the topic. There is, however, a good amount of evidence that saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Nutrasweet) all suppress good gut bacteria and increase bad gut bacteria [7,8]. Stick to stevia, monkfruit, lakanto, or a small amount of sugar instead of going the artificial route.
Lectins (for some people). Lectins are common in several vegetables. They’re a form of self-defense for the plants; they bind to the lining of your gut and damage it , causing intestinal inflammation to dissuade you from eating the plant again. You’ll find lectins in peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, peanuts, beans, soy, and most grains. Cooking or fermenting deactivates many of the lectins, but if you’re particularly sensitive, the ones that remain can inflame your gut. Give the above foods a try and pay attention to how you feel afterward. If you’re sluggish or you get digestive distress, you may be better off avoiding lectin-filled foods.
Gluten and grains (for some people). Some folks do just fine with gluten. Others get moderate-to-severe gut damage and produce inflammatory proteins in response to it . More and more research suggests that there’s a spectrum to gluten sensitivity - you don’t have to be full celiac to see negative effects from it. Again, test yourself to see how you feel with gluten. If you feel low-energy or bloated after eating gluten, you’re better off avoiding it.
Nurture your gut by avoiding these foods. You’ll minimize inflammation and create a strong baseline to start feeding your good gut bacteria.
The best foods to build a healthy gut
After you’ve removed inflammatory foods, it’s time to start populating your gut with the best bacteria around. These foods either feed good gut bacteria or support the integrity of your gut lining.
Fiber. Fiber is the food of choice for many species of good gut bacteria. Its benefits are twofold: first, good bacteria use fiber for energy, allowing them to flourish and colonize your gut . Second, those good bacteria turn fiber into short-chain fatty acids, anti-inflammatory compounds that help repair your gut lining . If you’re on a higher-carb diet, get your carbs from complex, fiber-rich sources. If you’re lower-carb, eat plenty of green veggies. They’re full of fiber.
Fermented foods. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, natto, pickles - fermented food has been a staple for dozens of cultures throughout history. That’s not an accident; fermented foods are rich in good bacteria that can fight off pathogens and shift your gut composition for the better [13,14,15,16]. Different fermented foods have different bacteria, meaning they offer different benefits. Most fermented foods list the bacterial strains on their label here are some of the best bacteria to look for.
Collagen. Collagen protein has an abundance of amino acids that help keep your gut lining strong [17,18]. Have you heard about bone broth healing your gut? That’s because it’s so rich in collagen. You can also get collagen from connective tissue (tripe, cartilage, and so on), or you can just take collagen protein powder. There’s a good amount of collagen in Ample, by the way.
Omega-3s. Omega-3s keep inflammation low in your whole body, including your gut. They also consistently increase good gut bacteria and gut diversity [19,20]. You’ll find omega-3s in grass-fed meat and fatty wild-caught fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, and tuna.
Diversify your diet for a stronger gut
One last thing to consider: a diverse gut is often a happy gut [21,22,23]. When you eat a wide range of foods you introduce all kinds of unusual bacteria to your gut. That variety can create more stability and make your gut more resilient [24,25].
So indulge in your curious side and try food from new cultures. Venture into a foreign market and ask what’s good. Grab something fermented from the grocery store. Switch up your diet for a few days. Keep feeding the bacteria in your gut; your whole body will thank you for it.