You’ve probably heard by now that optimal digestive function is paramount to overall health and wellness. The state of your gastrointestinal tract—also known as the GI tract or the gut—plays a critical role in supporting your health. But if you don’t tend to the trillions of microbes in your gut , they may also contribute to some common health conditions.
A healthy gut digests and absorbs the food you consume so that the body can use all of the nutrients for functioning. The lining of your gut is critical to the proper absorption of these nutrients as well as the efficient excretion of waste and protection from harmful foreign invaders. When this lining becomes permeable or “leaky ”—from chronic stress , processed foods, alcohol, medications, or an imbalance in your gut microbiome—nutrients and predigested materials leak out from the gut into the bloodstream and can trigger an inflammatory response in the body.
This inflammatory response can present as gas and bloating , acid reflux, fatigue , joint pain, irregular bowel movements, insomnia , brain fog , skin issues like eczema, and even anxiety and depression. Poor digestive function and leaky gut have been associated with many modern diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity , cancer, autoimmune diseases , diabetes, and heart disease .
So what does it take to keep your gut lining strong and running smoothly? At Parsley Health we always recommend starting with what is on your plate. By taking a holistic approach, we dive deeper into your diet and create a personalized treatment plan to help you feel your best. Both your Parsley Health clinician and health coach will work together to understand your individual gut—how you react to foods like gluten and dairy , how medication may be impacting your gut, how well your digestive system functions—and suggest a diet and supplement plan that’s tailored to you. For some, this may also include in-depth testing to get a better look at your microbiome and food sensitivities .
If you’re looking to start making changes today, here are the top gut healing foods to keep in heavy rotation for a strong and healthy intestine:
Bone broth makes the cut for one of the top gut healing foods. This traditionally slow cooked broth contains lots of gelatin and collagen, the building blocks of our connective tissue, including the tissue that makes up our GI tract. Some research shows that collagen may help prevent the breakdown of tight junctions , gaps in the gut lining that regulate intestinal permeability, preventing unwanted byproducts of digestion from making their way into the bloodstream and spurring inflammation .
Bone broth also contains amino acids like proline, glycine, and glutamine, which all contain anti-inflammatory properties. Glutamine specifically can help to heal and seal the lining of our gut by protecting intestinal cells from damage. Consume 2-3 cups of bone broth daily either by adding it to soups, stews, and sautéed veggies or simply by sipping a cup by itself. If you’re sensitive to high FODMAP foods or histamine , bone broth may be more difficult for you to tolerate. In this case, a collagen protein powder makes for a great substitution.
Avocados are great for so many reasons, the least of which being their essential nutrient content. Vitamins B-6, C, E, K, magnesium, omega-3s—you name it, avocados have it. They also boast high amounts of potassium and fiber , with 1 cup contraining 10 grams of fiber and more potassium than a banana. Both of these nutrients help keep everything moving in your digestive system, helping prevent bloating and constipation, and maintaining a healthy gut. Avocados are also low in fructose, a type of sugar that many people have trouble digesting, leading to gas , bloating, and overall discomfort. If you experience stomach pain after eating apples or mango, for example, this may be due to their high fructose content . Adding avocados to your diet will allow you to capitalize on all the good essential nutrients these fruits have to offer, without the uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Add it to your salad, toast, or smoothie to see benefits from this gut healing food.
Fatty fish that live in cold water—like salmon, sardines, mackerel, or anchovies—are full of EPA and DHA, omega-3s that help to reduce inflammation and maintain healthy blood vessels. What’s more, DHA may even reverse the harmful effects of sugar , which we know to feed the bad bacteria in your gut and wreak havoc on your digestive system, potentially leading to the growth of candida and yeast—when you eat it in excess, of course. And since your body isn’t great at making this vital nutrient on its own, making sure you get plenty of this essential fatty acid in your diet is extremely important, and salmon is a great place to start. Aim for a 3- to 6-ounce serving of fatty fish two to four times per week. And remember, not all fish is created equal. Check your grocery story for a wild-caught cut of your choice of fish, as this will have more omega-3s than its farmed equivalent.
Not only has extra virgin olive oil been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, but it also has positive effects on your gut microbiota. Olive oil contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat which reduces inflammation and may even help prevent certain types of cancer . It also is high in antioxidants, contributing to its anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil not only reduce inflammation, but can also reduce bacterial overgrowth which leads to leaky gut . When choosing an olive oil, extra virgin is always best. Replacing conventional seed oils such as canola, corn, and soy with a high quality EVOO will help you reduce the amount of processed food in your diet that can irritate the GI tract and cause inflammation.
Spinach, kale, collards, arugula—these are all great options to add to your arsenal of gut-healing foods. Leafy greens contain sulfoquinovose, a type of natural sugar molecule that has been shown to act as an energy source for good bacteria in your gut, fueling the growth of these healthy microbes and creating the ideal conditions for your gut to flourish. They also have plenty of fiber and important minerals like folate and vitamin C, which all contribute to a healthy digestive system. Add a handful of your favorite leafy greens to a smoothie, throw them in with scrambled eggs, or just stick with a simple salad. Pro tip: store your greens in the freezer to help them last longer.
Fermented foods can be some of the best foods for gut health , and sauerkraut, kimchi, or beet kvass are all great places to start. “Fermented” just means that the food goes through a natural process where its microorganisms like bacteria and yeast convert the sugar into acid. This process promotes the growth of probiotics —or good bacteria—in your gut. With the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in the gut that dictate our health by controlling digestion, keeping a healthy balance of gut bacteria is key to GI health. These fermented foods full of probiotics will help to continually replenish the beneficial bacteria in your gut, supporting a healthy bacterial balance and proper digestion. They’ve even been found to relieve discomfort in individuals with more serious gut issues like IBS, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Other gut-healing fermented foods include miso and kefir. But it’s important to keep in mind that the benefits of fermentation disappear when the food is heated, so always be sure to eat them raw, cultured, and unheated to reap all of the benefits.
Although raw root vegetables may not seem like the most glamorous foods to fuel your body, these gut healing foods have many benefits for your digestive health. These—along with other raw vegetables like chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, and dandelion greens—are all known as prebiotics, the lesser-known but equally as important counterpart to probiotics. Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This happens because prebiotics aren’t broken down by digestive enzymes, so they ferment in the colon, leading to the growth of beneficial bacteria. So essentially, eating more prebiotic foods will help probiotics work better in your gut. However, if you struggle with chronic IBS or SIBO , you’ll likely want to steer clear of this group, as they’re high in FODMAP s and may actually irritate your gut.
Resistant starch is another prebiotic food that has been found to have particular benefit to the colon , reducing inflammation and aiding a number of digestive disorders including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis , diarrhea and constipation and even colorectal cancer. Resistant starch can be found in green bananas, cooked and cooled rice, potatoes, and plantains, and whole grains like oats and barley.
If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth but don’t want the energy crash and stomachache most sweets will give you, dark chocolate is your answer. Not only will its chocolate-y goodness not give you digestive discomfort, it will actually benefit your gut. Recent research has found that cocoa flavanols can promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, and can even offer prebiotic benefits. In addition to its gut healing properties, it is also a rich source of antioxidants, and boasts the ability to improve cholesterol and brain function . It’s important to note that many of the health-promoting benefits of dark chocolate come from the cocoa in it, so choose a chocolate that has a high cocoa concentration—at least 70 percent is a great place to start.
Fiber is one of the best ingredients for your overall health as well as your gut health, and chia seeds and flaxseeds are both forms of concentrated fiber, making them great gut-healing foods. Without proper digestion, not only can you experience uncomfortable side effects, but it can actually make it harder for your body to absorb the nutrients you’re eating. Just one ounce of chia seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of fiber (we recommend aiming for 30-40 grams a day). Both seeds contain insoluble fiber, which helps speed digestion and relieve constipation and diarrhea. They are also great plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation throughout the body . Two tablespoons of flaxseeds contain 140% of the recommended daily amount of omega-3s. Try adding two tablespoons of one of these gut-healing foods to your morning smoothie, stir into your oatmeal, or whip up our favorite overnight chia seed yogurt .
Adding these gut healing foods to your daily intake is a wonderful way to start supporting your gut and beginning to heal any underlying digestive issues that may be stemming from a leaky or imbalanced intestine.
Kris (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based Master Nutrition Therapist and Senior Health Coach with seven years of functional nutrition and health experience. She is a certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, earned her Master Nutrition Therapy certification through the Nutrition Therapy Institute of Denver, CO, and is trained in Intuitive Eating. Kris is HAES-aligned and passionate about weight-neutral approaches to health, supporting folks to heal from disordered eating/eating disorders, and body liberation.