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How certain foods help boost gut health

5 Feb 2023

From consuming a high-fibre diet to topping your plate with ingredients that promote good bacteria, here are dos and don’ts to keep the gut in good shape

Many diseases begin in the gut. Our microbiome—the healthy gut flora—consists of trillions of microbes. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in our health, including immune system regulation, protection against infections, regulation of cholesterol levels and hypertension, and prevention of gastrointestinal cancer. Ayurveda has documented connections between gut health, nutrition and digestion. That brings into the picture the relationship between gut health and the whole digestion process of absorption, assimilation, metabolism and elimination.

The gut-food connect

“Gut health starts from the way you chew food. From saliva to different organs that the food passes through right till you excrete, each plays an important role in maintaining gut health. But it is way below in the small intestine where you find the entire microbiome ecosystem,” says Mickey Mehta, holistic health and life coach. Both good and bad microbes live in your gut and it’s essential to eat foods that can help boost gut health.

Food fuels the body and mind; we eat nutritious foods so that our bodies can grow, repair and function well. When we choose nutritious foods, we’re providing the body (and brain) with the building blocks needed to be at our best. According to Dr Eileen Canday, head of department of nutrition and dietetics, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, “Following a healthy pattern of eating is linked not only to fewer occurrences of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, but also better stress management, improved sleep quality, concentration, and mental well-being.”

We need meals to stay energetic and active throughout the day and each organ’s function is managed by our brain. The brain needs a steady supply of energy and nutrition, which is where our gut comes into play. Explains Dr Archana Batra, dietician and diabetes educator, “The gut’s job is to absorb nutrients from the food we ingest and the nutrition ingested by the gut is distributed to the rest of our organs, including the brain.” So, if the stomach is in good health, digesting and absorbing food effectively, the brain will receive all of the necessary nutrients to power itself.”

Fill your plate with these

Our gut loves the two biotics—probiotics and prebiotics—together termed as synbiotics, which are essential for a strong gastrointestinal (GI) system. Probiotic foods contain living microorganisms that help with nutrient metabolisation and digestion while prebiotic foods help keep probiotic microbes active in the stomach. Adds Batra, “Yoghurt, kombucha, kafir and pickles are high in probiotics while bananas, asparagus, chicory, garlic and onions are rich in prebiotics. For a symbiotic meal, combine any two probiotics and prebiotic. For example, a banana smoothie prepared with kefir or yoghurt.” Foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, sardine, ghee, anchovy, broccoli, peppers and fish oil protect the gut from inflammation and GI infections.

What is really good for the gut is a clean balanced diet high in fibre as it is associated with stable gut diversity. It is best to include vegetables like pumpkin, broccoli, spinach, onion and sweet potato; fruits like honey dew melon, musk melon, pomegranate, banana, berries, apple; and whole grains, sprouts and legumes in your diet. Mehta observes, “Including simple prebiotic foods like a combination of unpolished rice, ghee and a little salt and probiotic foods like curd, buttermilk and fermented foods help in the flow of good bacteria in the gut.” Herbs and spices such as triphala, turmeric, ginger and herbal preparations like rasayans also have a beneficial effect on the microbiome.

Batra recommends eating a wide variety of foods and including a bowl of high-fibre food, such as legumes and lentils, leafy legumes, fruits and chickpeas. “Consume a spoonful of ghee daily and top your breakfast with nuts and seeds, like walnuts, cashews, chia seeds and flaxseeds,” she says. Talking about the don’ts, Dr Canday suggests avoiding consumption of foods containing empty calories (low nutrient content), such as chips, refined breads and biscuits and highly refined foods and sugar. Such low fibre intake prevents the beneficial bacteria from flourishing.

Published in India Today

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