There’s no need to be shy about gut health. It may occasionally call for studying your bowel movements, but it also involves practices that are simple and pleasant, like incorporating more plant foods into your diet and doubling down on your love of kimchi. And when you’re ready to get the medicine cabinet involved, there are effective supplements that can help.
Eat More Plants
Prebiotics are soluble fibers that come from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Your digestive enzymes can’t break down the fibers, so they move along the digestive tract to your large intestine. Here, the bacteria start to feast on the prebiotics, using them as energy so that they can grow and also provide support for intestinal health and gut barrier function.
Vegetarians and vegans tend to have high-fiber diets, and studies have shown that these diets may also confer a microbiome advantage: allowing the development of a more diverse population of gut microbes. Additionally, high-fiber vegan and vegetarian diets encourage the growth of microbial species that ferment fiber into short-chain fatty acids. Many of these SCFAs have beneficial roles—among them, the ability to support immune function and regulate intestinal health.
We recently put together a guide to some of our best, most popular plant-based recipes (featuring a crispy chickpea-flour flatbread that reminds us of BBQ chicken pizza). To get the most prebiotics out of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, start there.
Creamy Cashew and Butternut Squash Soup
While they often consist of types of bacteria similar to those naturally present in the microbiome, probiotics are live and active cultures grown in a facility for the specific purpose of modulating the body’s natural microbiome. You find them most often in capsules. Some of them require refrigeration; others are shelf-stable. The types of microbes present in a probiotic supplement vary. If you’re taking probiotics for a specific purpose, the type you’re taking matters: Like the microbes found naturally in your gut, the microbes in probiotics perform different functions in the body.
The microbes in probiotics are transient, meaning they pass through the body and do not typically form permanent colonies in the gut. Which is why taking probiotics consistently is important—the probiotics you take today won’t stick around for long.
Gut Microbiome Superpowder
goop, $55/$50 with subscription
If you’re looking for a probiotic made with healthy gut function in mind, consider goop Wellness Gut Microbiome Superpowder. It’s formulated with 10 billion CFU of a single probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (LP299V®), that’s been shown in clinical studies to promote digestive health and function, including support for occasional digestive upset, bloating, and regularity. It’s stable at room temperature, so there’s no refrigeration needed. And it’s in a convenient powder form that blends great into smoothies, iced coffee, or a glass of water. The superpowder also contains prebiotics, digestive enzymes to aid in the digestion of macronutrients, L-glutamine, and aloe juice concentrate (traditionally used for its soothing effects) to keep your gut functioning optimally.*
Eat Fermented Foods
What’s uncomplicated—and pretty much indisputable at this point—is that working live cultures into your diet can be an asset. Regularly eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi can help support a healthy gut.
You can pick up a jar of kimchi at the grocery store—you’ll usually find it in a refrigerator, sharing shelves with vegetarian staples like tofu and tempeh—but making kimchi yourself is a project worth the effort. It’s not difficult, but it takes some time—we recommend inviting some friends over for a kimchi party and making one of the three recipes we learned from one of our incredible food stylists, Caroline Hwang.
Identify Dietary Triggers
We’ve long been familiar with the reality that an extra-creamy vanilla milkshake might send us straight to the restroom, and the last decade has revealed that gluten intolerance is far more common than we had previously thought. But plenty of foods that can cause gastrointestinal upset are left underexamined, so they’re often missed by those affected by them. A short-term elimination diet—in which you remove a whole bunch of potential triggers from your diet and slowly introduce them back to see what elicits a reaction from your body—can help you determine which foods you might consider avoiding for the sake of your gut. (That said, getting the nutrition you need while on an elimination diet can be tricky. It’s best to go about it with the help of a registered dietitian.)
Because an elimination diet entails temporarily removing foods you might normally have in your dinner rotation, pursuing one brings up the question of what to eat in the meantime. Every January, when we take on our annual new year detox, our food director, Caitlin, whips up a bunch of recipes free from common food triggers, including dairy, gluten, corn, nightshades, soy, refined sugar, shellfish, white rice, eggs, caffeine, and alcohol. We love her clean recipes because they never feel like we’re giving anything up—just welcoming all the good stuff.
As our senior director of science and research, Gerda Endemann, reminds us, few people thoroughly chew their food, and that can be problem for digestion. “Chewing is an essential part of digestion—enzymes can’t access food unless it’s well mashed and mixed with water into a smooth goo,” Endemann notes. “The poor stomach works overtime trying to soften and mash and break up hastily swallowed chunks.”
Many people’s digestive systems work well enough that they don’t experience uncomfortable consequences when they haven’t completely chewed their food. But for others, certain foods can be difficult to digest and can contribute to diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or symptoms elsewhere in the body.
Try Gut-Supporting Supplements
Probiotics top our gut-health shopping list. But a comprehensive approach to digestion and gastrointestinal comfort might involve a few more items from the supplement aisle.
Triphala is a powdered blend of three fruits: amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki. Together, they make an Ayurvedic tonic traditionally used to gently nourish the gut and support digestive health. We recommend taking these organic triphala capsules twice daily with water either before or after a meal to maximize the balancing benefits.*
The digestive enzymes naturally found in your gut support the process through which nutrients are broken down and absorbed. And they may help promote digestive comfort, too. While more research is needed on supplemental digestive enzymes, they’ve become popular among gut-health-conscious people. Debloat+ from The Nue Co. provides a generous assortment of digestive enzymes together with GutGard, a clinically studied gut-supporting licorice root extract.* (You can also find a blend of digestive enzymes in our Gut Microbiome Superpowder.)
The Nue Co
Vitamin D, a hormone we call the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it in response to sunlight exposure, has been implicated in various health conditions. We need vitamin D to absorb the calcium we eat and to maintain healthy bones, but it is also important in regulating the growth of breast, prostate, and colon cells, and it’s needed for healthy immunity. In recent years, it’s also been associated with the health of the gut. Having healthy levels of vitamin D is known to promote intestinal health overall, and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to inflammation that disrupts the gut.*
The Nue Co
Vitamin D Spray
Magnesium acts as an osmotic laxative by drawing water into the colon, helping move things along more gently than other kinds of laxatives and without creating any kind of dependence. You can take magnesium any time of day, but we like it best at night. (In addition to its gut benefits, magnesium supports healthy muscle contraction and relaxation—a welcome benefit at bedtime.)
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid naturally produced in the gut when the microbes in your colon ferment dietary fiber. (It’s considered a postbiotic.) Butyrate is a major source of energy for cells in the colon, and animal and cell studies suggest that it may support healthy gut barrier function. Preliminary studies have also shown that SCFAs, including butyrate, may promote a healthy microbiome and support gut homeostasis.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
LP299V® is a registered trademark of Probi AB.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.