Foods That Feed the Gut

By Dr. John Cluley – September 1, 2016
Anna Donlan

It’s a mistake to believe that our gut acts merely as a path for food to travel through the body. Today, we know that the digestive tract and its vast network of trillions of microorganisms, also known as the “microbiome,” have profound effects on all aspects of our health. From our skin and mental health to our immune systems and digestion, it all begins—and ends—in the gut. That’s why I recommend that you start nourishing your gut with these three easy-to-find gut-loving food groups.

GO PRO. Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that, when taken in adequate amounts, maintain a balance in the gut and aid in vital digestive functions. These friendly bacteria can fight off certain bad bacteria and gut viruses, ease the troublesome symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and have even been shown to prevent eczema in children.

Probiotics can be found in the form of a capsule or pill, but there is also a large array of fermented probiotic foods that will make your taste buds and your gut happy. These ferments utilize live microorganisms to transform simple food like cabbage into a complex and tasty treat like sauerkraut. You don’t have to go far to find these foods and you can even buy local with great products like Hat Creek Provisions pickles, Buddha’s Brew kombucha and White Mountain Bulgarian yogurt, which are all rich sources of probiotics.

GO PRE. While eating probiotic-packed foods is a great way to start improving gut health, there is no substitute for a healthy diet loaded with plants. That’s because your good gut bacteria eat what are called “prebiotics,” a type of fiber found in plant-based foods. Prebiotics act as fuel for your living gut flora to grow, thrive, and do their job in the gut. Some plants in particular contain prebiotics that promote several of the best species of gut bacteria. These plants include asparagus, garlic, and Jerusalem artichoke—all gut-loving foods that will help your gut flora thrive and flourish.

GO OFTEN. In gut health, fiber is always the answer! In addition to supporting digestion and helping you maintain “regularity,” we know that fiber has been shown to protect against obesity and heart disease and can even decrease your risk of developing colon cancer. I generally recommend consuming a minimum of 30 grams of fiber daily, yet sadly the average American consumes less than half of that.

You can find fiber in whole foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. When you’re constantly on the go, it’s also good to have a fiber supplement that you can easily add to smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt. I prefer Organic Digest, made by Austin-based The Natural Citizen as it contains 5 grams of clean, natural fiber, including prebiotics from Jerusalem artichoke. Add it to a veggie-packed green smoothie for a perfect way to start the day with a fiber punch. The “ACG” (Apple, Carrot, Ginger) is my go-to smoothie now that so many delicious apples are in season.

Whether you’re backed up or feeling a bit of brain fog, before you hit the medicine aisle, work with your doctor or a nutritionist and take a good look at your diet and your gut. These three simple gut-loving foods could result in sizeable improvements to your overall health.

The above commentary is not meant to represent medical advice or replace the recommendations of your doctor.

Dr. Cluley's ACG Smoothie

1 large apple, cored and quartered

Handful of spinach or other greens

3-4 medium carrots

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Juice of 1 lemon

1 scoop Organic Digest or other fiber supplement

1/2 cup+ non dairy milk (flax milk is a great way to pack in a bit of protein!)

1/2 cup+ coconut water

1 tsp spirulina

1-2 medjool dates, pitted

Dash of cinnamon, to taste

For more gut-healthy recipes and inspiration, visit

Dr. John Cluley is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Texas Digestive Disease Consultants. In addition to Dr. John’s medical training at Northwestern University and UT Southwestern, he has a certification in nutrition from Cornell University.  He strives to help his patients find relief first through lifestyle and diet changes before turning to medication.  He is energized by patients who take a proactive approach to their health, and often lends his gut health expertise to the Austin fitness community through appearances at gyms and through his Instagram account, @FitGutMD where he shares approachable gut-healthy recipes. Find him regularly at CrossFit South Lamar busting barbells or at Love Cycling Studio trying to master the tap back. On cheat days, he experiments on his favorite toy, the Big Green Egg, where gut health is sometimes compromised.


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