Gut Health

Best food for healthy gut bacteria

May 29, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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General NutritionGeneral Nutrition

Key Points

  • The foods you eat have the ability to influence the microbes in your gut, impacting your overall gut microbiome.
  • Prebiotic and probiotic foods are great for gut health. 
  • Processed foods and artificial sweeteners can negatively impact your gut microbiome. 

There's a lot of talk about gut health out there these days. You've probably heard of "good bacteria" and the gut microbiome, and you may be wondering if you should be consuming prebiotics, fermented foods, and other foods for gut health. Today, we'll talk through the basics of gut health, probiotic foods, and the best food for healthy gut bacteria.

How food impacts gut bacteria

A healthy gut is cultivated largely by the foods you eat. That's because your gut is full of microbes that help keep your gut bacteria balanced. These microbes are part of the gut-brain axis, which is a bidirectional communication network between the gut and central nervous system. It includes metabolic, endocrine, and immune routes of communication as well. This means that your gut has the potential to influence immunity, mood, cognition, and more.

Diet, stress, and medical treatments like antibiotics can all have an impact on gut microbes, leading to issues like inflammation, imbalanced bacteria, and greater susceptibility to infection.

Your gut is constantly sending out immune signals to help maintain intestinal homeostasis. The food you eat plays a big role in how well these signals are regulated.

So, let's dig into foods for gut health.


Prebiotics feed healthy bacteria, helping to balance your gut bacteria. They are generally made up of soluble fiber which can't be digested by humans but "feed" your gut microbes.

Prebiotics have been shown to regulate blood sugar, improve calcium absorption, and enhance colonic bacteria processes to reduce gut transit time. They may also have positive effects on IBS and your overall immune system.

Prebiotic foods include:

  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Leeks
  • Raspberry
  • Onions
  • Inulin
  • Bananas


Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer a health benefit when consumed in adequate amounts. Many fermented foods contain probiotics, but not all. Probiotics can also come in pill or capsule form.

Probiotic foods generally help with digestion, immunity, microbe balance, and nutrient absorption. They can help with some digestive symptoms as well, such as diarrhea and gas.

Probiotic foods include:

  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Tempeh


Pulses are a type of legume that contain high amounts of prebiotic fiber. They support gut health by helping maintain gut homeostasis. They have been found to be particularly helpful in age-associated decline like muscle frailty, cognitive decline, and gut dysbiosis. Their high fiber and protein content and accessibility make them a great health food option for people of all ages to maintain overall health.

Pulses include:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Dry peas (like split peas and black-eyed peas)
  • Lentils


Dietary polyphenols are a type of metabolite found in fruits and vegetables. In fact, they are the most abundant antioxidants in daily life. Polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, in addition to the fact that they can modulate intestinal microbes, giving them a solid influence on gut bacteria.

More research is needed to see exactly how polyphenols work, but any food rich in polyphenols is a great addition to a healthy diet:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Artichokes
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cocoa


As you can probably tell by now, high-fiber foods are great for gut health. Fiber is found in plant-based foods, many of which are rich in other gut-healthy compounds like polyphenols or prebiotics.

All fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, are good sources of dietary fiber. A diet rich in fiber helps to maintain bowel health, normalizes bowel movements, helps balance blood sugar, and lowers cholesterol levels.

Foods to avoid for a healthy gut microbiome

While there are plenty of foods that are great for gut bacteria, there are many others that can wreak havoc on the gut, causing unpleasant symptoms and disrupting the gut barrier. Try to limit or avoid these foods altogether in order to preserve gut health.

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, have zero calories. They don't get digested, but they do come into contact with gut microbes, which can negatively change the gut microbiome. Artificial sweeteners are common in processed foods, zero-sugar products, candy, soft drinks, and baked goods.

Processed foods in general are best to limit. They are high in added sugars, low in fiber, and often contain artificial sweeteners and additives or preservatives which can be difficult to digest. Ultra processed foods confer no nutritional benefit and are often considered "empty calories."

Red meat can be difficult to digest due to a compound that it produces after being metabolized by gut microbes, which is linked to heart disease risk factors. Processed red meats like bacon, sausage, and pepperoni may also increase inflammation and the risk of colorectal cancer.

Dietitians for gut health

If you're trying to improve your gut health and feed the good bacteria in your gut but aren't sure exactly how to do so, working with a registered dietitian is a great way to get the support you need. An RD can teach you all about gut bacteria, probiotics, and the gut microbiome, all while giving you a sustainable meal plan full of pro- and prebiotic foods.

Understanding what foods are and aren't good for gut health can be confusing. It's such a buzzy topic nowadays that it can be difficult to know what's accurate and which foods are right for you. Everyone's gut microbiome is different! That's why a personalized approach is key.

You can find a registered dietitian nutritionist covered by your health insurance with Fay. That means you get access to a board-certified RD for as little as $0 per session while getting the care you need.

Get started with Fay today.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal - The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health.
  • Nutrients by MDPI - The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies
  • International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics - Prebiotics
  • International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics - Probiotics
  • Nutrients by MDPI - Prebiotic Potential of Dietary Beans and Pulses and Their Resistant Starch for Aging-Associated Gut and Metabolic Health
  • Antioxidants by MDPI -Dietary Polyphenol, Gut Microbiota, and Health Benefits
  • Mayo Clinic - Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet
  • International Journal of Molecular Sciences by MDPI - Artificial Sweeteners Negatively Regulate Pathogenic Characteristics of Two Model Gut Bacteria, E. coli and E. faecalis
  • Nature Medicine - Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.