Want to Adopt a Gut Friendly Diet? Here’s Where to Start

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
June 13, 2024
Berries with yogurt

American interest in gut health began rising about 15 years ago. But research on gut microbiome dates back to the 1840s when European scientists studied the role of bacteria in the breakdown of food, the effects gut microorganisms have on health and the importance of probiotics.

Almost a century later, scientists have a much better understanding of gut health, and which foods help balance (or upset) our gut microbiome. Lean proteins like white poultry and fatty fish are credited with aiding digestion, but the real stars of the gut friendly diet show are probiotics and prebiotics. These microorganisms and compounds are found in plant-based foods such as fruits, dairy, nuts, seeds and vegetables.

Why are these microorganisms so valuable? After your body digests them, the remnants are postbiotics, which include nutrients such as vitamins B and K, building blocks of proteins and antimicrobial peptides, which slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Here’s a more in depth look at all three.


Probiotics are microorganisms that combine live helpful bacteria and yeasts that reside in the digestive tract, lungs, mouth, urinary tract and vagina. They’re largely credited with helping to maintain gut health benefits as they: 

  • Positively affect the nerves that control gut movement, helping digest food. 
  • Support the cells that line the GI tract, preventing bad bacteria from entering the blood. 
  • Help control inflammation. 
  • Boost the immune system. 
  • Replace good bacteria lost after taking antibiotics and balance gut bacteria. 
  • They even help create vitamins and absorb medications.

Your doctor may recommend eating probiotic foods or even take a supplement to help manage:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Diarrhea, whether it be infectious or caused by antibiotics.
  • Some skin conditions.
  • Urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. 
  • Allergies and colds.
  • Oral health.

Good sources of probiotics are fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, yogurt, pickles, kombucha and kefir. Some vegan cheese, yogurt, berries and high-quality tea also are good sources of probiotics, as are almonds, according to recent studies.

Probiotics also are available through supplements. The most effective formulas have probiotic strains such as lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, lactobacillus plantarum L15, bifidobacterium lactis Bi-o7 and saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast).

Probiotics are generally safe unless your immune system is compromised. However, you should still talk to you doctor before taking them; and like other supplements, food is generally the best way to get these nutrients. GI distress may be a side effect, and it usually lasts for a few days.


Prebiotics are compounds derived from plant fibers that help facilitate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, helping your digestive system work better. Our bodies can’t digest prebiotics, so they migrate to the lower digestive tract where they function as food for healthy bacteria and provide benefits such as:

  • Calcium absorption.
  • Slower blood sugar spike rate.
  • Faster food fermentation time, so food moves through the digestive tract faster.
  • GI cell support for a healthier gut. 
  • IBS management
  • Possible weight management

Good food sources of probiotics include almonds, apples, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, beans, berries, cashews, cocoa, flaxseeds, garlic, hazelnuts, leeks, oats, onions, peas and tomatoes. Prebiotics also are available in a supplement, but you should discuss their use with your doctor. Your doctor may suggest skipping the supplement and adding a prebiotic fortified foods to your diet like bread, cereal or yogurt. When buying foods fortified with prebiotics, the labels should list one of these as an ingredient:

  • Galactooligosaccharides
  • Fructooligosaccharides
  • Oligofructose
  • Chicory fiber
  • Inulin


These are metabolites, as the result of the body breaking down probiotics and prebiotics. The beneficial bacteria produced varies in each person, as everyone digests food differently, so generally speaking, postbiotics can help:    

  • Control allergy symptoms.
  • Ease some types of IBS in adults and colic in babies.
  • Strengthen the immune system.

Good food sources of postbiotics are buttermilk, cottage cheese, flaxseed, garlic, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso soup, oats, pickles (fermented), sauerkraut (fermented), sourdough bread, tempeh and yogurt. Postbiotic supplements are in the works. You can find them on the European market; however, as of now, only prototypes are available in the U.S. Some American supplement stores are selling a butyrate postbiotic supplement, but some experts think they’re jumping the gun, as they’re still being studied. Scientists also are studying the possibility of isolating postbiotics for use in medications.

Always talk to your primary care doctor before taking a supplement or changing your diet. Supplements can possibly affect certain conditions and interact with medications. Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really listen to you, develop a wellness plan that can include diet and nutrition. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
Physician Locator
Enter a full address, city, state, or ZIP code. You can also browse our city directory to find physicians in your area.
Enter Doctor's Name