The Best Low-Carb Foods for Gut Health
What to Eat

The Best Low-Carb Foods for Gut Health

The Best Low-Carb Foods for Gut Health

Posted a month ago

Katie Freire, FNTP

Katie Freire, FNTP

Dr. Kevin R. Gendreau

Dr. Kevin R. Gendreau

Scientific Reviewer

Expert Approved

Tummy trouble? You’re not alone. Studies have found that between 25 and 65% of adults suffer from some form of digestive issue, ranging from heartburn to gallstones to constipation.[*][*][*] And up to 15% of American adults have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic condition that causes gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and/or constipation.

Gut issues can be painful, inconvenient and embarrassing. They often have a knock-on effect on your health – if you’re not able to digest your food properly, your body can’t absorb all the vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids it needs to keep you healthy. The health of your digestive system also influences everything from your hormones to your mood to your immune system.[*]

Fortunately, the solution to your digestive woes may be at hand: take care of your gut, and your gut will take care of you. Follow these three steps for digestive relief:

  1. Look after your gut bacteria
  2. Eat foods that support digestive health
  3. Hydrate

Safety check: If your gut issues are causing you ongoing pain, interfering with your daily life, or there’s blood in your stool, always get checked out by a doctor to rule out more serious conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

1. Look After Your Gut Bacteria

The colonies of bacteria and fungi in your gut are collectively known as your microbiome. The makeup of your microbiome influences processes throughout your body, including how you digest your food, how you produce and absorb vitamins, your metabolism and your mood.

Many digestive issues are related to imbalances in the microbiome (known as “dysbiosis”). Dysbiosis can be caused by many things, including taking antibiotics, eating highly-processed food, drinking alcohol, exposure to preservatives and pesticides, and stress. Luckily, however, your microbiome is strongly influenced by your diet. 

To help rebalance your microbiome and relieve digestive discomfort, you need to do three things: add good bacteria, feed them lots of fiber, and avoid the things that feed bad bacteria.

Add Good Bacteria 

Good bacteria, called “probiotics," have been shown to improve IBS symptoms.[*][*][*] They’re found in fermented foods and are also available as supplements. When choosing probiotic foods, make sure they contain live probiotic cultures – they may be found refrigerated and should list the strains of bacteria they contain in the ingredients. 

If a product says “pasteurized” or “heat-stabilized,” leave it on the shelf. This means it has been heat-treated to kill off bacteria – including the good bacteria.

Best low-carb choices:

  • Sauerkraut or kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Greek or unsweetened yogurt
  • Miso

Feed Your Good Bacteria

Gut bacteria eat the fiber in your food that you can’t digest, producing loads of beneficial compounds in the process. These fibers are also known as “prebiotics." Optimal colon function requires around 14 grams of fiber for every thousand calories you consume[*] – ideally from fresh vegetables and fruit, although supplements are also available.

Best low-carb choices:

  • Non-starchy vegetables, especially artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, onions, garlic and jerusalem artichokes
  • Berries of all kinds
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds, especially flax and chia
  • Avocado
  • Green banana flour
  • Psyllium husk

Starve Out Bad Bacteria

Starve bad bacteria of their favorite food sources by cutting down or avoiding highly-processed or refined food, especially:

2. Eat Foods That Support Digestive Health

Your digestive system includes your stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and large intestine. It’s a complex machine, and all the parts need to be running smoothly to keep you feeling good.  

A breakdown anywhere in the chain can cause issues further on, so it’s important to take care of the whole system. This requires the full complement of essential vitamins and minerals, a balance of macronutrients, plus fiber, beneficial compounds like polyphenols, and plenty of water.

Eating for Stomach Health

Your stomach is the first place food lands once you’ve chewed and swallowed it. Its primary job is to produce stomach acid to neutralize pathogens and break down proteins.

When it comes to stomach issues, most people think of stomach ulcers or GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), but it’s actually more common to have too little stomach acid than too much. Not making enough stomach acid (called hypochlorhydria) can be caused by stress, smoking, drinking alcohol, nutrient deficiencies, long-term use of antacids and just plain getting older.

Signs your stomach may not be producing enough stomach acid include bloating, feeling too full after meals, burping, food “repeating” or reflux, heartburn, and poor immunity.

(Yes, reflux and heartburn can be a sign of too much stomach acid or too little. If you suffer from either, work with a functional nutritionist or doctor to diagnose and treat the correct underlying cause. Sometimes this treatment may include medication, but it often includes dietary recommendations).

Best low-carb choices:

Stimulate stomach acid production by having a shot of something bitter before each meal. This could be:

  • A tablespoon of sauerkraut juice
  • A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a small amount of water
  • A few drops of digestive bitters

Eating for Liver and Gallbladder Health

Your liver and gallbladder work together to break down fatty acids with bile. Your liver also helps with detoxification, protein synthesis, and storage of vitamins and minerals. Signs that your body is struggling to break down fats include greasy or floating stools, feeling sick after eating a lot of fat, and gallstones.

Best low-carb choices:

  • Beetroot – beetroot is not a particularly low carb choice, but it’s a magic food for your liver and gallbladder. It’s full of betaine, which helps to stimulate bile production, thin bile and prevent gallstones, so if you’re having trouble digesting fats, it’s worth factoring some beets into your carb allowance.
  • Bitter greens and herbs like arugula and dandelion greens
  • Aloe vera juice
  • Grapefruit
  • Good fats like olive and coconut oil
  • Celery
  • Artichoke
  • Onions and garlic

Eating for a Happy Pancreas

Your pancreas produces digestive enzymes that help to break down fats, proteins and starches – as well as hormones like insulin, which signals cells to take in glucose for energy. Signs your pancreas might need some extra help include dysbiosis, inflammation and irritation.

Best low-carb choices:

  • Pineapple, mango and papaya – too much of these fruits might blow your carb budget, but they’re worth tossing through a salsa or adding to your smoothie for the digestive enzymes they contain.
  • Avocado
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Kiwifruit
  • Ginger

Eating for Your Small Intestine

Your small intestine’s job is to absorb nutrients, including ​​vitamins and minerals. Signs of trouble include: “leaky gut," food intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, inflammatory issues, SIBO (small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and SIFO (small-intestinal fungal overgrowth).

Best low-carb choices:

Conditions like leaky gut, food intolerances, SIBO and SIFO are complicated and can be difficult to resolve – it’s best to work with a functional nutritionist or doctor to diagnose and treat them.

Choices you can make at home that may help to heal your small intestine include:

  • Foods that soothe and nourish your gut lining, like bone broth and gelatin
  • Organ meats
  • Turmeric, ginger, garlic
  • Grass-fed butter, if you tolerate dairy

Eating for Your Large Intestine

Your large intestine is where the majority of your gut bacteria live. Ideally, you’ll have a healthy colony of good bacteria consuming fiber, producing vitamins and short-chain fatty acids, absorbing water and helping you poop. Again, bacterial imbalances in your large intestine are called “dysbiosis” and symptoms include constipation, diarrhea and IBS.

Best low-carb choices:

All the prebiotics and probiotics listed in step 1, plus:

  • Plenty of vegetables, protein-rich foods and healthy fats.

Bonus: Try An Elimination Diet

If you’re struggling to resolve gut issues – especially if you’re also suffering from any inflammatory or autoimmune conditions like asthma, eczema, psoriasis, thyroid issues, or joint pain – it can also be a good idea to try a short-term elimination diet to check for intolerances.[*][*][*][*

Try following your regular diet but eliminating gluten and dairy, or switch to a diet that eliminates the most common food intolerances, like paleo, low FODMAP or Whole 30. Start with staying on the diet for 4-6 weeks, then reintroduce foods one at a time, leaving 3 days between each new food and keeping records of any symptoms.

3. Hydrate

The last piece of the gut health puzzle is hydration. Drinking enough water is crucial to keeping your digestive system working properly, especially if you’re constipated or you’re increasing your fiber intake.

Water:

  • transports nutrients around the body
  • absorbs water-soluble vitamins (including the Bs and vitamin C) and minerals
  • removes waste and toxins through urine and feces.

As a starting point, we recommend drinking 8 cups (1.9 litres) of water a day – but remember you may need more if:

  • you’re working out
  • you live in a hot climate or at a high altitude
  • you have a fast metabolism
  • you’re taller or larger than average.

Thirst alone may not tell you if you’re getting enough water – instead, check the color of your urine. If it’s very pale or straw colored, you’re on the right track. If it’s darker or has a strong odor, you need more water.

Some beverages have a “diuretic” effect, which means they make you pee. Alcohol is the worst culprit – try to drink an extra cup of water for each standard drink you consume. Coffee, tea and soda all also have a mild diuretic effect – not enough to cancel out the liquid in the drink, but it’s worth making sure you drink some extra water if you drink a lot of these other beverages.

The Bottom Line

For a healthy gut, make sure you’re doing these three things:

  • Looking after your gut bacteria.
  • Eating foods that support your whole digestive system, from your stomach to your large intestine.
  • Drinking plenty of water every day.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. Carb Manager may earn a commission for qualifying purchases made through these links.

Comments 3

  • FortuitousCauliflower828967

    FortuitousCauliflower828967 a month ago

    Excellent article! Plus my chiropractor has made spinal adjustments to open the neural blockage from digestive organs to brain. Took about 5 months due to car accident, she advised similar things as in this article to help my seriously messed up gut. It worked! Now off all gut meds and only take a little probiotic before each meal!

    • Barbsketo

      Barbsketo a month ago

      Good information 👍

      • RousingMacadamia750415

        RousingMacadamia750415 a month ago

        Great article; thank you.