Foods to Restore Your Intestinal Flora

Certain drugs and medical procedures can do a number on your intestinal bacteria. Nutrition Diva explains how to replenish your gut flora with food - and which foods to avoid to help the good bacteria thrive.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #332

We hear a lot about the microbiome these days—the trillions of probiotic bacteria that live on and in us. As we are learning, these microbes contribute to our health in myriad and previously unimagined ways. The beneficial bacteria in your intestines, for example, aid digestion, manufacture nutrients, protect against food-borne pathogens, and even appear to play a role in regulating your body weight.

These helpful creatures can be wiped out by antibiotics and other drug therapies, colonics, or even a bad case of diarrhea. When this happens, you want to restore those beneficial intestinal flora as quickly as possible.

In a couple of weeks, I am scheduled for a routine screening colonoscopy. The preparation for this procedure involves a 24-hour liquid fast, and the administration of a strong laxative designed to flush everything out of my colon, so the doctor can have a look around. Unfortunately, this will probably also decimate my gut bacteria—presenting both a challenge, as well as an opportunity.

The foods that I do (and don’t) eat in the first few days following my procedure will have a big impact on how quickly and well my intestinal bacteria recover. Here are the three things I plan to eat, and the three things I’ll try to avoid:

Foods That Help Replenish Gut Bacteria

  1. Fermented and Cultured Foods. Kefir, yogurt, miso, kim-chi, natto, sauerkraut and other naturally pickled vegetables each contain different types of probiotic bacteria. We’re just getting started with the huge job of cataloging all the different bacteria in the human gut and figuring out what they do, so it’s way too soon to declare certain probiotic foods (or bacteria) as better than others. In fact, it looks like the diversity of your gut bacteria may matter more than any one individual strain. To that end, I’m going to try to eat as many different fermented and cultured foods as possible as part of my restocking program.  
  2. Prebiotic Foods. I also want to give my new guests plenty of nourishment, to make them feel at home and inclined to stick around. That means serving up plenty of fiber-rich foods. In particular, I want to seek out foods that are high in soluble fiber, such as flax and chia seeds, beans and legumes, apples, oats and oat bran. 
  3. Raw Veggies.  Fresh fruit and veggies are also good sources of fiber. And when you eat them raw, you’re more likely to get some of the microbes that live in the soil where they are grown. I talked about soil-based organisms in a previous episode. While I don’t recommend that you take an SBO supplement, I’m happy to take advantage of the ones that are clinging to my garden produce. To that end, I’ll gather some lettuce, spinach, radishes, and scallions from my backyard vegetable garden, rinse them just enough to get the grit off, and enjoy them raw.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.