SIBO (or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is an unfavorable gut condition caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the small intestine. Most people who have SIBO experience discomfort after meals, bloating, and IBS like symptoms. Reversing SIBO naturally is possible, when following a SIBO diet, nourishing your body with the right foods, and healing and rebalancing the gut with specific nutrients. Today, we will focus on the top 10 foods that restore gut health and help you to reverse SIBO.
As mentioned above, SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Bacteria is a vital part of the digestive system and lives mainly in the large intestine. However, SIBO occurs when there are excess bacteria in the small intestine causing low motility and oftentimes malnutrition. Bacterial overgrowth can be responsible for multiple digestive disorders and cause serious health implications. While further studies need to be done to understand the underlying cause of SIBO, it can occur if you have bowel anatomic abnormalities, pH changes in the bowel, or immune system issues. Other risk factors for SIBO include chronic health conditions, antibiotic use, or surgery. In those cases, the gastrointestinal tract can be disrupted and cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Having SIBO can result in a variety of symptoms such as (1):
To properly diagnose SIBO, there are two main ways you can check the bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine (2):
To avoid the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and the symptoms associated with SIBO, incorporating the proper nutrition into your diet is very important. The SIBO diet consists of a temporary elimination diet that can assist with the inflammation and bacterial overgrowth in the digestive system (3). With majority of SIBO patients, a low FODMAP diet can be very beneficial. This is a common diet used to alleviate symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and has shown to help with SIBO as well. FODMAP stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols”. The low FODMAP diet lowers/eliminates these difficult to digest fermentable carbohydrates in the gut, which causes an overgrowth of bacteria. The main areas of food that you should focus on cutting out are described below (4):
It is suggested to do this diet up until your symptoms have eased, and then slowly introducing high FODMAP foods back into your diet to prevent the loss of healthy bacteria.
Another diet used for SIBO treatment is called the GAPS diet. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and is an elimination diet used to assist with IBS, SIBO, leaky gut, and some neurological disorders. This diet consists of foods that help restore and improve gut health. The GAPS diet is mainly composed of grain-free, low-carbohydrate, low-sugar, high healthy fat diet. There are two main steps of the diet.
It is recommended that this diet is followed for a minimum of 18-24 months to yield the best results. This diet helps with symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation that come with SIBO, and other gastrointestinal health issues. The recommendations that are made if you are performing the GAPS diet (5):
Along with these commonly used diets, making the appropriate dietary changes that incorporate foods low in sugar and high in fiber are recommended for those with SIBO. What you eat can play a major role in digestive health. Let's dive into the specific foods that can assist with SIBO symptoms and help restore gut health.
It is critical to restrict certain foods from your diet when you are working to heal your gut, and reverse SIBO. Our SIBO program offers a SIBO food plan, shopping list, meal guide, recipes and more that can help you successfully recover from SIBO. The key to this diet is to starve the bacteria that is overgrowing in your small intestine. If you are feeding the bacteria with foods that support bacterial growth, it will only flourish and become worse. The SIBO diet in this program offers a combination of nutritional and dietary recommendations that support the development of healthy bacterial environment and growth in the small intestine. This diet consists of anti-inflammatory, low-carb, SIBO friendly meals that will fully support and help rid of the bacterial overgrowth. This program offers proper supplementation that will not only support SIBO, but reverse it and help your gut achieve optimal health.
Fish is a very nutritionally dense food that offers benefits for SIBO, and overall gut health. Fish is a good source of protein and healthy fats. It contains a quality dose of omega-3 fatty acids which produce short-chain fatty acids that are vital to many of the body's metabolic processes and provide anti-inflammatory benefits (6). Consuming fish while on the SIBO diet is a good way to stay low on FODMAPs and still get important nutrients. As with all seafood, make sure that you consume only wild-caught fish. Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are as follows:
Eggs are a nutritious, and convenient food you can incorporate into your SIBO diet. It is high in protein and low in carbs which makes it a great low FODMAP food. Eggs are one of the easiest to digest proteins and can help reduce symptoms of SIBO such as diarrhea and constipation. Eggs are also filled with the amino acid tryptophan. Studies have shown that this amino acid can help you fall asleep faster (6). Eggs are a versatile food that can be incorporated into meals, or snacks throughout the day.
Not only is spaghetti squash a great food for SIBO and the gut, but it can be used as a substitute for many enjoyable foods that should be avoided with SIBO. Spaghetti squash is a low FODMAP food that is potent in polyphenols and flavonoids. Polyphenols can work to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and assist with the beneficial bacteria that is important to gut health. One of the main objectives of the SIBO diet is to improve nutrient absorption. Polyphenols have been shown to help with processing and absorbing nutrients in the small intestine (7). You can use spaghetti squash as a noodle substitute, add to salads, or make a spaghetti squash casserole.
Lean proteins are an important part of the SIBO diet, as they do not usually interrupt the gut bacteria. Lean proteins are low-carb, low FODMAP, and a great source of protein (6). Lean proteins help you stay full longer and filled with important nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc. You should avoid cooking your lean protein in butter as that does contain dairy and may upset your microbiome causing SIBO symptoms to worsen. Below are examples of lean protein:
When you have SIBO, you want to ditch the starchy vegetables and instead include lots of leafy greens. Leafy greens are filled with an abundance of important nutrients that are beneficial for SIBO, and overall gut health. Leafy greens contain antioxidants, fiber, folate, and vitamins C, K, and A. Research shows that leafy greens hold a specific type of sugar that can aid the growth of healthy gut bacteria. The high fiber content is also beneficial to developing the ideal gut microbiome (10). Leafy greens you can incorporate into your diet are kale, spinach, and swiss chard. You can add them to dishes, or make delicious smoothies with these greens.
This vegetable is a great food for those with SIBO. Carrots do not contain FODMAPS and are high in fiber. The high fiber content can assist with cleaning out the gastrointestinal tract, keep gut cells healthy, and improve overall digestive health. Grabbing a couple of carrots as a snack, or a side for a meal.
Although some fruits should be avoided on the SIBO diet, blueberries do not have to be. Blueberries contain fiber and can assist with constipation that can occur with SIBO. Along with the fiber, blueberries contain important nutrients such as folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and manganese (9). Again, it is vital to ensure you are consuming enough nutrients during the SIBO diet so overall bodily health does not suffer. You can add blueberries to salads, eat them frozen, or fresh.
Nuts are a great source of nutrients and provide benefits for overall gut health. Nuts such as brazil nuts, almonds, and walnuts may help reduce inflammation in the body, and small intestine. Nuts are also abundant in fiber, as a high fiber diet is important for SIBO and supports a healthy microbiome (11). Nuts are an easy food to incorporate into your diet, you can have a small handful for a snack or sprinkle on salad.
With SIBO, low motility in the small intestine is common due to bacterial overgrowth. This means that gastric emptying is extremely reduced and creates the uncomfortable symptoms that come with SIBO. Research shows that ginger can accelerate gastric emptying and relieve those symptoms. Ginger has been used in ancient medicine as a go-to for gastrointestinal issues, it has been shown to soothe the intestinal tract and decrease abdominal pain (12). Ginger is extremely versatile and can be added to salads, soups, and beverages.
Pumpkin is a great food that can support healthy digestion. This food is low in starch and sugar, but high in fiber which is ideal for the SIBO diet. The texture of the pumpkin is soft, which makes it an easily digestible food and does not put much strain on the small intestine or disrupt the microbiome. As mentioned prior, immunity can be strongly affected by SIBO, as gut health is correlated with the immune system. Pumpkin contains vitamin A and C which can help support a strong immunity (13). Adding pureed pumpkin into soups and smoothies can be a great way to incorporate it into your diet.
Having small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can cause serious health implications, and impact overall health if not treated properly. Incorporating the proper diet and consuming foods that can help restore gut health is vital. This is not an exhaustive list for foods that you should consume while healing from SIBO. For a full SIBO diet shopping list, meal plan and recipes, we recommend you look at the SIBO Program for assistance, which was created by Dr. Zyrowski and his team of trained dietitians and nutritionists. Now that you are aware of what SIBO is and the diets commonly used, hopefully you have the tools to improve your gut health and reduce symptoms such as gas, constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.