2 March 2023
Contributor - Accredited Sports Dietitian
Gut health has been a trending nutrition topic throughout 2019, and predicted to continue in 2020 - and for good reason. Research is showing that a diversely populated gut microbiome could be the gateway to better health outcomes such as improved mental health through the gut brain axis, improved sleep, a strong immune system and better weight maintenance.
The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract, mostly bacteria. There are around 10 times more bacteria in the human gut as there are cells in the body, so you could say we are more bacteria than we are human.
These bacteria play a key role in digestion, metabolism, body weight, immune regulation and mood. Learning how to optimise the health of these gut organisms is key to improving overall health. Each person has a unique microbiome which begins to develop early on in life, but there are some key factors that we know of that can influence the type and amount of bacteria living in your microbiome including genetics, birth delivery method, age, stress, illness, medications and diet.
There is no clear answer for this yet, because every person is different so a healthy gut will look different on everyone. There are however some key factors that can influence the gut microbiome, which might result in you feeling more energised, happier and be able to maintain weight easier.
Recent research indicates the amount as well as diversity of bacteria living in the gut is a key part of gut health. Since there are hundreds of different strains of bacteria, focusing on improving just one type is not beneficial for the gut, and can result in gut dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiome).
When there is less diversity of good bacteria in the gut, bad bacteria can start to take over and feed on the gut walls which may impact digestion and inflammation in the body. Instead, focusing on diversity in the diet has been shown to benefit gut health by helping to feed and populate different types of bacteria living in the gut. In particular, fibre-rich wholefoods (typically plant based foods) is integral to promoting greater variety in gut bugs. Most Australian adults don’t get enough fibre into their diet, so this is a key focus area if you want to improve your gut health.
Regularly including a variety of plant-based foods in your diet is key to optimising gut health.
Here’s 9 foods in particular that could have huge benefits for everything from performance to mood.
"Most Australian adults don’t get enough fibre into their diet, so this is a key focus area if you want to improve your gut health."
Nuts are high in polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants and are also a source of prebiotic fibre. Polyphenols act as fuel for your microbes, so try to add a serving a day to help feed those good gut bugs.
Although more research is needed on the benefits of fermented food products such as Kombucha, fermented vegetables could provide beneficial bacteria to populate the gut, but are also a source of fibre which helps to feed gut bacteria.
Legumes including beans, chickpeas and lentils are great to include for gut health. Legumes are high in resistant starch which acts as a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria in your gut so they can thrive. Feeding the good gut bacteria also produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which encourage the growth of butyrate-producing bacteria, providing energy and helping to reduce inflammation.
Try out the Grilled Cottage Cheese with Black Lentil Stew for all the gut loving benefits of lentils.
Wholegrains includes brown rice, wholegrain breads and pastas, oats, barley and quinoa. While low carb diets were once a trend, we now know that including these healthy carbohydrate based wholegrain foods can have a huge amount of nutritional benefit in the body including their role in gut health. Similar to legumes, wholegrains contain prebiotic fibre to feed your good gut bacteria, and are also linked with lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Try adding more wholegrains into your diet with our Middle Eastern Meatballs with Turmeric Brown Rice.
When starchy foods like potato, rice and pasta are cooked and then cooled again, the starch is converted into resistant starch. Resistant starch avoids digestion in the small intestine, then travels to the large intestine where it acts as a prebiotic fibre to feed beneficial gut microbes.
Try our Cajun Chicken with Dirty Rice meal for the prebiotic benefits of cooked then cooled rice.
Yoghurt is a really beneficial food to include in your diet on a regular basis, especially if it is a traditional plain Greek style yoghurt or plain set yoghurts. Yoghurt is made through fermentation, which is a process that requires starter cultures to make, typically Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus. These bacteria used for the fermentation process also provide health benefits in the body, especially the gut, and can be even more effective than probiotic supplements. The bacteria also ferment the naturally occurring sugar in milk (lactose), so yoghurt is usually well digested in the body even by those with lactose sensitivities or intolerance, and is a great gut friendly food.
Cruciferous vegetables are not just a great source of prebiotic fibre for the gut, but also contain a host of other beneficial compounds found in these veggies. Phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale could help to regenerate gut cells quicker, aid development of immune cells and help to reduce inflammation in the gut.
Asparagus is rich in prebiotic fibre, the type of fibre that feeds the good bacteria living in your gut. Without a source of fuel, these bacteria can’t thrive and provide all the health benefits we love about fibre-rich foods. Asparagus is also rich in antioxidants to support overall health.
Our Lamb Shanks with Sweet Potato Mash & Greens is an easy and delicious way to include asparagus into your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat in all diets, and are found in high amounts in fatty fish such as salmon. Omega-3 can influence our gut microbiome in a positive way, by increasing bacteria in the gut that have been shown to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are anti-inflammatory chemicals which have been linked to protection against diseases including bowel cancer, diabetes and depression.
The list of gut-loving foods is definitely not limited to only 9 foods! I suggest including a wide variety of foods from vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds to wholegrains and fermented foods. Stress, sleep and lifestyle also play a key role in gut health.
Using My Muscle Chef to take time off from cooking and shopping while also including gut health foods is a great place to start to improve your gut health.
*Please note this article is not intended to provide advice for dietary conditions such as IBS or Coeliac Disease. These types of conditions required individualised medical and dietary advice.
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