Keeping on top of gut health can seem daunting. Up until recently, we thought it could take months or even years to shift the good and bad balance of bacteria in our gut. But now we know that the gut microbiome changes quickly in response to what we eat – beginning just hours after a meal.
Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are two of the most common, well-researched, good species of bacteria. We can nourish them and other beneficial species in our gut by eating a diet rich in different kinds of fibre and fresh foods. Eating a diet low in these foods and high in processed foods, effectively starves our good bacteria.
Following these few basic tips will get you off to a good start!
FOODS TO EAT FOR GOOD GUT HEALTH:
1. Eat a variety of plant foods
A recent study found that people who ate 30 different plant foods a week had more diverse microbes living in their intestine. Include a variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains. And the golden rule of gut health is the more diverse, the better.
2. Eat fermented foods
We can add good communities of microbes to our gut by eating fermented foods high in good bacteria or probiotics such as:
- Yoghurt with live cultures – look for 1 billion probiotics per serve 1 x 10(9) CFU (Colony Forming Units – the number of viable bacteria in sample serve)
- Kefir (fermented milk or water-based drink) – usually has 30 beneficial strains of good bacteria
- Kombucha (fermented black or green tea drink)
- Fresh kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables)
- Fresh sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
Eating a variety of these foods can help us cultivate a variety of good gut bugs. Look for words such as ‘live’, ‘active’, ‘raw’ or ‘unpasteurised’ on packaging to ensure that the manufacturing process hasn’t killed the probiotic strains. Some manufacturers of pasteurised products will add back probiotic strains to the final product. You will find these listed in the ingredients.
Studies have shown that the benefits of these probiotic foods are only seen whilst they are being consumed so it’s important to regularly enjoy these foods.
3. Eat foods rich in prebiotics
Prebiotics are mostly soluble fibres and resistant starches (more on resistant starch below) that act as fuel for our good bacteria in the large intestine or colon. They are fermented by gut bacteria and boost the balance of our microbiome to be healthier. Some foods that are naturally high in prebiotics, include:
- Vegetables – Chicory (endive or witlof), Jerusalem artichoke, leek, asparagus, garlic, onion,
- Fruit – Apples, pears, watermelon, nectarines, dried fruit (e.g. dates, figs)
- Whole grains – Barley, rye, wheat, oats, lupin
- Legumes – Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans
- Nuts – Cashews, pistachio nuts
- Include good fats – extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds
Antioxidants (polyphenols) in good fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds help reduce inflammation and support good gut health.
One way of increasing the number of good bacteria (specifically Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) in the gut is by eating foods high in prebiotic fibres.
So why is Resistant Starch so good for us?
Foods high in resistant starch are particularly beneficial prebiotics. They selectively feed our good gut bacteria, producing good compounds (Short-Chain Fatty Acids such as butyrate), which not only encourage the growth of butyrate-producing bacteria, but give them energy, reduce inflammation and keep our colon healthy. Resistant starch foods ‘resist’ digestion in the stomach and small intestine and make it through to the large intestine intact. Foods high in resistant starch include:
- Cooked and cooled and reheated potatoes, pasta and rice e.g. potato salad, sushi rice and cold pasta
- Green bananas
- Uncooked oats
- Legumes – lentils, beans, chickpeas
- Green banana flour, Hi-Maize flour, potato starch
- BarleyMax – a CSIRO developed non-GMO grain
Resistant starch is used by the good bacteria for energy or by our colon to keep it healthy.
FOODS TO AVOID FOR GOOD GUT HEALTH…
1. Highly caffeinated drinks
Coffee and energy drinks may give an instant energy boost, but they can over-stimulate the nerves in the gut, increase anxiety and impair sleep. If you spend all night tossing and turning, try a hot cup of herbal tea instead.
2. Processed foods high in refined sugar
It can be tempting to reach for a sugary drink or chocolate biscuit for an instant sugar fix, but you will be feeding your bad bacteria. Instead, try a bowl of hot oatmeal with some fruit and honey. It will keep your good bacteria and brain happy with its slow release of energy.
3. Foods high in saturated fat
A high intake of saturated fat may increase inflammation in our body which may disturb the production of ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin in the gut. Saturated fat is found in foods like butter, cakes, biscuits, fried foods, fatty meats and creamy sauces.
Nicole Dynan –
The Gut Health Dietitian, is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and an Accredited Sports Dietitian. She is passionate about helping you understand how your gut health impacts your wellbeing and how good nutrition can make a big difference to the way you feel.
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