Best foods to keep your gut health in peak shape
From happier skin to a happier mood, the benefits of a healthy gut have never been clearer.
The trillions of bacteria living in our gut, called microbiome, hold one of the keys to a well-functioning body and mind – provided we feed them right.
“It’s no wonder our gut has been dubbed our body’s second brain,” says clinical nutritionist Dr Vincent Candrawinata, aka “Dr Vincent”.
“Most of these microbes play a vital role in our digestion, immune system, skin health and even regulate our weight and mood.
“A big part of keeping our gut healthy is to make it a healthy environment for these good bacteria to thrive.”
If you are ready to listen to that gut feeling and start eating your way back to good health, experts have nominated their top foods to help show your gut some serious love. (Hint – it’s not through processed foods and added sugars, artificial sweeteners or fried foods.)
Perhaps the headliner of the gut health menu is fermented foods, such as kefir, yoghurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, which are rich in good bacteria, known as probiotics.
“These tiny little creatures help to maintain a good balance in our gut and improve our digestive functions,” Dr Vincent says.
“Because the goodness of these foods comes from the live cultures, only the naturally fermented products contain probiotics.
“Some products are fermented using vinegar instead of natural methods, which means they don’t contain these beneficial probiotics.”
He says fermented foods can help in ensuring your digestive system works properly, including excreting waste left over from the food we consume.
“It also helps to maintain a healthy immune system, since 70 per cent of our immune system originates from our gut,” he says.
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Vegetables, fruit and nuts
Dietitian Laura Ford recommends ensuring at least half your dinner plate is filled with non-starchy veggies to add more filling fibre and flavour.
“Aim to eat at least 30 different types of plant foods every week to help increase the diversity of foods your gut is exposed to,” Laura says.
“This can include things like fruit/veggies, nuts/seeds, herbs, spices, oats and wheat.
“Nuts are high in fibre, which helps feed the good bacteria in your gut. Aim to have 30g of nuts every day. Be sure to eat the skin on your fruit and veggies – this is where most of the fibre can be found.”
Oats are another superhero menu addition.
Add them to tasty treats such as slices, smoothies and pancakes, and they will nourish your gut bacteria, or flora.
“A lot of people think that grain is bad for you because of the carb content, however oats can be the exception to this rule,” Dr Vincent says.
“Oats are arguably the healthiest whole grains you can eat. Not only they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, but they are also naturally gluten-free.
“The type of fibre in oats helps to lower cholesterol levels, promotes satiety because of its low GI characteristics and supports our gut environment for healthy bacteria.”
“Sunflower seeds are healthy seeds rich in fibres and omega fatty acids,” Dr Vincent says.
“The fibre content helps with regularity and preventing constipation, however recent research has also made the connection between omega fatty acids and a healthy gut.
“This contributes to managing our metabolic rate and our skin health, as well as being an important nutrient for our brain performance and circulatory system.”
Sunflower seeds also promote digestion with pantothenic acid, or B5, which helps the body process carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Herbs and spices
Giving your new diet a kickstart could be as simple as turning to the spice rack.
“Herbs and spices can help with digestive function, and how our gut is able to break down the food we eat and need to get absorbed and used in the body,” clinical and sports dietitian Jane Freeman says.
Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, bay leaves, oregano and cloves are among the humble healers helping a range of gut-based ailments.
“The polyphenols (antioxidants) in herbs/spices can help to improve your gut microbiome and add flavour to each meal,” Laura says.
“Use a variety of spices to add new flavours to your favourite meals. Try sprinkling cinnamon on your morning oats, or add garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander to a stir-fry.”
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Written by Elissa Doherty.