The human body contains around 40 trillion bacteria, many of which reside inside the intestines. These bacteria play an important role in your overall health and well being.
Dietary choices can affect the gut flora, or intestinal microbiota, inside your body. In this article, Dietician Sarah Smith offers some tips to enhance your gut health. Sarah consults at our sister clinic, Bayside Family Medical. But first, let’s look at why gut health is important.
Understanding your gut health in simple terms
There’s an important relationship between the bacteria that live in your gut and the human body. The deal is, you provide these bacteria with a happy home, and in return they digest food that you can’t digest. As a result, important compounds are released into your body.
However, sometimes the bacteria can cause problems. They may, for example, create too much gas and cause bloating. In some instances, they may cause loose bowel movements or constipation.
Diet can quite easily disrupt one’s gut health balance. Medications can also be detrimental, particularly antibiotics, as they can kill off both the good and the bad bacteria.
Signs your gut health may be compromised
The following symptoms can indicate a problem with your gut health:
- Abdominal pain
- Loose or urgent bowel movements
- Excessive flatulence
Tips for improving your gut health
Rather than choosing probiotic supplements, changes to your diet should be your first line of defence against gut problems. If you’ve experienced any of the aforementioned symptoms, you’re likely to see them improve or potentially disappear by making a few simple changes to your diet! You may also notice an improvement in energy levels.
Tip #1: Eat prebiotic foods
A prebiotic is a type of non-digestible fibre that feeds and encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Food sources of prebiotics include vegetables, legumes, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds.
One prebiotic you may have heard about in recent times is resistant starch. Resistant starch passes through the digestive tract into the large intestine, where it is broken down by bacteria. Examples of foods with high amounts of resistant starch include oats, cooked and cooled rice, legumes (for example kidney beans, lentils and chick peas), and green bananas.
Tip #2: Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods have been around for a long time in many cultures and scientists believe they may offer all sorts of health benefits, including helping to boost the probiotics (good bacteria) in your gut. During fermentation, microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria break down food components such as sugar into organic acids or alcohol. Examples of probiotic fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt (opt for the plain, natural variety that has less added sugar), kefir, kombucha and tempeh.
Tip #3: Expand your dietary horizons
Diversity is the key to a healthy microbiota. In other words, eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for optimal health. Be sure to include legumes on the menu, as these are a great source of fibre, which is important to gut health. Legumes are lentils, chickpeas and beans. Inspiration on how to prepare them can be found through Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council or your favourite recipe site.
Tip #4: Swap out white for whole grains
Whole grains help to improve gut health, as they contain plenty of fibre and non-digestible carbs. These travel into the large intestine and are broken down by the microbiota, thereby promoting the growth of healthy bacteria. Include more fibre in your diet by swapping white for wholemeal varieties of bread, rice and pasta.
Tip #5: Consume foods containing Polyphenols
Polyphenols are phytochemicals found abundantly in plants. They are not easily digested, which means most end up in the colon, where they can help gut bacteria to flourish. Examples of foods that contain Polyphenols are blueberries, broccoli, almonds, red wine, and wait for it… dark chocolate (you’re welcome)!
Tip #6: If in doubt, seek help out
If you’d like to know more about how to improve your gut health, it pays to speak to a qualified dietitian. Dietitians provide tailored nutrition counselling, food plans and advice about approaches like changing to a low Fodmap diet to improve gut health.
We hope these tips have helped inspire you to give your gut some TLC. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch! Dietician Mary Lucas consults at Bluff Road Medical Centre, or we can put you in touch with Sarah at our sister clinic, Bayside Family Medical.
Sarah Smith offers specialised nutrition advice to children and adults in the Bayside area. She provides individual consultations at Bayside Family Medical and also consults from Bayside Dietetics in Highett.
Sarah has undertaken extensive training in her field. Her experience includes more than 15 years’ working in all areas of pediatric dietetics at Monash Children’s Hospital.
Sarah has a special interest in gut concerns and can also assist with any form of eating disorder. One of her career highlights included helping to set up the Butterfly Day Program at Monash Children’s Hospital’s for kids with severe eating disorders.