Gut health is an area that is continually evolving – there is still so much to discover and understand. We know that the food we eat influences our gut health, which in turn affects our overall health.
What is gut health?
Your ‘gut’ is your gastrointestinal system which comprises of your stomach, intestines, and colon / large intestine. Its role is to break down, digest and absorb the nutrients from food consumed and then excrete waste.
You may have heard people refer to gut microbiome when talking about gut health – this refers to the bacteria and microorganisms located within our large intestine. The bacteria help to break down the food we eat and turn it into nutrients that our bodies can use.
A healthy gut microbiome is a diverse one, with a variety of different types of bacteria. The types of foods we eat can influence the bacteria and diversity both in the short and long term.
Why is gut health important?
Gut health plays an important role in our overall health, with links between our immune system, mental health, gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep, and digestion.
A few things that can affect our gut microbiome include stress, lack of sleep, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol.
How we can support a healthy gut?
There are many things we can do from a dietary and lifestyle perspective to help support a healthy gut. Our five top tips include:
1. Eat a varied diet (from the five food groups)
A varied diet including foods from each of the five core food groups is known to improve the health of our gut and immune system. Diets that are limited in variety and lower in nutrients, consisting primarily of highly processed foods can negatively affect a healthy gut and immune system. Remember to drink water and eat slowly to aid digestion.
2. Eat different plant foods
A goal to increase gut diversity is by having 30 or more plant foods in a week. Plant foods are full of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Not every plant food contains the same amount of fibre or the same type of antioxidants so variety is key! Plant foods aren’t limited to just fruits and vegetables, they also include wholegrains, herbs, legumes, spices, nuts and seeds.
3. Find fibre
Fibre is important for our gut health as it helps with the functioning of our gut by influencing how quickly or slowly things move through our gut. You can find fibre in fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, wholegrains etc. Adult women are recommended to consume 25g of fibre per day whilst men are recommended 30g of fibre per day.
4. Don't forget about prebiotics
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that help healthy bacteria to grow in our gut – this makes out digestive system work well. You can find prebiotic fibre in food such as leek, onion and garlic, and unripe bananas.
5. Not to be confused with probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts can enhance our gut microbiome. Sources of probiotics include probiotic yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and other sources of fermented foods such as sourdough breads, pickled vegetables, and tempeh. There are other sources of good bacteria that are not necessarily probiotics, but they are still beneficial to our gut microbiome and our overall health.
Want to know more about your individual requirements? Seek support from an Accredited Practicing Dietitian.