Written by Chantal Gerge (Student Dietitian Deakin University)
It’s no doubt that gut health is all the rage at the moment and it should be! The gut is one of the most important organs in our body and some might even call it our second brain! It does more than just digest the food we eat, so keeping it happy and healthy is key for optimising our health and well-being. There’s so much information out there these days, often it’s difficult and overwhelming to distinguish true from false. So let us help you with that…
Before we discuss how to improve your gut health, you first need to understand what we mean by “gut”. The “gut” is the gastrointestinal system and includes the stomach, small intestine and large intestine (or colon) and is responsible for digesting all the foods we eat and absorbing all the essential nutrients required to support body functions.
The Gut Microbiota
Gut microbiota is the name given to the group of bacteria, fungi and viruses that co-exist in our digestive system. These friendly bugs help us absorb essential nutrients from the foods we eat and keep our intestines healthy. There are trillions of these tiny gut bugs in our stomach. Some are “good” and some are “bad”, they both have an impact on our overall health. The balance of these two bacteria all depends on our diet, lifestyle, medication, stress levels and genetics.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
Probiotics are groups of live “good” bacteria that live in our intestines and help balance out our gut health. The benefits of probiotics include: support immune system, help strengthen the gut lining, aid in lactose digestion, cholesterol and obesity management.
Put simply, Prebiotics are “food” for the good bacteria in our gut. These foods are non-digestible carbohydrates that are fermented by our gut bugs and benefit our overall health.
Foods naturally high in probiotics and prebiotics?
The table below provides a list of foods that contain natural sources of probiotics and prebiotics. These foods can be introduced as part of a healthy well-balanced diet.
|Kimchi||Lentils / chickpeas|
|Miso seasoning||Rye bread|
Our top tips to improving your digestion and gut health
Eat the rainbow
Diversity is key to optimising gut health, so eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, high in fibre will help the growth of “good” bacteria.
Squash your stress
Do you often lose your appetite when you are stressed? Or maybe you feel “butterflies in your stomach?” That’s the connection between your brain and gut being fired up! Studies have shown that during stressful periods, the gut microbiota are often disrupted, which can lead to stomach upsets and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is why managing stress levels is not only beneficial to mental health but also gut health. Strategies to manage stress include: exercise (I like walking!), meditation, yoga, make sleep a priority (7-9 hours each night), or call a friend or family member to have a vent. Everybody is different, so find what works best for you!
Mindful Eating is the act of eating while using all physical and emotional senses to be aware of, experience and enjoy the food being eaten, without judgement. This will help you be in touch with your hunger and fullness cues and what food feels good to you. This will allow you to properly digest your food and prevent any upset stomach symptoms. For more information, check out our “Top Tips on Mindful Eating” blog post.
Eat your prebiotics and probiotics
Incorporating lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet will help the good bacteria in your gut grow and flourish. Maybe list some of the key prebiotic and probiotic foods again
Ditch the Junk
It’s no secret that the current food environment we live in today strongly favours the ‘Western Diet’, filled with energy-dense, ultra-processed foods that negatively impact gut health as well as overall health. These foods lack the essential nutrients (FIBRE!) that our gut bugs thrive on, which means they cannot function to their full potential. So ditch the McDonald’s drive thru and fill you plate up with fibre-rich produce instead.
Minimise antibiotic intake
Antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria, they kill the good bacteria too, so avoid them when you can and only take them if it is absolutely necessary.
Remember, these bacteria are our friends and if you look after your gut, your gut will look after you!
How our Eat for Wellness Dietitians’ Can Help You!
If you would like to seek further nutrition advice on how to improve your gut health, our EFW Dietitians’ can help provide you with a balance eating plan that’s individually tailored to suit your needs. We now have telehealth consults for your convenience, so you won’t need to leave your home! Please contact us for further details.