The health of your gut not only impacts how you feel physically but also mentally. In fact, your gut is a gateway to your overall health. It is safe to say most Australians do not have great gut health with at least 50% experiencing unpleasant gut symptoms such as bloating, reflux and constipation and 1 in 7 experiencing distressing symptoms. In this month’s blog, our resident dietitian Nicky delves into why our gut health is so important and her top tips for looking after it!
Why is our gut health important?
Apart from digesting food and absorbing nutrients, energy and water, our gut also forms a physical barrier against harmful substances entering our body. Because of this, it plays a key role in our immune system and balancing inflammation levels in the body. The gut also regulates our appetite and supports our brain health and mood. Our resident gut microbes called our gut microbiota also play a key role. Their main job is to break down fibre and when they do this they produce a very important chemical called a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). SCFAs strengthen the gut lining and immune system, boost the number of beneficial bacteria, reduce levels of harmful bacteria and reduce levels of inflammation in the body. Looking after your gut health is important for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, absorbing nutrients, reducing your risk of chronic disease, supporting brain function and mood regulation, strengthening your immune system and reducing levels of inflammation in the body. Some signs of poor gut health include bloating, lower abdominal pain, frequent heartburn or reflux, excessive flatulence, constipation and or diarrhoea.
Our top tips for optimising your gut health
Aim for 25-30g+++ of fibre per day
Fibre is the part of plant foods that our body cannot break down. This doesn’t mean it goes to waste! Instead, it stays intact until it reaches your large bowel or colon where your resident ‘good’ gut bugs live. When it reaches your large bowel, it feeds and nourishes your gut bugs helping them thrive. Fibre has lots of health benefits including:
- >> Lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels
- >> Reducing your risk of colorectal cancer, stroke, type two diabetes and heart disease
- >> Weight management and satiety
- >> Preventing and assisting with constipation and bowel regularity
- >> Strengthening the immune system
- >> Reducing levels of inflammation in the body
- >> Reducing cognitive decline as we age
- >> Reducing the risk of mood disorders including anxiety and depression
Despite being so important for our health most Australians do not consume enough fibre which puts them at an increased risk of health problems. Fibre diversity is also lacking in the Australian diet because we tend not to have much variety in the plant foods we eat. Foods rich in fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Here are some easy food swaps to increase your fibre intake
- >> Swap corn flakes or rice bubbles for weetbix, oats, muesli or bran flakes
- >> Swap white bread for soy and linseed bread
- >> Swap rice crackers for vita-weat or ryvita
- >> Swap sweet biscuits for a Carman’s fruit free muesli bar
- >> Swap white flour in baking for wholemeal flour or almond meal
- >> Swap white wraps for multigrain or high-fibre wraps
Aim for 30+ different plants per week
The more varied your diet is in terms of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, the more varied your ‘good’ gut bugs are, which is important! A gut-healthy habit to get into is aiming for 30 different plants per week which is 4 to 5 different plant foods per day. Here are some easy ways to boost your plant intake;
- >> Snack on mixed nuts instead of just one type e.g. almonds
- >> Add in a new grain product every day e.g. quinoa in a salad, grainy crackers with lunch, soy & linseed bread to breakfast
- >> Add a new fruit or vegetable in every week
- >> Garnish meals with fresh herbs such as adding dill when cooking seafood or coriander when cooking a curry or stir-fry
- >> Add canned beans such as chickpeas or lentils to salads or soups
- >> Add fresh or frozen fruit to smoothies
- >> Add a sprinkle of seeds on top of your muesli or porridge
Eat less red meat and processed meats
Red meat consumption can cause our gut bacteria to produce substances harmful to our health, such as TMA and TMAO, linked to a high risk of heart disease. A high intake of red meat can also reduce the levels of healthy bacteria in our gut. The Cancer Council estimates that 2,600 cases of bowel cancer in Australia each year are associated with eating too much red meat and processed meat. Because of this
- >> Avoid or limit processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages
- >> Don’t cook meat until it is charred or blackened, instead pan fry, roast or slow-cook
- >> Limit red meat to 1-2x/wk and alternate with fish and seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as legumes and tofu
- >> If you choose to eat red meat, make sure to serve it with high-fibre foods as this can help to reduce some of the potential negative impacts e.g. if you cook a steak serve it with a big salad or roasted vegetables
Take steps to manage stress
Stress can impact our gut health by speeding up (diarrhoea) or slowing down (constipation) how fast food moves through. It can also disrupt the delicate balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, increase inflammation and increase how the nerves in our gut perceive pain. Stress is also known to exacerbate symptoms in people who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Take steps to manage your stress and schedule in a little ‘you’ time,
Drink enough water
Water is important for keeping your bowels nice and regular. Aim for around 2L of water per day. Having too much fibre and not enough water can also cause constipation or discomfort.
If you have any gut complaints such as reflux, IBS, constipation, bloating or diarrhoea be sure to book in with one of our dietitians today by calling ORS on 1800 000 677 or our Eastsense by ORS clinic on 43113623.
Nicole Saliba – Clinic Manager
Dietitian, BHlthSc(Nutr&Diet), APD
To learn more about our amazing staff visit Our Expertise.