Eating right for gut health
A healthy gut is essential for the absorption of nutrients, good bowel habits and minimising inflammation. Unfortunately, gut issues are on the rise with studies showing an increase in the incidence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Prebiotics are foods that gut bacteria feed from. They are well known for their ability to optimise the gut microbiome. The Australian diet is typically low in prebiotics, with the average person consuming only about three to five grams per day.
Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, however, have found that it takes more than prebiotics alone to optimise gut health. The best diet for gut health is a balanced diet. “There’s a balance between prebiotic and total dietary fibre – and it’s terribly important,” lead researcher Dr Muir said. “If you get too much prebiotic fibre and not enough total dietary fibre you might get problems with laxation.”
How to get the balance right
Some of the key nutrients needed to optimise your gut include:
- Prebiotic fibres – such as galacto-oligosaccharides and fructans optimise the growth of bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids which provide gas for the movement of fibre throughout the digestive tract. Legumes (such as chick peas and red kidney beans) are one of the best sources of prebiotic fibres, so try to enjoy a vegetarian meal such as a minestrone soup with red kidney beans or a four bean mix salad at least twice per week. Other foods rich in prebiotic fibres include onions, leeks and nuts.
- Simple sugars – that’s right! Although simple sugars are often vilified for being too easily digested, they are essential for a healthy gut. Simple sugars, such as fructose and polyols, promote movement of water into the small intestine and this facilitates gut movement to minimise constipation. Foods rich in simple sugars include fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, mushrooms and cauliflower.
- Polysaccharides – polysaccharides are more complex carbohydrates such as bran, beta-glucan and resistant starch. These nutrients are needed for bulk and to absorb fluid. Examples of foods rich in polysaccharides include wholegrain bread, brown rice and oats.
- Zinc – zinc is a mineral needed for healthy gut walls. Red meat is one of the richest sources of zinc, so try to include it three to four times per week.
So, it seems that the best diet for a healthy gut is one that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, lean meat and fish and legumes. If you’re having problems with your gut health, it’s a good idea to seek specialist advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
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