Episode 35 – Top Nutrition Tips for Gut Health

Key Topics Covered

Gut Health Defined

Microbiota – The collection of microbes that live in and on the human body.

  • The microbiota of the gut has an integral role in:
    • Digestion
    • Immune function
    • Brain health
    • Metabolism
    • Also linked with mood and mental health.  
  • Some people think of “improved gut-health” as a reduction IBS symptoms. Which is part of it, but focusing solely on that can be very different to a more broad view. 
    • e.g. Going low FODMAP can reduce IBS symptoms, but doesn’t necessarily improve gut health as it decreases diversity.

Ideal Gut Microbiome

  • There’s no current consensus on what is a healthy or ideal gut microbiome research of the gut microbiome is still relatively new.
  • At this stage, it is understood that everyone is different and therefore what is ideal can vary. However, the diversity of bacteria is important.  
  1. Eat a Fibre Rich Diet

Fibre – A type of non-digestible carbohydrate that is found exclusively in plant-based foods.  

  • Recommendations – For adults are 25g per day for women and 30g per day for men.  
  • However, it is interesting to note that vegetarians and vegans who typically have a fibre intake of >40g per day tend to have better gut health.  
    • So there may be some benefit in going above the general recommendations. 
  • Increase your fibre intake slowly to allow your gut to get used to it.  
    • A sudden and drastic increase in fibre intake is not going to harm you but it may cause some uncomfortable symptoms including bloating and flatulence.  
    • This can be tracked in an app like Easy Diet Diary or MyFitnessPal.

2. Eat >30 different Plant-based Food each week  

  • The American Gut Project found that people who consumed 30 or more plant-based food per week had a more diverse gut microbiome. In comparison to those who had 10 or less per week.                                      
  • They also found links such as those with mental health conditions had microbiomes that were more similar to each other than they were to those without mental health conditions.
  • Ways to improve the variety of plant food in your diet include: 
    • Having a handful of mixed nuts daily 
    • Make up batch of fruit salad for the week or have a different piece of fruit each day  
    • Use packets of mixed veggies – the more variety in a bag, the better  
    • Make up a mixed seeds jar to sprinkle on porridge, yogurt or salads  
    • Use some plant based proteins in your meals including legumes and soy foods  
    • Have a variety of canned legumes in your pantry and incorporate them wherever possible – a 4 bean mix is great! 
    • Choose a few different types of grains for the week including rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, couscous and pasta    
  • Diversity of food can also be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Our body adapts based on what we do. If we have a diverse intake, our digestive enzymes and gut bacteria adapt to handle this. If you stop eating certain foods/groups, these bacteria and enzymes are needed less, so diminish. When you reintroduce these foods/groups, you might get more symptoms because the body is less equipped to handle it.  

3. Probiotics & Prebiotics  

Probiotics – Live microorganisms found in certain foods, which when consumed in adequate amounts are beneficial to our gut health. Supplements can work, but we recommend food first, these include:

  • Yoghurt 
  • Fermented milk products (kefir, buttermilk, Yakult) 
  • Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi) 
  • Fermented soy products: Tempeh / Miso / natto 

Prebiotic – A type of fibre found in plant-based foods, which promotes the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut. These include:

  • Vegetables – green peas, snow peas, corn, garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus 
  • Fruits – banana, watermelon, nectarines, dried fruit 
  • Legumes – chickpeas, baked beans, red kidney beans, lentils 
  • Cereals – couscous, wheat, barley, oats 
  • Nuts & seeds 

Generally having a diet that is high in a variety of plant foods with a focus on including some probiotic-rich foods will do the trick. 

Foods containing probiotic cultures

4. Resistant Start

Can act as prebiotic fibre and also helps nourish good bacteria in the large intestine.  

  • Because it is more resistant to digestion, it ferments in the gut and favours the production of butyrate: a major bacterial metabolite fundamental for keeping the gut healthy and functioning normally. 
  • Although it is hard to measure, it looks like the average Australian consumes about 3-9g of resistant starch per day.  
    • Recommend: 15-20g have been linked with positive health outcomes. Most people likely would benefit from increasing their intake. 
  • Found in:
    • Whole grains
    • Legumes
    • Nuts
    • Starchy vegetables
    • Some seeds
  • Particularly prominent in: 
    • Unripe bananas and green banana flour  
    • Cooked and cooled grains and starchy vegetables such as potato, rice & pasta  

Minimise intake of alcohol & meat products 

  • A high intake of cholesterol from animal products has been shown to decrease levels of bifidobacteria which is a particularly beneficial bacteria for gut health.   
  • The same thing goes for alcohol and gut health. Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to result in gut dysbiosis which is an imbalance in the gut microbiota.  
  • You don’t need to completely cut these foods out of your diet but they also shouldn’t be a large part of your daily intake. 

Summary  

The microbiome is a complicated area of research. For the time being, we can be pretty positive that these things really move the needle for gut health: 

  • Follow a fibre rich, plant based diet that is rich in a variety of plant foods (ideally >30 different plant based foods per week) 
  • Incorporate foods rich in prebiotics, probiotics & resistant starch  
  • Limit consumption of alcohol and mear 
    • And even Lifestyle factors such as: 
  • Reducing stress  
  • Exercising regularly  
  • Maintaining a healthy weight  

Useful Links/ Resources

Studies Mentioned

Useful Resources

Relevant Blog Posts