What you really need for good gut health

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We’re all looking for those ultimate fixes for our different health woes – and if managing gut health is on your agenda you’re in luck.

Experts had previously thought it took months or even years to shift the good and bad microbial balance in our gut. But new research shows that gut microbiome actually changes quickly in response to what we eat – starting just hours after a meal.

As Nicole Dynan, accredited practising dietitian and owner of The Gut Health Dietitian, explains, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are two of the most common, well-researched, good species of bacteria. 

“We can nourish them and other beneficial species in our gut by eating a diet rich in different kinds of fibre and fresh foods,” she says. “Eating a diet low in fibre and fresh food, effectively starves our good bacteria.”

Feeding the good

Key to a good-gut diet are probiotics, says Dynan. “Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in our gut and in some foods,” she explains.  

“They improve our health by increasing the number of good bacteria that survive in our gut. We can add good communities of microbes to our gut by eating fermented foods high in good bacteria or probiotics.”

These include yoghurt with live cultures (look for 1 billion probiotics per serve, says Dynan), kefir (fermented milk or water-based drink), kombucha (fermented black or green tea drink), fresh kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) and fresh sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

“Eating a variety of these foods may help us cultivate a variety of good gut bugs, but further research is needed,” says Dynan.

She recommends looking out for words such as “live”, “active”, “raw” or “unpasteurised” on packaging to ensure that the manufacturing process has not killed the bacterial strains.

“Some manufacturers of pasteurised products will add back probiotic strains to the final product. You will find these listed in the ingredients,” she adds.

“Studies have shown that the benefits of these probiotic foods are only seen while they are being consumed, so it’s important to regularly enjoy these foods.”

Probiotics vs prebiotics

“Prebiotics are very different to probiotics and there is good reason prebiotics are the new buzz word,” says Dynan.

“Prebiotics are mostly soluble fibres and resistant starches that act as fuel for our good bacteria in the large intestine or colon. They are fermented by gut bacteria and boost the balance of our microbiome to be healthier.”

One way of increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut is by eating foods high in prebiotic fibres, advises Dynan.

Some foods that are naturally high in prebiotics include vegetables (chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, leek, asparagus, garlic, onion), fruit (apples, pears, watermelon, nectarines, dried fruit), whole grains (barley, rye, wheat, oats, lupin, whole grain or fibre cereals), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans) and nuts (cashews, pistachio nuts).

You can boost your prebiotic intake by having a high-fibre breakfast cereal, choosing wholemeal bread, cooking with onions and garlic and adding a serve of legumes for dinner.

The lowdown on resistant starch

“Foods high in resistant starch are particularly beneficial prebiotics,” says Dynan. 

“They selectively feed our good gut bacteria, reduce inflammation and keep our colon healthy. Resistant starch foods ‘resist’ digestion in the stomach and small intestine and make it through to the large intestine intact.”

To boost your resistant starch intake, add cooked, cooled and reheated potatoes, pasta and rice to your diet – for example, potato salad, sushi rice and cold pasta.

Green bananas, uncooked oats, legumes, green banana flour, Hi-Maize flour and potato starch will also do the trick.

To learn more about the Kellogg’s fibre range, visit the Kellogg’s website.

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