If you’re looking for ways to keep your gut healthy, it’s time to start paying attention to what’s on your plate. Certain foods are packed with gut-loving nutrients that can help keep your digestive system running smoothly. HFG explores some of the best foods for gut health and why they’re so beneficial.
Whole grains: The unsung heroes of gut health
Whole grains, like bran-based breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, and whole grain pasta and rice, are essential for gut health. They contain insoluble fibre that helps to hold on to water, creating bulkier and softer stools. This can be especially helpful for individuals who suffer from IBS, constipation, or diverticulosis. Additionally, insoluble fibre speeds up the passage of food through the digestive system. Be sure to include higher-fibre varieties of staple foods in your diet daily to help calm digestive issues.
Pulses, oats, and barley: Gut-loving superheroes
Pulses, oats, and barley are packed with soluble fibre, which is fermented in the large bowel by beneficial bacteria. These “friendly” bacteria are essential for maintaining the health of your gut. Soluble fibre also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, making these superfoods doubly beneficial. You can add lentils, beans, or split peas to salads, casseroles, or even extend meat dishes. For a hearty and healthy breakfast, try a bowl of porridge or add barley to homemade soups and stews.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of both insoluble fibre and soluble fibre. Have at least five portions a day of different types and colours, and include the skins where they are edible. Here’s five of our favourite:
- Apples: Apples are a great source of soluble fibre, which can help promote regular bowel movements and feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help reduce inflammation in the gut and support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that is high in fibre and contains compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the gut.
- Garlic: Garlic has antibacterial properties and can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can help alleviate digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Probiotics are live microbial supplements that can modify the balance of bacteria in the gut; they are thought to be beneficial to gut health. Scientific evidence for the health benefits of probiotics is still building, but some people may find probiotics to be helpful. Probiotics are often found in fermented foods, including:
- Yoghurt: contains live cultures of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two common probiotic strains. For those intolerant to dairy, choose lactose-free yoghurts that are easier to digest and come in yummy flavours.
- Kimchi: a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables, including cabbage, radish, and scallions, which are rich in Lactobacillus bacteria.
- Miso: a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans that is high in probiotics and antioxidants.
- Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is similar to yogurt but contains a wider variety of probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces.
Found in vegetables and fruits such as onion, garlic, artichokes, tomatoes and bananas, prebiotics are non-digestible foods that stimulate the growth of ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut. Evidence for a beneficial effect of prebiotics is, at present, limited, but you might like to try including some of these foods in your diet:
- Oats: Oats are a great source of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre that can act as a prebiotic and help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Bananas: In addition to being a source of resistant starch, bananas also contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are prebiotic fibres that can support gut health.
- Asparagus: Asparagus is a rich source of inulin, a type of prebiotic fibre that can help feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Garlic: Garlic contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and other prebiotic fibres that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
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Article sources and references
- Harvard Health Publishing - "The Gut-Brain Connection"https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders - "Fiber and IBS"https://www.iffgd.org/diet-treatments/fiber-and-ibs/
- American Heart Association - "Whole Grains and Fiber"https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-and-fiber
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health - "Fiber"https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
- ScienceDirect - "Soluble and Insoluble Dietary Fiber"https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/soluble-and-insoluble-dietary-fiber
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry - "Polyphenols in Blueberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries"https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf052735y
- National Institutes of Health - "Ginger"https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/ginger
- Clinical Nutrition ESPEN - "The Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Gastrointestinal Disease"https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405452621000101
- Harvard Health Publishing - "Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics"https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
- 10. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology - "The Role of Prebiotics and Probiotics in Gastrointestinal Disease":https://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2016/07001/The_Role_of_Prebiotics_and_Probiotics_in.5.aspx