FOOD

6 Ways To Start Improving Your Gut Health Today

Poor diet, alcohol and stress can impact your gut.

25/09/2017 8:01 AM AEST | Updated 25/09/2017 8:09 AM AEST
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Considering the rapid rise in kombucha, sauerkraut and probiotic products, it's pretty clear gut health is on everyone's minds. And with good reason -- more and more research is emerging showing just how important good gut health is for overall wellbeing.

"Having a healthy gut is so important," accredited practising dietitian and sports dietitian Chloe McLeod told HuffPost Australia.

"It's linked to a number of different medical conditions. When your gut isn't healthy it can have an impact on mental health, weight, mood and a number of other digestive disorders. Keeping your gut nice and healthy can help keep the rest of your body healthy."

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How do you know if you have good gut health?

"Signs of good gut health include not getting bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation," McLeod said.

"You find you feel better in general -- better mood, more energy, a healthy weight and not feeling fatigued. These are all more pronounced when your gut is healthier."

How do you know if you have bad gut health?

"If you have poor gut health you may have loose, unformed stools, or you're really constipated, maybe your faeces are foul smelling, you feel gassy, feel foggy headed or have poor mood. These are some of the most common signs," McLeod explained.

What can negatively affect gut health?

There are a number of diet and lifestyle-related factors which can impact the health of your gut.

"From a nutrition perspective, factors that negatively impact gut health include poor diet, alcohol and having a high fat intake," McLeod said.

"Also, if you are someone with food intolerances, any large quantity of those trigger foods can have a negative effect on your gut health.

"Being highly stressed all the time impacts cortisol levels, and stress can be a factor for some people. Some medications can also affect gut health."

Ways to start improving your gut health

"Eating plenty of veggies, including healthy fats (and not going overboard on unhealthy fats) and including prebiotic foods can all help with gut health," McLeod said.

1. Eat more vegetables

"Vegetables provide our body with the nutrients it needs on a day-to-day basis and help to maintain general health," McLeod said.

"They also provide fibre to keep the gut healthy and help our body's systems run more effectively."

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Nourish bowls are an easy way to eat a lot of veggies.

2. Focus on fibre

Speaking of fibre in veggies, aim to increase overall fibre content, especially if your intake of fruit, vegetables and legumes is low.

"Fibre can provide a huge variety of compounds and nutrients that will help improve gut health. The fibre is in whole grains, fruit, veggies, nuts and legumes," McLeod explained.

"This is why a lot of the time people focus on a plant-based diet for gut health, as many of the plant-based foods are great for gut health in so many different ways."

3. Eat plenty of prebiotic-rich foods

When we think of gut health, probiotics are the first thing to spring to mind. But prebiotics, a type of non-digestible fibre, are just as important.

"When prebiotic foods are digested they provide food for the healthy bacteria which are found in our gut, so include things like bananas, onion, garlic, veggies (brussels sprouts and broccoli), whole grains and other fruits," McLeod said.

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It always comes back to eating more veggies.

4. Eat more probiotic-rich foods

Rather than choosing probiotic supplements as your first line of defence for gut health, McLeod recommends opting first for whole foods rich in probiotics.

"Probiotic supplements can certainly help and play a role, but it's such an emerging area that we don't know everything about them," McLeod said.

"Different types of probiotics can have different impacts on gut health. For example, some are targeted to eczema, some are better for mental health."

Before taking a probiotic supplement, speak to your GP to find the right supplement for you.

"It's a good idea to not take just any and hope it will fix anything -- they all have different actions. Some people also don't tolerate probiotic supplements too well.

"Aim to get probiotics from your food. Include foods which naturally contain probiotics, such as yoghurt and fermented foods (miso, sauerkraut, kimchi)."

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Choose natural-style yoghurts without added sugars.

5. Drink wisely

As alcohol can negatively affect gut health, reduce your overall intake of alcohol and remember to drink more water.

"Don't forget about water -- stay well hydrated and drink less alcohol," McLeod said.

6. Reduce junk food intake

Unfortunately, your gut doesn't like processed, fatty, sugary foods (aka a standard Western diet), even if you do. McLeod recommends reducing your intake of junk foods like soft drink, lollies, biscuits, chips and pizza, and make healthier alternatives instead.

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