Most people have heard of the term ‘gut health’ by now. Whether you find it fascinating or confusing, you’ve likely picked up on the fact that it’s very important. Gut health in this sense refers to the health of our microbiome; the collection of microorganisms that reside within the digestive tract, predominantly the intestines. One type of microorganism that plays a significant role in our wellbeing is bacteria. We have both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that live in our digestive tract. To promote good health, we want more good bacteria than bad. However, it’s not just quantity that matters; research is showing that different types of bacteria can influence and support different aspects of our health, therefore demonstrating that diversity of good bacteria is also important. In fact, approximately 500 different strains of bacteria have been identified in the human digestive tract. How does our gut health influence our general wellbeing? Our gut communicates with the rest of our body through our nervous system and endocrine system; as a result, gut health participates in immune system regulation, brain function, mood, sleep, hormone balance, skin health and more. Excitingly, through our diet and nutrition we may have more influence over our gut health than many of us realise. Here are our top dietitian-approved recommendations for creating and maintaining good gut health.
1. Eat a wide variety of plant foods- This includes fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. For maximum benefits in terms of variety, aim for 30 different types of plants per week. This sounds more daunting than it is; for example, apples are one type, bananas are another, berries are another, and so on. This will ensure you’re getting in the three different types of fibre that are beneficial for our digestive system, including prebiotic fibre which feeds certain strains of good bacteria in our microbiome. Raw honey has also been found to contain prebiotic properties due to its oligosaccharide content.
2. Include probiotic-containing foods- Probiotics are largely found within fermented products such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi. While prebiotics feed the bacteria within the gut, probiotics help with introducing bacteria into the gut. In addition to raw honey’s prebiotic content, Meluka has further enhanced its gut health benefits via bio-fermentation to create Meluka Pro-Culture Honey® blend, found in Meluka Australia’s Raw Honey Probiotic Concentrate. This innovative and convenient drink contains 6 multi-strain probiotics within one 15ml serve. This is a fantastic option in particular for people who want to improve their gut health and get a dose of probiotics, but who might prefer something sweet versus savoury!
3. Boost polyphenol intake- Polyphenols have antioxidant properties that assist with holistic health due to their ability to neutralise free radicals. Polyphenols are found in cloves, berries, nuts, dark chocolate, green tea, olive oil, and quality raw honey, and are another dietary factor that can promote gut health by feeding good bacteria, and helping to minimise the proliferation of unwanted pathogens.
4. Include omega-rich foods regularly- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase the diversity of bacteria within the gut, one of the factors that we know contributes to overall microbiome health. Ensure you include omega-3 in your diet regularly by enjoying oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines), as well as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.
5. Limit your intake of processed foods- Highly processed foods like deli meats, cakes, biscuits, and chips often contain ingredients such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers that may negatively impact the gut, particularly in sensitive individuals.
6. Moderate alcohol consumption- Whilst red wine contains gut-friendly polyphenols, the key is moderation. Too much and you may experience increased inflammation within the digestive tract. It is also suggested that alcohol can slow down digestion in a negative way, and facilitate the growth of less desirable strains of bacteria.
It’s not just about what we eat. Another major aspect of gut health is optimisation of the digestive tract more broadly, i.e. digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. How can we help to do this? Slow down, chew properly, and eat in an environment that is as stress-free as possible. Research has demonstrated that stress is detrimental for the microbiome, as is yo-yo dieting. Finally, get to know your body and notice any ongoing digestive symptoms you may be experiencing, and seek help from professionals if something doesn’t quite seem right.