Author: VicHealth works with health promotion experts to create a Victoria where everyone can enjoy better health and wellbeing. Last updated: 19 May, 2021

We’re becoming increasingly aware of the role our gut plays on our overall health. With so much information out there, it can be overwhelming to know what’s true or false. So how do we improve our gut health? What’s the difference between good bacteria and bad bacteria? Are gut health supplements and cleanses the only way to go?

When it comes to keeping healthy, VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio says a great place to start is prioritising your gut health. Our gut plays an important role when it comes to keeping healthy, so it’s important to understand how to do this without being influenced by what we see on social media.

Below Dr Sandro Demaio takes you through why gut health is so important and offers tips on how you can have a healthy gut diet.

 

In this article you'll learn:

  • Why forming a healthy gut diet is key to overall health
  • What’s true and false when it comes to gut heath
  • Top tips on looking after your gut health

 

Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.

 

What is gut health?

When we talk about your gut, we mean your gastrointestinal system which includes your stomach, small intestine and colon.

You may not know it, but gut health plays a huge role on both our mental and physical health and can have a significant impact on how we feel day to day.

 

Why is gut health so important?

Our gut is responsible for putting our body into working order. As it breaks down the foods we eat, our gut absorbs nutrients that support our body’s functions.

Throughout your gut, your body can produce “good” bacteria and help keep “bad” bacteria in check. When you have a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, you’re more likely to feel and stay healthy. 

Here’s what VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio says is true about gut health and how to keep it healthy.

 

What’s true and false when it comes to gut health?

  • The way your gut functions lets you know what’s going on inside your body. For example, pooping regularly is a sign of a healthy gut.
  • Your gut bacteria are influenced by what you eat and put into your body. For example, antibiotics, while important for fighting infections, can have a negative impact on our gut by wiping out ALL bacteria, including the good ones you need to keep healthy.
  • A way to counteract the negative impact of antibiotics on the gut is to consume probiotics.
  • Probiotics are “good” bacteria and can make your immune system stronger, BUT they’re not all the same. The best sources are fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut.
  • Prebiotics are the food source of probiotics and can help the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. You can find them in fruits, vegetables and legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils.  
  • Soluble and insoluble fibres, such as oats and brown rice, can also do a lot to support gut health as they help improve digestion, lower blood sugar and soften stool.
  • Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or miracle cure for good gut health. There’s no scientific evidence that manuka honey or any other product will rapidly heal an unbalanced microbiota (the makeup of bacteria in your gut).
  • There’s also no scientific evidence that colon cleansing improves health or is beneficial at all.
  • Stress can change your gut. That’s why it’s important to take time to Look after your mental wellbeing.
  • Nothing replaces a varied wholefood diet, made up of mostly vegetables and fruit. A good way to know if the meal will be good for your gut is by identifying the number of different food colours, “eat a rainbow every day”.

 

Top tips on looking after your gut health

1. Eat high fibre foods that fuel your gut

To ensure your body can produce as much “good’ bacteria as possible, make sure you’re eating fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that are high in fiber.

Remember your gut bacteria is influenced by what you eat, so it’s important to give it the best fuel so good bacteria grow to fight off ‘bad’ bacteria. Eat lots of prebiotics (vegies, lentils, beans etc), the food source of probiotics that help to grow helpful bacteria in your gut.

Here’s a list of some high fiber foods that help grow “good” bacteria:

  • Vegetables

Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage

  • Legumes

Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans

  • Fruit

Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, rambutan, grapefruit, pomegranate.  Dried fruit (eg. dates, figs)

  • Bread / cereals / snacks

Barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats

  • Nuts and seeds

Cashews, pistachio nuts

 If you’re looking for easy recipes that can fill your plate with good foods to fuel your gut check out our recent article here.

 

2. Stress can change your gut. Take time to unwind.

There is a relationship between what you eat, your gut, and your mental health and wellbeing. So how exactly does food affect your mood and how can you feed your happiness? You can learn more in our recent article, Which foods help make you happy?

Food isn’t the only factor to consider when keeping stress levels down. Exercise, sleep and mindfulness also play a key role.

Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, either in one hit or broken up into short intervals throughout the day. For more information on the benefits of exercise and tips on how to establish exercise into your daily routine check out our recent article published here

When it comes to sleep, aiming to get around 8 to 9 hours of sleep will ensure your body gets long term benefits. If you’re interested in what the benefits of sleep are or you’ve been struggling with sleep, it might also like to read another recent article, Why sleep is so important here.

 

3. Don’t believe everything you see or hear

You may have come across a range of different fads and trends all promising better gut health on your social media feeds. Try not to get sucked into everything you see across Instagram and Facebook. From colon cleanses to manuka honey remedies, nothing beats a varied wholefood diet.

Prioritising gut health shouldn’t cost the earth and be wary of anyone selling expensive supplements which promise to instantly fix your gut.  There are many cheap and easy recipes that are far more beneficial to your gut than anything sold on the internet.

 

To recap, if you’re looking at how to improve your gut health, there are easy, cost effective ways you can do so. A good place to start is to action the following steps:

  1. Add more high fiber foods into your daily diet
  2. Keep stress levels down by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and practicing mindfulness
  3. Don’t believe all the fads you see on social media. Take time to do the research yourself and if in doubt see a trusted health professional like your GP or a dietician