Maintaining a healthy gut (digestive tract) is one of the most important things you can do for your body.
If your gut works efficiently, your body will get its energy from the food you eat. And not just energy – it also helps the immune system fight off disease and keeps other important processes going, such as blood clotting, the fighting off of inflammation, cell division and heart contractions. A healthy gut also protects against bowel cancer and produces serotonin, which is the feel-good hormone in the human body.
Your diet can assist the friendly microbial cells (microbiota) housed mostly in your colon by helping to fight the bad bacteria in your colon, to keep a healthy balance and to help digest and absorb the nutrients your body needs. While supplements have their place, most people can get what they need from eating the right foods.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
In short, probiotics are the good live bacteria found in your gut and in some foods, such as yoghurt. Prebiotics are fibres and starches that provide fuel for the good bacteria. Foods high in probiotics include yoghurt and sauerkraut, among others. Foods that naturally contain prebiotics include some vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and nuts – but more about these later.
Bad foods for your gut
Foods that can damage or disrupt your gut microbiome (often by feeding the bad bacteria) include sugar, processed and fried foods, large amounts of dairy, soy that has been over-processed, large amounts of red meat, chemically treated tap water, genetically modified foods, large amount of gluten and farmed fish (they are often fed antibiotics).
Foods that feed your gut
Food high in fibre and wholegrains, foods high in probiotics and prebiotics, fermented products and fresh, unprocessed foods are best to eat.
Here is a quick list of foods that will help your gut to keep you healthy:
- Vegetables, such as onions, leeks, artichokes, garlic, beetroot, broccoli, green peas and savoy cabbage
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans and soya beans
- Fruit, such as nectarines, grapefruit, blueberries, watermelon, custard apples and dried fruit such as dates and figs
- Bread and cereals such as barley, rye bread, gnocchi, wheat bran and oats
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews and pistachio nuts
By SUSAN ERASMUS
University Health News; the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; Gut Microbiota for Health; Monash University