Gut Health Month: Why is our Gut Health so Important

One in five Australians are affected by problems with their gut. Constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and bloating are all gut health problems that can notably impact a person’s quality of life. The month of February is gut health month. What we eat can play a role in how uncomfortable we are feeling but more importantly, food and what we eat can in fact help to manage gut-related issues.

February is Gut Health Month!

Creating a Happy Gut

The first step to creating a happier and healthier gut is having a healthy lifestyle. What builds the foundation to healthier gut health?

  1. A healthy diet: a wide range of fibre-filled plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds
  2. Exercise: regular physical activity can stimulate digestive muscles which may help prevent constipation. Being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day will not only support a healthy gut, it will help maintain strong muscles, support your mental health and also reduce the risk of a variety of diseases.
  3. Sleep: it is fundamental for overall health, not just gut health, to get enough good quality sleep. Hormones can become disrupted and unbalanced if you don’t get enough sleep and can affect your appetite, potentially making you more likely to choose unhealthy food options.

Stress management: chronic stress can lead to inflammation and gut problems like constipation and diarrhoea. It is important to have some strategies in place to help manage any stressful situations. A walk outside on your lunch break, reading your favourite book or watching your favourite movie/show, or meditation are all simple strategies for stress management.

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A Chat about Poo

We know it can be an awkward chat to have, but it is also the easiest way to know if your gut is working okay. It is not a case of looking at every deposit, but making a habit of looking at your poo maybe once a month and understanding what an ideal poo should look like. Although we know it is not a sure fire way to diagnose a gut problem, having an understanding of your poo will be a good start to keep track of what is going on. 

It is important to note that everyone is different, so what is normal for your family or  friends may not be normal for you. The most important thing to keep a track on, is when things change. Have you been a once-a-day kind of person but find yourself going 3-4 times during the day? Does the consistency of your poo change when you are feeling stressed? 

Compare your poo against the examples below to see if you are on the right path toward a healthy gut. The ideal poo is the middle one - soft, sausage shaped, either smooth or a few wrinkles/cracks.

There are ways that can help to improve your gut health and consequently your poo. 

  1. Checking in with your doctor in case of any underlying issues is a good start
  2. Swap refined grains for whole grains e.g. white bread for whole grain bread
  3. Include some legumes in your diet, like chickpeas, beans, and lentils
  4. Eat at least 5 serves of fibre-rich vegetables and 2 serves of fibre-rich fruit
  5. Add a small handful of nuts or seeds to your breakfast, lunch or dinner
  6. Include prebiotic and probiotic foods in your day
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How does Food affect your Gut Health

The food you eat plays a key role in the balance of good and bad gut bacteria. Having good bacteria in your gut can help protect you from harmful bacteria; harmful bacteria that can create all those grumbles in the stomach, cause bloating and affect your poo - whether it is constipation or diarrhoea. A diet that is high in fat, sugar and processed foods can decrease the amount of good gut bacteria and if consumed on a regular basis will end up feeding the bad gut bacteria thus creating the problems we have mentioned earlier.

But how can you ensure that you have and maintain good gut bacteria? Probiotics and prebiotics are important for human health and even though they seem similar, they both play different roles. However, both are important in gut health.

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Images sourced from Google.

So what are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Probiotics - are certain foods that contain live bacteria that are intended to maintain or improve the good bacteria in the gut. 

Probiotic foods include:

  • Yoghurt, aged cheese, sour cream and
  • Fermented foods 
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha tea
  • Kefir (dairy and nondairy)
  • Miso

Prebiotics - are a form of fermentable dietary fibre found in vegetables, fruit and legumes, that helps and encourages good bacteria to grow in your gut. We can’t digest this fibre BUT the good gut bacteria can. 

Foods that are high in prebiotic fibre include:

  • Legumes, beans and peas
  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Leeks

Including these foods in your day can help to boost your gut health.

Improving Gut Health

Keeping the bacteria in your gut happy and balanced is important for many aspects of your health. Eating a healthy balanced diet that includes all the food groups - vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, dairy and meat while incorporating some prebiotic and probiotic foods will help to promote good bacteria. Ensuring that you have enough sleep, are physically active, manage stress levels and minimise processed, high fat and high sugar foods will also set you on the path to help improve your gut health.

Just remember, that a dietitian can help with individualised advice and support you with a healthy eating pattern so that you can get and keep your gut on the right path.