5 summer foods to keep your gut happy
Summer is the perfect time to socialise, and that usually involves more than our usual fair share of eating and drinking.
Whether it’s around a beach barbeque, at a friend’s house, in a café or at a picnic in the park, most of our summertime soirees revolve around nice nosh.
While indulging every now and then won’t impact our overall health, the cumulative effect of weeks of socialising can wreak havoc on both our waistlines and our gut health, warns dietitian and microbiome coach Dr Paula Smith-Brown.
- Related: New test can reveal your gut secrets
Popular fave foods that get the gut health tick
The good news is that many of our favourite foods are also good for our inner ecosystem.
Dr Smith-Brown, of Microba, says the largest study exploring the link between diet and the microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in our intestinal tract) shows that fruit, tea and coffee – just for starters – are all important for gut health.
“These foods are all high in plant chemicals known as phytochemicals, which are compounds produced by plants,” she says.
“These all have different impacts on our microbiome – some kill off the bad bacteria while others feed the beneficial microorganisms.
“Different coloured fruits are rich in different phytochemicals so serving a multi-coloured fruit salad won’t only look fabulous, but means you’ll be consuming lots of these different plant chemicals.”
Here are her top five foods to boost gut health this summer:
1. The goodness of grain
The Aussies diet is often high in wheat but Dr Smith-Brown suggests mixing things up by introducing a diversity of grains such as rice, oats, barley or quinoa.
Cooked and cooled starchy foods such as potatoes are another way to diversify your intake of fibre.
“Cooking and cooling these foods creates a more complex starch which passes through the small intestine to the large intestine where it acts as a prebiotic fibre to feed beneficial gut microbes,” she says.
“So potato, rice or pasta salads not only use up leftovers but also increase our fibre intake which is essential for healthy gut function.”
2. (Herbal) tea for two
For a gut-healthy drink, try herbal tea with no added sweeteners or sugar.
Made from dried herbs or spices, tea is rich in the right sort of chemicals for our gut environment, whether served hot or cold.
3. Go nuts
There’s mounting evidence these whole plant foods jam-packed with nutritional benefits are also good for overall and microbiome health.
They’re also a rich source of iron and protein, making them a great vegetarian alternative to meat says Dr Smith-Brown.
She says analysis of 18 research studies found three serves of nuts a week are enough to receive the maximum health benefits.
Try legumes, beans and pulses too!
4. Spice it up
The reason spices smell and taste so good is that they are some of the richest sources of beneficial plant chemicals you can get, making them some of the most potent antioxidant foods you can eat.
As such, even small quantities can play an important role in microbiome health.
Try something different, like cinnamon added to roast carrots or pumpkin Dr Smith-Brown suggests.
5. Meat in moderation
Animal protein is good as long as it’s balanced with lots of vegetables, says the dietitian.
“Meat is a rich source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12 and a lot of people in Australia do not take in enough iron,” says Dr Smith-Brown.
“Research suggests that a healthy microbiome is not related to whether you are eating meat or not, but how many plants you eat.”
And finally …
Dr Smith-Brown, who has more than 10 years’ clinical experience, says the best thing of all we can do to keep our microbiome in tip top shape during 2019 is to quit smoking.
“Microba’s own research has shown that smokers have less species within their microbiome compared to non-smokers,” she says.
“It appears that smoking is not only bad for our health but also our microbiome.”
Written by Liz McGrath.