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AAMI's guide to gut health

By  Jacqui Kwong

Hands up if you've ever experienced that bloated, uncomfortable feeling, especially after meals or at the end of the day? Well, you're not alone. "Close to one in five women complain of bloating, which impacts their daily life," says Professor Terry Bolin, President of The Gut Foundation. This can be a sign of poor gut health, which scientists and dietitians attribute to the 'Western' diet that's low in fibre and high in unhealthy fats and processed foods.

But first, what is the gut?

Let's start with the basics. A rather ugly-sounding word, the gut refers to the organs of your gastro-intestinal tract: gall bladder, large intestine, liver, oesophagus, pancreas, small intestine and stomach. And it's an essential part of not just your digestive health but your overall health and wellbeing. In fact, a well-maintained gut comes close to being the magic bullet of good health and vitality. Here's what you need to build and maintain its health.

Eat a high-fibre diet

"The most effective way to look after your gut is to eat a good diet," says Professor Bolin. And fibre is your gut's best friend. "Fibre is very important," says Kate Gudorf, an accredited practising dietitian. "Whole grain breads and cereals, and resistant starch, found in foods such as firm bananas, cooled cooked potatoes and cold al dente pasta, can boost the diversity of your microbiome – a fancy word for the bacteria in your gut," she says. Here's a list of 10 great gut-friendly foods:

  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Under ripe bananas
  • Cooked, cooled potatoes
  • Cold, cooked al dente pasta
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Cabbage
  • Nectarines

Include probiotics

You've probably heard of 'probiotics', the techy word for foods or supplements containing good-for-your-gut bacteria. They're found in fermented and pickled vegies, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, and that super-trendy drink, kombucha. "You don't need a huge plate of sauerkraut to get the benefits," says Gudorf. "Aim for a small amount of fermented foods each week." And make sure you seek advice before you buy those heavily advertised supplements. "You can try it, but it might not work, and you might need to try a few," says Professor Bolin. "Remember though, it goes with a good underlying diet," he adds.

Pack in the prebiotics

Along with probiotics are 'prebiotics', but it's not as confusing as it sounds. Prebiotics are simply a type of fibre needed to stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria. "Prebiotics in food such as chickpeas, nuts, asparagus, carrots and bananas 'feed' healthy bacteria in the gut," says Gudorf.

Gut health at a glance

  • Eat plenty of high-fibre foods, aiming for 25-30g per day (eat a cup of cooked wholemeal pasta with almost 8g, ½ cup of rolled oats offering 4.5g and an apple, providing 2.2g and you're halfway to your target – you're welcome!)
  • Include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet
  • Be aware of symptoms of an unhealthy gut, including bloating.

If you're experiencing gut discomfort, see your GP. To find out more about gut health or bowel cancer, visit gutfoundation.com.au or bowelcanceraustralia.org.


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