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Gut health is all-abuzz right now, and given the gut is considered our second brain, it's more important to look after it than ever.
According to nutritionist Tara Leong, AKA one half of The Nutrition Guru and the Chef, the gut plays a huge role in our immune function. "It houses our own little ecosystem of microbes, commonly known as our 'microbiome', which make up 70 per cent of our immune system," she says.
"Research now shows a protective link between the microbiome's role in conditions like allergies and asthma."
Mental health benefits from good gut health too. "Researchers have discovered that the gut and brain work together playing a large role in mental health," explains Leong.
"They're looking into whether the good gut bugs and the waste that they produce could be used as treatments for managing stress, anxiety and depression."
Want to reap all those benefits? Here's what to add to your plate to help boost your gut health.
1. Fermented veggies
"Gut health relies on both probiotics (the microbes that live in our gut) and prebiotics (the foods that feed the microbes)," says Leong.
Sauerkraut and kimchi are ideal given they're both made from cabbage, which is naturally jampacked with fibre (prebiotics).
"During fermentation, microorganisms digest the natural carbohydrates within the cabbage to produce carbon dioxide and organic acids, which create the perfect conditions for the growth of natural probiotics," says Leong.
The prebiotics feed the probiotics: simple.
Hot tip: "Most sauerkraut and kimchi available on the supermarket shelf is pasteurised, which unfortunately kills off those beneficial probiotics," says Leong. "Make sure you choose one that is stored in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, as these have not been pasteurised." Try kimchi tossed through a stir-fry, or alongside crispy fried eggs.
"Grainy bread is more beneficial for gut health than white bread," says Leong.
"White bread has had the hard, fibrous coating of the wheat removed, whereas grainy bread has the additional fibre from the grains and seeds, which is food for our gut microbes. If we don't feed the microbes fibre, they'll die."
Grains also contain "soluble fibre" which form a gel to bulk up our stool and keep it moving along, reducing transit time in the digestive system – so increasing our fibre intake from things like wholegrains and seeds can reduce bloating and prevent constipation.
Consider fibre a broom to clean out your digestive system.
Hot tip: For a better sanger, try the new Helga's Digestive Wellbeing Barley, Seeds & Grain bread for a good dose of a special blend of fibres to support gut health and good digestion.
3. Natural pot-set yoghurt
"Natural, pot-set yoghurt is packed full calcium, vitamins and minerals," says Leong.
"Probiotics are added to milk, initiating fermentation. This produces more probiotics, which work to digest the natural sugars in the milk and set/thicken the yoghurt."
You want the ingredients of your yoghurt to be just milk and probiotics – avoid those loaded with sugar, gelatine and thickeners.
Hot tip: Try natural, pot-set yoghurt as a dessert with berries. "The fruit provides prebiotics (for example, from the fibre in strawberries) and probiotics (from the yoghurt)," says Leong.
They may not sound as glamorous as goji berries or activated flaxseeds, but oats are a bit of a secret superfood, says Leong.
"Oats are cheap and readily available and are a great source of a unique fibre that feeds our gut microbes," she adds.
"This fibre also keeps the cells that line our intestines healthy, is beneficial in lowering our cholesterol, and provides us with long-lasting energy."
Hot tip: Add a tablespoon or two into smoothies or serve yourself up a big bowl of warming porridge for brekkie, to reap the intestinal benefits.
Most likely originating from the Caucasus Mountains (now part of Russia) thousands of years ago, kefir is a fermented drink that's a bit like a thin yoghurt when it's made with milk, with a slightly sour flavour.
"It's made by adding kefir grains to milk or water which initiates the fermentation process, resulting in a probiotic-rich drink that is perfect for drinking as-is or adding to smoothies," says Leong.
Hot tip: Lactose intolerant? Milk-based kefir may be an option for you. "As with natural, pot-set yoghurt, the fermentation process consumes much of the natural sugars (lactose)," explains Leong. "This means that many people who suffer from lactose intolerance can in fact enjoy a small serve of milk-based kefir daily."
Helga's new Digestive Wellbeing Barley, Seeds & Grain bread is packed with a special blend of grains and seeds, as well as BarleyMAX™ barley, to deliver twice the fibre (compared with Helga's Traditional White) to help support gut health and good digestion. Head to helgas.com.au/digestive-wellbeing/.