Simple food swaps for better digestion

Providing your gut with optimal nutrients.
Providing your gut with optimal nutrients. Photo: Getty.

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As you savour your next feed, think about this: you're also feeding the 100 trillion bacteria that reside in your gastrointestinal tract.

Depending on what you put in your mouth, you can help that ecosystem – known as the gut microbiome – flourish, or you can do the equivalent of wiping out entire species.

And while it's obvious the health of your gut can influence the measurements of your waistline, studies show it may also improve digestion, influence mood, and decrease the risk of developing certain health conditions, from diabetes to depression.

So, what should you feed your gut? Diversity is key. "Research shows consuming 30 different plants per week is going to help provide optimal gut health. This includes fruit and veggies, of course, but also nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes and lentils," explains accredited practising dietitian Chloe McLeod.

"These different plants contain types of fibre, which help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. The more diversity [in your diet] means a more diverse microbiome. This is what we want to achieve."

Here, McLeod shares easy swaps to help you improve your overall gut health and digestion.

Swap: A portion of mince for lentils

Next time you're making a mince-based dish, swap out half the mince for a can of lentils to help you hit that 30-a-week.

"The overall nutrition profile of that meal is going to be much richer in fibre and plant protein. It just makes it easier to get that extra bit of fibre that otherwise you might not get," says McLeod.

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Swap: White bread for grainy bread

One of the easiest things you can do to feed your fibre-loving gut bacteria is to swap your processed white loaf for a wholegrain version.

"When a grain is processed a lot of the fibre will be removed, which is why wholegrains contain a lot more fibre than processed grains," McLeod explains.

"Plus, fibre doesn't just feed the microbes in your gut, it also helps to slow down digestion and keep you feeling fuller for longer."

Looking for something in the bread aisle that ticks the box? Try the new Helga's Digestive Wellbeing Barley Seeds & Grain bread that has a special blend of fibres to help feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Swap: An extra piece of cheese for fruit

A cheeseboard can look just as Instagrammable by replacing that fifth variety of cheese with seasonal fruit.

"Slices of apple, pear, or nectarine are really beautiful with cheeses," suggests McLeod.

Switch up your crackers as well. "Choose a seedy option, which will be higher in fibre, or you can easily make your own."

Swap: Coconut yoghurt/cream for Greek yoghurt

Plain Greek yoghurt is a great source of protein and gut-healthy probiotics. "It's also a much better option than coconut yoghurt, which is basically fat and sugar," says McLeod.

It's versatile, too. McLeod suggests using Greek yogurt instead of cream in a curry, or making a salad dressing by mixing one part yoghurt with one part apple cider vinegar.

Swap: Zucchini noodles for high-fibre pasta

Great news for lovers of Italian: You don't have to add watery zucchini noodles to your favourite pasta dish to make it healthy.

"I think pasta has been a bit demonised," says McLeod. "It can be great for you; it just comes down to portion size. [As an alternative] you can also try a legume or pulse pasta, which is a lot higher in fibre than your traditional pasta."

To increase your veg intake, have steamed zucchini or broccoli, or sautéed asparagus, on the side. And while we're on this topic: always think about ways of adding a variety of veg to your main meals.

Swap: Store-bought dressings for an olive-oil based version

Try mixing olive oil with lemon and wholegrain mustard for a simple yet delicious salad dressing. Or, for an Asian flavour, swap out the mustard for chilli and soy sauce.

Not only will you be increasing your number of plant foods, but there are additional health benefits, too. "Olive oil can help you absorb more of the fat-soluble nutrients in foods like tomatoes," explains McLeod.

Swap: Processed meat for grass-fed meat

This might come as a surprise but one study found that moderate amounts of red meat are associated with good gut health and mental health.

But it all comes down to the type you're consuming. "Look for grass-fed meat rather than grain-fed as it ends up having a better overall fat profile with omega-3 fatty acids," suggests McLeod. "It just makes it that little bit healthier."

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/.