Ask a Dietitian: What Are the Best 5 Foods to Eat for Gut Health?

Gut health has been a trending nutrition topic for a while now, and with other diet fads there's good reason to pay attention. Our gut affects our entire body, and poor gut health can lead to symptoms such as poor sleep, constant fatigue, skin irritation, food intolerance and autoimmune conditions. Thankfully, more research into the area of gut health over the past five years has led to a better understanding of the gut microbiome and how it relates to our overall health.

From oats and yoghurt to the trusty legume, there are some foods that can help to improve the health of your gut. Read on to find out more about what the gut microbiome is, what a healthy gut looks like, and the best foods to eat to improve your gut health.

What is the gut microbiome?

The "gut microbiome" is the term used for the trillions of bacteria that reside in our digestive system and affect our digestive and mental health as well as our weight management and chronic diseases.

What does a healthy gut look like?

Just like fingerprints, everyone has a unique gut microbiome. While every gut microbiome is different, every gut microbiome can benefit from a diet that feeds the good bacteria. When it comes to developing eating habits that aim to keep the gut happy, you are best to eat a balanced diet made up primarily of plant-based foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains), as well as plenty of fibre-rich foods, drink water. To keep the gut happy it's also important to reduce stress and incorporate daily movement into your routine.

What are the best foods to eat to improve gut health?

Remember, when it comes to our gut health, not all food is created equally. Here are our top five foods for gut health.

1. Oats: Oats might be one of very few foods deserving of the label 'superfood', especially when it comes to gut health. They are high in three different types of fibre, all of which play essential but different roles in the health of our gut microbiome! Oats are high in insoluble fibre (which helps to keep things moving through your digestive tract–keeping things regular), soluble fibre (which helps to keep you full for longer and can also reduce your cholesterol) and resistant starch (which acts as a fuel for your gut microbiome and also maintains the health of the cells in our digestive tract).

Plus, oats are super easy to prepare. You can add a variety of different flavours to them, so you don't get bored! To add some variety into your diet (our gut bacteria will thrive on variety) try topping your oats with a mix of fruit, nuts, seeds and some yoghurt. If you're looking to increase your resistant starch even further, try an overnight oats recipe as an easy breakfast option that your gut bugs will love. 

2. Yoghurt/Kefir: Both yoghurt and kefir naturally contain probiotics. These are the 'good' bacteria which are naturally found in our gut. Foods that are high in probiotics, such as yoghurt and kefir, act as a way of transporting these good bacteria to your gut. Although keep in mind, due to the acidic nature of our stomach, not all of these probiotics make it to our gut microbiome so including these foods on a regular basis is key. We love having yoghurt topped with fruit as a mid-afternoon snack, adding it to our breakfast cereal or using it in place of creamy salad dressings or pasta sauces.

3. Legumes: Legumes are a staple in the Mediterranean diet, a dietary style that is linked with diet diversity to benefit the gut microbiome and overall health. Legumes includes lentils, peas, chickpeas, all varieties of beans and edamame. Legumes are a good source of fibre, including both soluble fibre and resistant starch which fuel the gut microbiome by acting as a food source for our bacteria. We love adding legumes to soups, curries, salads and burrito bowls. A great way to fuel your gut can be to replace half of your meat portion with some legumes, try adding some black beans to your mince the next time you're having a Mexican night. The options are endless when it comes to legumes!

4. Onion and garlic: Both onion and garlic are high in prebiotics. Prebiotics are the fibres and sugars in the food we eat which act as a fuel for our good gut bacteria. When the fibre is broken down by our gut bacteria, a compound called butyrate is produced. This helps to maintain the health of the cells in our digestive tract and reduces our bowel cancer risk. Not only are onion and garlic great for your gut microbiome, but they are also a great way to add flavour to your meals. Other foods high in prebiotics include banana, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, other vegetables and wholegrains such as oats.

5. Kimchi/Sauerkraut: These fermented foods have been a staple in some cultures for centuries but have only recently hit the market as a 'superfood'. Whilst they won't magically solve all of your problems, they can play an important role in your gut health! Kimchi and sauerkraut are both made by a process called fermentation in which microbes (similar to those found in our gut) are used to break down the carbohydrates in food. Try adding some kimchee or sauerkraut on top of your salads, in your sandwiches or as a side with your eggs in the morning. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi. When you're buying these products, aim to purchase from the refrigerated aisles (rather than off the shelves) as these probiotics are less likely to survive out of fridge temperatures.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

Enjoyed this? Experts break down the difference between IBS and poor diet.

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