Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ you’ve likely heard so much about. These bacteria live in our digestive systems—the gut—and among other things they help regulate our digestion. They’re also involved in immune and nervous system health, and have effects on the body reaching far beyond the confines of the gut. It makes sense, then, that we should want more of them, right? That’s the logic behind taking a probiotic capsule, and there is some evidence this can help with IBS and other digestive upset. Reece Carter, Naturopath and Super Bloom Festival speaker, shares the secret foods you can eat for a healthy gut.
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What’s even more promising though, is something called prebiotics. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics aren’t a live organism. They’re actually a kind of fibre—found in plenty of common foods—that act as a food source for the good bacteria already living in our digestive system. Prebiotics feed that bacteria, and results in more of them, working harder for us.
Think of it as fertilising your garden: the organisms grow in number and in health.
There are naturally occurring probiotics in fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. But the quality of these products varies widely. Sometimes they’ll have enough active bacteria to have an effect; at other times they won’t.
So, enjoy good quality fermented foods in moderation, but there’s actually more promising research behind foods rich in prebiotics and resistant starch (a different type of carbohydrate that acts like a prebiotic). That’s why I’m a passionate advocate of increasing your prebiotic intake through plants (in a pant-based diet), to achieve a better balance of bacteria in the gut.
I think the first thing to highlight is that when I say ‘plant-based’ I mean a diet that is predominantly plants. You don’t have to go vegan to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet. The magic happens from increasing the amount of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, and of course wholegrains in the diet.
And that ‘magic’ includes everything from weight management to better gut health—and in turn a stronger immune system and improved mental wellbeing.
In terms of multivitamins, our bodies evolved alongside food, not multivitamins, and as such function best when presented with whole foods to digest. No multivitamin pill could ever contain the fibre that an entire meal does, for example. It’s worth remembering that vitamins alone are not everything a body needs for good health. You’ll enjoy far better health by doing the hard work and making long-term, sustainable dietary change that provides your body with everything it needs.
More broadly speaking, good nutrition isn’t something that can be done just once. It’s about falling in love with healthy ingredients, enjoying nutritious food, and making a commitment to long-term healthy habits.
The body thrives on variety, so you’d do better to commit to making ¾ of every meal plant-based foods, and switching up the ingredients regularly, rather than having one or two ‘super food’ recipes that you eat all the time, hoping it will patch up bad dietary habits elsewhere.
It may not be fun to hear, but when it comes to nutrition (without the fads) there’s no way around it!
However, there are ways of better integrating healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. Don’t like the taste of vegetables? Hide them. Blitz them in a food processor and stir them through pasta sauces—don’t forget to use wholegrain or lentil/pulse pasta—or mix through tomato paste for a supercharged pizza sauce. Again, opt for a wholegrain base, or try your hand at cauliflower pizza!
Want that muffin? No worries, why not try baking your own with a few easy recipe substitutions? Instead of white flour, grind whole oats into a powder. Use olive oil instead of butter. And maybe halve the chocolate chips and add some blueberries instead.
My point is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be all salads and smoothies. Start by making small changes to your favourite foods, and you’ll see that nutritious can also be delicious with just a few tweaks.
One of the biggest nutrition myths I hear is that carbs make you fat. They don’t. They don’t, they don’t!
In fact, wholegrain carbs, package with fibre as they are in a whole food source like oats or brown rice, may actually help you lose weight.
That’s not to say there’s not a time and a place for reducing carbohydrates, but as a general rule we should be celebrating them and everything they do for us—from workout recovery and energy production, to improved gut health and a healthier waistline.
I truly believe in the power of food as medicine for maintaining and promoting wellness, and love that I have the opportunity to share that know-how in my books, on television, and of course next up at Super Bloom Festival! On each of the two days of the festival—about topics very close to my heart: the first is prebiotics, and the power of plant-based eating; the second is all about the gut-brain axis, and the link between digestive health and mental wellbeing.
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