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Gut Health: Why all the hype?

Gut health, it’s the topic of the times in nutrition. But what do we know and why is it important?

What is “Gut Health”

When you hear the term “Gut health” it means the health of your gastrointestinal system or more simply, how your oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon work. Our gut is responsible for putting our body into working order. It processes the foods we eat to fuel our body, it then allows the cells in our body to absorb the nutrients to support all aspects of our body’s function.

Why do we keep hearing about it?

Well firstly, it’s a part of nutrition and medical science that we are only just beginning to understand. We now understand that it’s not just the physical functioning of the gut (i.e. the mechanical processing of food) that is important for health, but it’s also the colonies of microbes within the gut that have a significant relationship with our health.

Research is emerging to show that the diversity of “micro” bugs, aka microbiota, living in our gut play a significant role in not only keeping us “regular”, but also protecting us from conditions like type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and heart/vascular diseases. Our mental health can also benefit from a boost in good bugs too.

How to support good guts?

There are a number of factors to consider for good gut health, but for today lets consider microbiota. One goal of good gut health is to have a range of good bugs, this is what we call gut microbiota diversity. We have some influence over this by our lifestyle habits:

  1. Diet: the types of fibre (low fibre contributes poorly, high fibre has a positive impact) along with other factors like pre and pro biotics in food boosting gut microbiota diversity.
  2. Stress and anxiety: often impacts the way the gut functions and a bunch of other factors than have a negative impact on gut bugs.
  3. Some medications: like antibiotics and reflux meds can reduce the good bugs.
  4. Alcohol and tobacco: both have a negative impact on gut bugs.
  5. Physical activity: exercising regularly is associated with more diversity of bugs, which is great for gut health.

So the take home message today is to include a range of high fibre foods – think plenty of vegetables, good quality grains, fruit, legumes and lentils, and nuts/seeds. Follow your regular routine of moving your body more and staying active, and finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety without the alcohol and smoking!

Over the coming articles, we’ll take a closer look at factors like pre and pro biotics, and the types of foods that can support “gut health” so stay tuned.

Need some dinner inspiration? Then check out this week’s recipe.

References:

Koh A, Bäckhed F. From Association to Causality: the Role of the Gut Microbiota and Its Functional Products on Host Metabolism. Mol Cell. 2020 May 21;78(4):584-596. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2020.03.005. Epub 2020 Mar 31. PMID: 32234490.

Hughes RL, Davis CD, Lobach A, Holscher HD. An Overview of Current Knowledge of the Gut Microbiota and Low-Calorie Sweeteners. Nutr Today. 2021 May-Jun;56(3):105-113. doi: 10.1097/nt.0000000000000481. PMID: 34211238; PMCID: PMC8240869.

Boost your immunity through good health

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is key to helping your immune system function properly. Whilst we can’t guarantee that a perfect diet can warn off all coughs, colds and viruses, one thing we can do is support our immune system to work at it’s best through good nutrition.


An immune supportive diet is one that is packed with vitamins, minerals, good fibres and plenty of phytochemicals like antioxidants. The more unprocessed foods and plant based foods you have in your diet the better. And variety is key!
To have a really strong immune system the nutrients essential to fight infection include vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.


So where to find these nutrients? The best way is to include at least 5 serves of bright coloured veggies every day, get 2 serves of fruit, and include a variety of grains, nuts and seeds daily, along with good quality proteins. Here are a few tips to get those specific immune supportive nutrients:

  1. Vitamin A: oily fish, egg yolks, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.
  2. B vitamins: legumes, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, chicken and meat.
  3. Vitamins C: oranges, lemons, limes, berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, tomatoes and capsicum.
  4. Vitamin E: nuts, green leafy vegetables and vegetables oils.
  5. Vitamin D: food sources including eggs, fish and some milks and margarine brands may be fortified with Vitamin D (meaning extra has been added). But most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.
  6. Iron: meat, chicken and fish. Vegetarian sources include legumes, whole grains and iron-fortified breakfast cereals.
  7. Zinc and Selenium: found in oysters and other seafood, meat, chicken, dried beans and nuts.

Putting it all together
To optimise your immune system, choose a good variety of bright coloured plant based foods, and keep those energy dense, nutrient poor processed foods to a minimum.


Beyond diet, there are other measures you can take to stay as healthy as possible like not smoking, keeping alcohol to a minimum, getting enough sleep and of course exercising regularly.


Stay healthy this winter with this delicious and veggie filled minestrone soup.

Can you boost your metabolic rate?

Fast, slow, average metabolism? Regardless of body size and composition there are a number of factors that impact a person’s rate of burning energy – that is fundamentally your metabolic rate.

Some people have a slower metabolism meaning they burn fewer calories, storing more as fat in the body; that’s why some people have difficulty losing weight by just cutting calories. Whereas those with a fast metabolism tend to burn calories faster – explaining why some people can eat a lot and not gain extra body weight!

Factors that affect your metabolism

Despite gimmicks out there promising to boost metabolism, there are a number of biological factors that impact your rate of burning calories:

  • Age – metabolism often slows with age,
  • Genetics – it’s in your DNA literally!
  • Health conditions and hormonal changes.

Ways to rev up your metabolism

Whilst there are some factors you can’t change, a sluggish metabolism may possibly be sped up naturally by making small changes to your diet and lifestyle. Looking at what you’re eating and what types (and intensities) of activity you’re doing can make a difference.

  1. Eat more protein and eat it regularly over the day – a couple of reasons for this is that protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer so you don’t go snacking on energy dense, nutrient poor foods all the time. Secondly, protein tends to have a higher “thermic effect” compared to fats and carbs – this means your metabolism is revved up more whenever you eat and digest this food.
  2. Add in more strength training – resistance training is known to help boost muscle mass, and more muscle mass means a speedier metabolism.
  3. Pick up the pace – HIIT training can help keep your metabolism firing for as much as a full day!
  4. Enjoy sleep and manage stress levels.

There are other foods like green tea, caffeine and chilli that have been said to boost metabolism. However, the key to success really is consistency with food and exercise routines, paying attention to intensity and details of macro nutrients like protein.

Whilst plenty of marketers out there will make magic promises to speed up your metabolism, your aim should be to prevent your metabolic engine from slowing down by keeping up your muscle mass and fueling your body with good nutrition.

Check out this recipe for a delicious high protein, low GI meal Mexican bowl.

Eat well for a better future

Nutrition is a key lifestyle habit that affects longevity, and plays an important role in the prevention of diseases (1, 2) such as dementia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, some of the leading causes of death in Australia. The foods you eat can significantly impact your physical and mental health, making the right dietary choices, gives you the potential to increase your lifespan (3) and improve your quality of life.

The modern western diet can significantly, and detrimentally impact the human body. It is typically high in refined foods containing sugar, salt, refined grains, processed meats and unhealthy fats/oils. For the most part, these foods are convenient and available in large amounts. Overconsumption of highly calorific, processed foods contributes to the obesity epidemic facing Australia and many other parts of the world. The latest National Health Survey (2018) from the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that 67% of Australian adults were either overweight or obese. Obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, not only reduces quality of life in most individuals, but is commonly correlated with high blood pressure (greater than 130/85mmHG), high fasting blood sugar (insulin resistance), elevated triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol (4). This group of biomarkers are known as metabolic risk factors, and are associated with the aforementioned diseases dementia, CVD and cancer, but also other chronic diseases such as diabetes and stroke.

But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. For most of us, lifestyle-related diseases can be prevented, or slowed, by making wholesome choices and creating healthy habits each day around the foods we eat. A micronutrient dense, wholefoods, Mediterranean-style diet (5) packed with colourful fruits and vegetables, rich in healthy fats, quality proteins and high in fibre, can help to stabilise blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy weight. Reducing your risk of developing the unhealthy biomarkers for disease.

Whilst many people find making dietary changes challenging and boring, eating well can be tasty, and is all about creating habits. In order to be consistent, it is essential you understand the importance of why you should choose good-quality foods to fuel your body. When you choose to eat well, you are actively choosing to let go of unhealthy habits from the past, and minimise your risk of disease in the future. And once you make the switch, you will feel so good, you won’t want to go back!

Take home messages

  • Good nutrition can help prevent diseases such dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Choose a colourful wholefoods diet packed with plant foods, healthy fats and quality proteins
  • Healthy eating is habitual and doesn’t need to be boring