Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard the term ‘gut health’ about ten million times so far this year. But if you’re a little confused about what that actually means, you’re not alone – I’m always getting asked about what foods boost gut-health, the difference between pre and pro-biotics, and whether supplementation is actually necessary. So, if you’re in the same boat, listen up. Here’s your dietitian-approved answer.

Fibre

Before we get into pre and pro-biotics, let’s talk about fibre.

Fibre is key for a happy gut. Its primary role is to support digestive health, but it also helps to keep your heart healthy and manage your blood sugars, as well as keep you feeling full and satisfied after a meal. The sad truth, however, is that so many of us don’t get enough. So, before you even consider expensive supplements to boost gut health, make sure you’re getting enough fibre from real food.

One of the best things you can do to boost your fibre intake is to make the swap from white to brown (think brown grainy brown bread or brown rice instead of their refined counterparts). Reaching your two serves of fruit and five serves of veg a day is also key. Legumes, nuts and seeds are fantastic sources of fibre, too.

Pre vs. Pro

Then there’s the concept of pre and pro-biotics.

Probiotics are the good bacteria living in your gut. You can get plenty of probiotics from real food, like yoghurt, kefir, tempeh and miso – but you can also buy them in capsules from supermarkets and pharmacies. There are numerous strains of probiotics, and their health benefits seem to be strain-specific, but all in all, more research needs to be undertaken to fully understand them.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food for probiotics. They help the good bacteria to flourish. You’ll be pleased to know that these are also found in everyday foods such as wholegrains, onions, chickpeas, bananas and nuts.

Are supplements necessary?

As a dietitian, my stance is always real food, first. But if the balance of your gut bugs is out of whack – perhaps due to a particular disease or a poor lifestyle – taking a probiotic might help to restore the balance and get you back on the right track. Generally speaking for the healthy population, taking a probiotic supplement is probably unnecessary. So, think twice before you pop that next bottle of probiotics in your trolley – and just focus on real food.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.

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