One of the best parts of the body confidence movement is the shift from diets spruiking weight loss at any cost (cabbage soup may make you drop a few kilos temporarily, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutritional value, for example.)
Instead, people are spending their time and dollars on diet books, programs and websites that promote healthy eating – loads of whole foods, plenty of water and regular exercise.
The CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet
is the latest offering from CSIRO, the science organisation that also introduced millions to the benefits of Low GI foods.
Rather than promising a five-kilo loss in days (with the standard rapid regain rates), it instead shows you how to eat for a healthy gut – and why this is important for your long-term health and wellbeing.
Why focus on gut health?
There’s a growing body of research linking gut health with a range of health conditions– and even some early and promising links between healthy gut microbiomes
and a healthy mood. And one study suggests that intestinal bacteria in overweight individuals was less diverse than those in lean individuals.
“After the brain, the gut is really the next most crucial and complex part of the human body," CSIRO Director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell says.
"Maintaining a healthy gut can lead to enormous benefits. Beyond digesting our food, it is the coal face of the nutrients our body absorbs, regulates hormones used throughout our body, and is a frontline of our immune response system," he adds.
Building and maintaining a rich population of healthy gut bacteria has many health benefits according to the book’s authors, including:
- Creating an environment that stops the growth of potentially harmful bugs
- Ensuring the gut barrier stays strong to stop pathogens from entering the body
- Promoting appropriate immune responses via the 70% of the body's immune cells found in the gut
- Keeping our gut cells healthy
- Promoting hydration from fluid and electrolyte uptake in the large bowel
The basics of building a healthy gut
While there are many factors at play when it comes to positively influencing the health of our gut and microbiome, diet is the key element according to CSIRO researcher and co-author of the CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet, Dr Michael Conlon.
This means scads of whole foods – wholegrain cereals (always plump for brown and wholegrain rice, pasta and breads, for example), fruits, vegetables, legumes and a few nuts and seeds. Variety is also important – as well as the above, mix it up with barley, baked beans, peas, and fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.
You’ll also need to cut back on your junk foods. Heavily processed, refined or saturated fat filled foods support ‘bad’ communities of bacteria.
Resistant starch is important
"For years we've thought all fibre was good for was helping to keep our bowel movements regular, but we now know that fibre offers more health benefits than this, many of which support our gut bacteria in a healthy way,” Conlon says.
However, not all fibres are equal, and the CSIRO research shows resistant starch is the golden ticket, and one that’s missing from many diets. Therefore, their recipes are designed with higher amounts of fibre and resistant starch to feed the gut bacteria.
As 95 percent of your gut bacteria are found in the large bowel, where they perform a number of functions – one being helping the absorption of nutrients from foods. These bacteria feed on resistant starch
; a starch that literally ‘resists” digestion. When it is exposed to healthy bacteria in the large intestine, the bacteria break down the fibre into chemicals which nourish cells and reduce inflammation.
Not sure how to consume resistant starches? Here’s a list of the best wholefood sources from the CSIRO (grams of RS per 100g consumed):
- Potato boiled and cooled - 0.8g
- Potato, steamed, cooled - 6g
- Potato, roasted, cooled - 19g
- Cashew nuts - 13g
- Bananas, green - 38g
- Bananas, ripe - 5g
Gut health facts
3 recipes for gut health
Recipes courtesy of The CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet by Dr Tony Bird, Dr Michael Conlon and Pennie Taylor.
Available now, Macmillan Australia, RRP $34.99 .
Banana, berry and yoghurt smoothie
How to make
- 1 banana
- 2 cups (400 g) frozen mixed berries
- 600 g lactose-free natural yoghurt
- 11⁄2 cups (375 ml) high-calcium, lactose-free skim milk
- 11⁄2 tablespoons green banana flour (available at health food stores and supermarkets)
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
- Pour evenly into 4 glasses and serve
Spiced pumpkin and chickpea soup with oat and parsley dumplings
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Oat and Parsley dumplings
- 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 2 cm piece ginger, finely grated
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
- pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 kg Kent or butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 × 400 g tin salt-reduced chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 teaspoons tahini, or to taste chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, to serve (optional)
How to make
- 1 cup (150 g) gluten-free self-raising flour
- 30 g salt-reduced vegan margarine spread, chopped
- 1⁄3 cup (30 g) raw (natural) rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 70 ml calcium-enriched almond milk
- Heat a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and spray with olive oil. Add the celery and carrot and cook for 3 minutes or until soft but not coloured. Add the grated ginger and stir for 30 seconds, then add the cumin, coriander, ground ginger and cinnamon and stir for another 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the pumpkin to the pan and stir to coat with the celery mixture, then pour in 3 cups (750 ml) water and bring to the boil. Add the chickpeas and stir, then reduce the heat to low–medium and simmer for 25 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender. Stir in the tahini
- Using a stick blender, blend the soup until a smooth puree forms.
- Meanwhile, to make the dumplings, place the flour in a bowl, then rub in the margarine until a crumbly mixture forms. Stir in the oats and parsley, then slowly add the milk, stirring until a dough forms.
- Pinch off small pieces of the dough, then, using lightly floured hands, roll into 1.5 cm diameter balls; you should have about 12. Place the dough balls on top of the soup – they will sink, but then float to the surface when they are cooked. Cover and cook over low heat for 15–20 minutes or until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through (test with a skewer – it should come out clean).
- Divide the soup and dumplings among bowls, scatter with extra parsley, if desired, then serve.
Slow-roasted lamb shawarma with crushed chat potatoes and salad
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours 30 minutes, plus potato cooking time
Broccoli, cucumber and pea salad
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 3 teaspoons dried Greek-style oregano
- pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 × 800 g boneless butterflied lamb leg, all visible fat trimmed
- olive oil spray, for cooking
- 600 g chat potatoes, steamed, lightly crushed and chilled overnight
- juice of 1 lemon
- 200 g salt-reduced low-fat feta, crumbled or diced
How to make
- 1⁄2 small head broccoli, broken into florets
- 150 g frozen peas
- 1 baby cos lettuce, base trimmed, leaves washed, dried and shredded
- 1 Lebanese cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed, then thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 spring onions (green tops only), finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- Combine the allspice, paprika, 2 teaspoons of the oregano, the cinnamon and some freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl and rub all over the lamb to coat well
- Place in a ceramic baking dish, then pour in enough water to come 2 cm up the side of the lamb, taking care not to pour it over the lamb. Spray the lamb with olive oil, then cover the dish tightly with foil
- Roast for 21⁄2 hours, checking the water occasionally and adding more if necessary. The lamb should be tender and easily shredded with a fork
- When the lamb has been cooking for 11⁄2 hours, place the crushed potatoes in another roasting tin and pour the lemon juice evenly over the top. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oregano, then roast for 1 hour, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp
- Meanwhile, to make the salad, cook the broccoli in a saucepan of simmering water for 3 minutes, then add the peas and cook for another 2 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water then set aside
- Just before serving, combine the broccoli, peas, cos, cucumber and spring onion in a bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil, then add to the salad and toss to combine
- Shred the lamb with a fork, then serve 200 g per person with one quarter each of the roast potatoes, salad and feta