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5 tips for better gut health in winter

Focusing on improving our gut health is a surefire way to boost our winter immunity, says a nutrition scientist.

Accredited dietitian and nutrition scientist Dr Joanna McMillan said that gut health is “far from a passing health fad”, with scientific research showing there is a proven link between our immune and gastrointestinal system.

“Close to 70 per cent of your immune system is actually housed in your gastrointestinal tract, so it’s important to keep it in good shape,” she said.

“Probiotics can be a valuable strategy for boosting immune function during winter as they have been shown to reduce the number and severity of respiratory infections.”

One of the simplest ways to improve gut health, Dr McMillan continued, is to increase the intake of probiotics (living bacteria present throughout the human intestinal tract), as they can be helpful to boost the balance of “good bacteria” in the intestines, to maintain a healthy gut and boost our immune function, she advised.

“You can take them naturally by consuming traditional fermented foods and drinks, including kombucha. However, for optimum results, it’s really important to choose a kombucha with a probiotic strain backed by science,” she said.

She outlined her five tips for boosting winter immunity:

1. Limit junk food and eat more fibre

Junk foods encourage the wrong types of bacteria to grow and become dominant in the gut, Dr McMillan said.

Instead, she recommended eating a plant-rich diet with whole, minimally processed foods packed with fibre.

“Many fibres are also probiotics, which fuel the growth of good bugs in your gut, resulting in a healthier immune system,” she said.

2. Make sure you’re getting enough probiotics

“Probiotics should be taken every day for maximum benefit, especially in winter. You can get your probiotic fix from a daily supplement, or for a tastier and more refreshing alternative, try kombucha,” she said.

“Just remember to always choose a kombucha that’s chilled and contains a scientifically proven strain of bacteria.”

3. Get enough sleep

“There’s a link between sleep and immunity, and it’s only just being recognised for its importance. If you’re sleeping poorly or not getting enough sleep, you’re more likely to snack on sugary foods throughout the day to boost your energy levels, and then skip exercise due to tiredness.” Dr McMillan said most adults need seven to nine hours a night.

4. Limit alcohol

Alcohol can irritate your digestive system by causing inflammation, so if you’re experiencing problems with your gut, it’s best to avoid it, Dr McMillan suggested.

“Even moderate drinking increases your risk of bowel and other cancers, so if you choose to enjoy alcohol, be sure you do so in moderation. The Australian guidelines recommend drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day for healthy men and women.”

5. Stay hydrated

Not drinking enough water can slow down your digestive system, resulting in harder stools that are more difficult to pass, Dr McMillan said.

“There’s an easy way to tell whether you’re drinking enough – your urine should remain a light straw colour, all day long,” she concluded.

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