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Seven serves of vegetables a day is great for gut health

Susan Hunter Digestive Health Leave a Comment

“Eat more vegetables.”

How long have people been telling you that? Since you were a child probably. But no matter your age this remains great advice, particularly at a time when we are learning about the role that prebiotics play in making your gut healthy.

The National Health and Medical Research Council says adults should aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day, but we should be eating more vegetables than that. Here’s the brutal truth. To support healthy digestive function we need our veggie intake up at seven serves a day. Seven!

Crazy, I know, but it’s not as many as it sounds. You can do it with only minor changes to your diet. The more we learn about the gut microbiome the clearer one thing becomes – eating fresh foods is fantastic for boosting the diversity and concentration of beneficial bacteria in our guts which is key to overall good health.

serves of vegtablesWhat are prebiotic foods?

Prebiotics are foods that can’t be hydrolysed or absorbed in the stomach or small intestine, that act as fuel for one or more beneficial bacteria in the large bowel and that change the colonic microflora ecosystem in a helpful way. In other words, they help to create a thriving environment in there for the things which make our gut healthy.

The amazing thing is that many commonly eaten vegetables are prebiotics and eating a variety of them each day is the biggest step toward gut wellness.

Vegetables are just some of the plant foods that can help increase the diversity and concentrations of your gut flora. Veggies that are high in prebiotic fibres include asparagus, banana, garlic, globe artichoke, jerusalem artichokes, onion and leek.

People with fructose malabsorption are going to feel shortchanged here as these are the very foods that trigger their gut signs and symptoms.

However it is important to get people with FODMAP problems to identify the cause of their fructose malabsorption, correct it and repair their gut so they too can begin to eat prebiotic-containing vegetables that benefit the gut microbiome.

How to boost your veggie intake

There are some days that I struggle to eat the right number of serves of vegetables so I have developed some strategies to get them into my diet.

Veg at breakie

Try having avocado, tomato, mushrooms or spinach at breakfast, possibly cooked.

“Yeah right!” I hear you say. “Who’s got time to cook breakfast?”

It’s not possible every morning but poached eggs are really quick (on good quality spelt or rye sourdough, of course), or if you could get on the green smoothie bandwagon and add kale, spinach, cos lettuce, cucumber in you’ll be storming towards seven serves before it’s even 8am. Avocado on toast is also simple, and if you put a few slices of tomato on top, even better.

Snack time

Try munching on carrots, capsicum or cucumber sticks with dips or on their own. Vegetable juices mid morning or afternoon are a good way to get extra veg in (aim for three veg and one to two fruits per juice). You could make your own kale, sweet potato or beetroot chips on the weekend and snack on those.

Lunches

Give the ham and cheese toastie a miss and go for salads and salad sandwiches in summer and vegetable soups or a roast potato in the cooler months.

Dinner

Aim for half your dinner plate to be vegetables. Skip the carb-rich sides like rice or pasta and add more veg at this time of the day. Or continue with your existing meals and just add some extra veg to the side. When making casseroles aim for 80 per cent vegetable and 20 per cent meat. Investing in a spiraliser or mandolin to create zucchini “noodles” or having “cauliflower rice” instead of grains at dinner time is another great way to add in more vegetables for the night time meal.

Seven serves of vegetables a day. Easy, right?

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Susan Hunter
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Susan Hunter

B.Hsc (Naturopathy), B.A. (Psych) at Healthful Clinic - Founder and Director
Susan Hunter is a double-degree qualified naturopath, a published academic author and the founder of Healthful Clinic. She writes widely on mental health, digestive conditions and children's health.
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