Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Power of a Plant-Based Diet for a Healthy Gut

by Anna Debenham & Alex Parker, The Biting Truth
Tired of diets promising health wonders and miracle cures that fail to eventuate? It’s time to say goodbye to the era of ‘low-everything’ diets and make room for the plant-based lifestyle!

There is growing evidence of the powers of plant-based diets (i.e. high in fibre, vitamins and minerals) on the health of your gut and your whole body, as well as reducing our risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease by 20-25% 1-6. Following a diet that looks after your gut is imperative. After all, it’s where your food enters your body! Your gut helps you absorb nutrients, keep your immune system strong and prevent certain cancers. As well as your gut health, dietary fibre has profound impacts on your mood, fatigue, stress, mental health, weight and skin.

6 out of 10 Aussies are not eating enough fibre, so most of us could benefit from adding a little more to our diet! If you are worried that this might mean giving up meat, poultry, fish and dairy foods, then rest assured you don’t have to become vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet!

Sounds like a winner? Let’s introduce you to this golden way of eating:

What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is one that focuses on including a variety of foods that are loaded with fibre - think fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Getting enough fibre is important, but eating a combination of different types of fibre is just as essential for good digestive health.
  • Soluble fibre: helps lower cholesterol and slow digestion. Eat more legumes, oats, barley, nuts, fruits and veggies. 
  • Insoluble fibre: promotes regular bowel movements. Eat more whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies.
  • Resistant starch: act as food for our healthy gut bacteria (potentially the most important type). Eat more legumes (lentils, beans), whole grains, potatoes and firm bananas.
Good Sources of Dietary Fibre
Legumes (chickpeas, red kidney beans, four bean mix, lentils):
Legumes contain a type of fibre called ‘prebiotic fibre’, which feed our good gut bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids. Prebiotic fibre nourishes your intestinal cells and helps to push along the all-important fibre through your gut. Legumes may cause you to feel gassy, or bloated, but this is completely normal (did you know men fart on average 12 times a day and women 7 times). Start introducing legumes in small portions and gradually increase over the next few weeks (and remember to drink plenty of water to help push things along!). This way, you let your gut bacteria gradually adjust to your high(er)-fibre diet without any surprising changes in your bowel habits.

Grains (, oats, barley, rye, whole grain bread, brown rice, bran):
Cutting carbs has been shown to upset gut flora, so the paleo diet is out and grains are back in! In particular, fibre from grain foods has been shown to benefit our overall health, as they contain polysaccharides which provide bulk and absorb water to promote normal bowel movements. Many grains are also a good source of resistant starch (remember this is the food for our gut bacteria).

Fruits and veg:
Fruit and vegetables contain simple sugars which draw water into the gut to assist movement of fibre and prevent constipation. Rather than building your meals around protein try building them around your vegetables. Then add your grains and or legumes, top with crunchy nuts or seeds and finally add your meat, dairy, fish or eggs.

Are you getting enough?
A high fibre diet should give you a score of 4 or 5 on the Bristol Stool Chart. If yours is less than 4 then you may need more fibre in your diet.

6 Ways to Boost Your Fibre
  1. In your next spag bol or lasagna, swap 50% minced meat for 50% lentils, or for black beans in your beef patties and meatballs.
  2. Mix up your grains. Wheat is the most commonly eaten grain, but have you tried quinoa, spelt, teff, barley, rye, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, millet or sorghum? These will keep things interesting in your plant-based routine.
  3. Choose whole grain breads and cereals instead of refined varieties.
  4. Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies.
  5. Enjoy a handful of nuts and seeds as a snack.
  6. Enjoy a potato salad for a dose of resistant starch
We are huge advocates of plant-based eating, as it encourages you to eat loads of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – all while still allowing for meats and other animal products. Following a plant based diet that is high in fibre is associated with improved digestive health as well as other health benefits. The type of fibre matters, which is why it’s important to enjoy variety (soluble, insoluble, resistant).


1.McMacken M, Shah S. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology : JGC. 2017;14(5):342-54.
2.Medina-RemÓn A, Kirwan R, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Estruch R. Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Diseases, Asthma, and Mental Health Problems. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2016:00-.
3.Shang X, Scott D, Hodge AM, English DR, Giles GG, Ebeling PR, et al. Dietary protein intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study and a meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2016.
4.Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(12):1970-80.
5.Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017;57(17):3640-9.
6.Harland J, Garton L. An update of the evidence relating to plant-based diets and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and overweight. Nutrition Bulletin. 2016;41(4):323-38.

12 Ways to Enjoy Grains & Legumes this Festive Season!

Along with the festive season comes the rush to fit in last minute jobs for the year, plus never-ending social catch ups. Not to mention the main event come Christmas Day!

To keep you feeling full of energy and armed with some delicious foodie ideas for the holidays, we’ve put together our list of 12 ways with grains & legumes this festive season.

1. Summer smoothies for breakfast: The jury is out over whether it really is the ‘most important meal,’ but there’s no doubt a healthy breakfast can set you up for a day of healthier eating. For warmer mornings, smoothies make the perfect quick and easy option. Give this Blueberry & Cashew Smoothie a try – by throwing one Weet-Bix in the blender you can get a third of your whole grain Daily Target Intake!

2. Easy lunches: Busy days mean little time to stop and put together a healthy lunch, so having a nutritious option pre-made and ready to go is the best way to nourish your body with little effort. Making a double-serve of dinner for leftovers is a smart move, as is meal-prepping when you have a bit of spare time. Made with eggs, wholemeal pasta, and veggies, this Pasta &Vegetable Frittata is packed with protein and fibre to keep you going through the afternoon. Perfect for lunchboxes too!

3. Get your bake on: Christmas time is synonymous with baking, so once you’ve whipped up the usual festive treats, try something a little different, like these Super Lentil Bites. Made with a mix of lentils and nuts, these little treats are packed with healthy fats and fibre and taste great. Better yet, they’ll be ready to eat in just 10 minutes!

4. Pimp your sandwich: So much more than a school lunchbox staple! The humble sandwich is the ideal way to enjoy leftovers from big barbecues or lunches. Think ham off the bone or roast turkey slices with leftover salads, sandwiched between your favourite whole grain bread. Or try this delicious classic – egg lettuce!

5. Different desserts: You’ve heard of hummus, but how about dessert hummus? Although it might sound crazy, this sweet tasting dip is trending, and thanks to social media, finding recipe inspiration is only a few clicks away. All you need is a base of drained, rinsed chickpeas and a few other ingredients blended in the food processor. With options like chocolate chip peanut butter, snickerdoodle, chocolate, and apple pie, you’ll almost forget you’re still getting a serve of legumes in! Try cutting up a selection of fruit for dipping.

6. Summer BBQs: Whether you’re hosting, or heading to a BBQ as a guest, coming up with a crowd-pleasing side-dish can be tricky. Give this Fresh Lentil, Mango & Quinoa Salad a try and watch it disappear!

7. Meat-free meals: Whether you’re mixing up the weekly menu with more plant-based meals, or are expecting vegetarian guests for lunch, there are endless options for meat-free recipes. Try experimenting with tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes like lentils or chickpeas, and different cheeses like haloumi and feta. A winner for summer BBQs are these Stuffed Capsicums, made with chickpeas, brown rice, pine nuts, and goats cheese or feta.

8. Make friends with salad: If  ever there’s a time to experiment with salads, it’s summer, when the temperature rises and your tastebuds crave fresh, crunchy meals. To make a really satisfying salad, there are a few elements to consider. First, start with a grainy base, like ½ cup cooked rice, quinoa, or freekeh. Next, add a mix of salad leaves and any other veggies you have on hand, as well as a protein source, like boiled eggs, nuts, your favourite cheese, tinned tuna, leftover roast chicken, or some legumes like cannellini or black beans. Finally, drizzle on a tasty dressing (a vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mustard is a fail-safe), and you’re done! Or try out this fibre rich salad with freekah, lentils and feta!

9. Foodie gift ideas: There’s nothing nicer than giving, or receiving handmade gifts. Whip up a big batch of festive spice granola or muesli and divide into jars finished off with a red ribbon – perfect for small last minute gifts. Use our base granola recipe and get creative with your flavours by trying a mix of different spices and nuts to mix it up!

10. School holiday snacks: Along with the Christmas holidays comes the long summer break for school kids. For days at home, keep a supply of cut-up fruit and veggies in the fridge, ready to pull out and serve with hummus or tzatziki dip when hunger calls. When you’re out on the go, use a cooler bag stocked with whole grain crackers and cheese, or snap-lock bags of air-popped popcorn. They’re always popular, plus around three crackers and ½ cup of popcorn offers one third of their Daily Target Intake for whole grains! Why not try this bright pink beetroot hummus for a twist on traditional varieties the kids will love.

11. Road trip snacks: For many of us, summer holidays mean long road trips – the perfect excuse for preparing a selection of delicious car snacks! And as the weather warms up, food safety is an important consideration, so keep your snacks to shelf-stable options that won’t spoil out of the fridge. Think snack or muesli bars, or make your own trail mix using different nuts, seeds and dried fruit combos! If you’re feeling adventurous why not try roasting your own chickpeas

12. Healthy nibbles: No party platter is complete without at least one dip for veggie sticks and crackers, and the choice most of us agree on is hummus. But rather than grabbing some from the shops, impress your friends with a homemade version. You’ll be surprised at just how simple it is –this Classic Hummus has just 6 ingredients, and all you’ll need to whip it up is 10 minutes and a food processor!

However you incorporate grains and legumes into your diet this festive season, make sure you have fun with your food and enjoy a happy holiday!