• Dr Michael Mosley (Twitter/Michael Mosley)Source: Twitter/Michael Mosley
Pepper your diet with some Indian dhal, Korean kimchi and Japanese seaweed salad, and your gut will thank you.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

24 Oct 2017 - 10:36 AM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2017 - 9:18 AM

Immigrants have brought a lot of wonderful things to Australia, one of those being delicious new cuisines. 

But did you know that expanding your diet to include different ingredients and cooking methods from around the world can be good for your health?

It's an area Dr Michael Mosley has been focusing on lately, including in his most recent book The Clever Guts Diet, where he says that "for a diverse gut it's helpful to eat from a range of cuisines".

Sounds delicious, but why is diversity important?

"It's a bit like any other ecosystem," Dr Mosley, host of shows including Guts (watch it now on SBS On Demand), tells SBS. 

"If you think of your gut as like a rain forest, one of the things we know from ecology is the incredible importance of diversity, and we don't necessarily know why."

In our guts live more than 50 trillion creatures, representing at least 1000 different species. Some foods will help your microbiome thrive, while others are the enemy of good gut health.

Dr Mosley says it's not a case of talking about 'good' bacteria and 'bad' bacteria, because while some are more beneficial for your health than others, too much 'good' bacteria can be bad for you. And so-called 'bad' bacteria aren't always bad, it just depends on how much there is. 

"One of the best ways of measuring the health of the gut is through diversity," Dr Mosley says.

"So we know that people who are on the typical western diet have a very non-diverse gut. People who live on a very traditional, ancient style of diet, they have very diverse guts - some of the most diverse guts on the planet. 

"So diversity, everyone agrees on, is a bloody good thing. It seems to be, if you draw the parallel with ecology, because you get a balance and a harmony."

How does global eating help your gut diversity?

Put simply, some foods are particularly good for your gut health, and some cuisines contain a lot of those sorts of ingredients.  

Dr Mosley is a big proponent of the Mediterranean diet, which promotes eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

"I bang on about the Mediterranean diet, because it turns out the Mediterranean diet is also very good for producing a diverse biome, and it may well be that one of the reaons it's so good for your health is because it's also good for your gut," he says.

This Syrian walnut and red capsicum dip, from The Clever Guts Diet by Dr Michael Mosley with Tanya Borowski and Dr Clare Bailey, is a great way to eat a rainbow - The more different plants you eat, the more diverse your microbiome. Find more recipes from the book here

 

Fermented foods are another great way to improve your gut health, whether it's Korean kimchi or German sauerkraut.  

In The Clever Guts Diet Dr Mosley writes: "One of the reasons why fermented foods are so good for the gut is that, gram for gram, they contain a huge number of different microbes. The microbes in fermented foods are also far more likely than most other bacteria to make it safely down into your colon because they are extremely resistant to acid, having been reared in an acidic environment."

Cabbage kimchi (pogi kimchi), made from fermented cabbage, is probably the dish most synonymous with Korean cuisine.

 

"Korea are very big into fermenting and they have the longest life expectancy in the world now I believe - Korean woman have the longest life expectancy - and they're a pretty healthy lot," Dr Mosley says.

Dr Mosley also singles out seaweed as a gut-boosting powerhouse. 

"There's a wonderful Australian researcher who I wrote about in the book [Dr Pia Winberg from the University of Wollongong], who has done some first ever human trials on the effects of seaweed on the gut," he explains.

Dr Winberg recruited 64 people who were overweight or obese, who were randomly allocated to take one of three capsules each day for six weeks, Dr Mosley explains in the book.

One of the capsules contained 2g of a special seaweed fibre, the second capsule contained 4g, and the last capsule was a placebo.

Blood and stool samples were taken at the start and end of the study, and those who consumed the seaweed fibre experienced a significant reduction in inflammation, increased gut bacteria, and reduced constipation. They also reported feeling less desire for sugar and fast carbs, and experienced an improvement in psoriatic skin disorders. 

"Asian [cuisines] have been big in things like seaweed, but seaweed has not, historically, been a major part of western cuisine. So I'm adding seaweed to my diet," Dr Mosley says.

Scallops with seaweed butter

Seaweed plays a starring role in this dish of scallops with seaweed butter by Luke Nguyen.

 

Amanda Devine, Professor of public health and nutrition at Edith Cowan University in Perth,  is also a firm believer in eating your way to good gut health.

In her new book, Gut Feeling: Mindful menus for the microbiome, Professor Devine outlines the foods that feed the microbiome and how you can cook with them.

"It's an emerging area of nutrition science and the benefit of the diversity of the microbiome in the bowel and the impact it can have on immunity  and other inflammatory-type bowel diseases etc is only really just being discovered," Professor Devine tells SBS.

One answer, she says, is resistant starch - a form of dietary fibre which is naturally present in plant-based foods - which cannot be digested in the small intestine, meaning it ends up in the large intestine where it is partly or wholly fermented by bacteria.

"It really is [found in] the whole grains and starchy vegetables - specifically, potato is good in terms of vegetables, rice, legumes are high in resistant starch, as well as rolled oats, rice, different breakfast cereals, and baked beans, Professor Devine says.

"So Indian food is good, because the Indian cuisine has a lot of the different lentils - black lentils, red lentils and so forth - and chickpea curry.

"Very few Australians really eat legumes on a daily or weekly basis. We'd probably have less than half a serve a week on average. Diets where those are quite a big part of their staple diet, they often increase their resistant starch intake compared to Australians."

Yellow dhal with peas (arhar dhal matar) by Anup Ganju doesn't just look pretty, it is full of gut-friendly lentils.

 

Along with pulses, Professor Devine names sweet potatoes and green banana flour (which you can substitute instead of plain or wholemeal flour in some recipes) as being her gut superfoods. 

So do your gut a favour, and go on an international culinary tour in your own kitchen. 

More reading on good gut health
For better gut bacteria, eat more oily fish
Good gut bacteria brings a host of health benefits, and oily fish is a great way to up your count.
I spent three days as a hunter-gatherer to see if it would improve my gut health
One man puts his gut health to the test in one of the last hunter-gatherer groups in all of Africa.
Fermenting is the food trend you need - for your gut's sake
Dr Michael Mosley admits that just a year ago he knew "absolutely nothing" about fermented food benefits. Now he's one of many people turning their kitchens into home fermentaries.
Michael Mosley's 4 foods that are surprisingly good for you
Good news - some of your favourite foods are also excellent for your gut health.
Your gut problem is not all in your mind
Dr Michael Mosley reveals how your guts can affect your mood, your weight and your general health.