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Winter is officially here and if you’re like me, this means, paying a bit more attention to supporting a healthy immune system – to avoid the dreaded winter flu!

Considering that 70-80% of our immune system is housed in our gastrointestinal tract, it only makes sense that by supporting our gut and microbiome, we are also supporting our immunity.

Thankfully supporting gut health can easily be achieved via the foods we choose to eat.

In fact, some of the most gut supportive ingredients are everyday staples and accessible to everyone – read on to find out, exactly which!

5 winter ingredients for good gut health

Legumes are a great source of fibre and adult women need at least 25g fibre per day and men 30g per day. Fibre is needed to not only feed good bacteria but to also provide bulk for regular bowel motions. Fibre can also help to regulate appetite because it makes you feel fuller for longer and helps to stabilise blood sugar. As an added bonus, legumes contain plant-based protein, which means you can achieve an intake of fibre and protein all at once when eating legumes.

To give you an idea, the approximate fibre content of common legumes are listed below:
1 cup chickpeas = 9g fibre
1 cup lentils = 10g fibre
1 cup mixed beans = 12g fibre
1 cup red kidney beans = 13g fibre
1 cup cannellini beans = 16g fibre
This means legumes are an easy and nutritious way to boost fibre intake.

How to use in winter dishes:

  • Use in soups, stews and casseroles
  • Use to stuff capsicums or mushrooms for a plant-based meal
  • Add to pasta along with roasted veg for an express meal
  • Toss through roasted veg, spinach and a sprinkle of feta cheese for a light yet warming meal

Apples are a source of polyphenols – a class of chemical compounds found within plants, which exert antioxidant activities in the body. Therefore, polyphenols can help to neutralise free radicals from oxidative stress and inflammation. Including sources of polyphenols in the diet can benefit gut health because they act like prebiotics, helping to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Apples also contain pectin, a source of soluble fibre, which can also help to support digestive health.

How to use in winter dishes:

  • Bake/roast and serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and homemade granola as a yummy dessert
  • Grate and stir into porridge
  • Stew with cinnamon and ginger for a healthy porridge topping
  • Roast and add to warm salads alongside beetroot and walnuts

Miso Paste
Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and can also include grains such as brown rice or barley. Miso also contains protein and traces of vitamin K, B-vitamins, zinc, iron and copper. A key benefit of unpasteurised miso is that is contains live bacteria ‘probiotics’ – therefore its important to add miso at the end of cooking to help preserve the probiotics because they are susceptible to heat.

How to use in winter dishes:

  • Stir into soup, stews and casseroles before serving
  • Make into a dressing alongside tahini, ginger and garlic
  • Use as the stock in stir-fry’s
  • Turn into a miso soup

Garlic is a good source of prebiotics, which are necessary to consume in the diet, to help feed good bacteria and therefore support a healthy microbiome. Garlic also possesses antibacterial and antiviral properties due to the compound allicin, making it a beneficial ingredient to consume for immunity over winter.

How to use in winter dishes:

  • Use in soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fry’s
  • Mince and add to dressings
  • Add to dips such as hummus, beetroot or pesto

Warming spices – ginger, cardamom and star anise
Ginger, cardamom and star anise are all warming spices rich in polyphenols, which you have now learnt, are supportive of gut health. Ginger particularly exerts potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help to create a healthy gut environment and also soothe the digestive tract. Additionally, research suggests that compounds in ginger impact serotonin receptors in the central nervous system, improve gastric tone and emptying which may help to reduce symptoms of nausea. This means, if you are struck down with the flu, making up a lemon, honey and ginger tonic may assist with helping to feel better.

How to use in winter dishes:

  • Use in soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fry’s
  • Use in the base of a marinade
  • Make into a tea or chai mix
  • Stir into porridge, stewed fruit and baking mixes