Top 5 foods to eat to improve your gut health


4 minutes

07 June 2024

This article was originally published on but has since been revised with new information.

Forget “happy wife, happy life”, it’s all about the tummy!

The human gastrointestinal tract, often referred to as the “gut,” is home to about 100 trillion bacteria plus other microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiota1. The mix of these microorganisms determines how well we digest our food, absorb nutrients, fight intestinal infections, and much more2.

The gut also affects the digestive problems we might experience after eating — like wind, constipation, diarrhoea, especially for people with functional gut disorders or diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Research is now starting to show how gut health can influence other health conditions such as mental health conditions, heart disease and diabetes2.

Your gut microbiota is affected by a range of factors, including3:

  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Weight
  • Overuse of antibiotics
  • Diet

We spoke to Tina Yan, a gut health researcher and PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia to learn her top five foods for improving gut health.

Tina is carrying out research looking into a specialised formula of dietary fibre and the influence on gut microbiota, sleep and mental health in people with medically diagnosed IBS who are following a low FODMAP diet.  You can learn more about Tina’s research here.

1. Wholegrains

Wholegrains, including wheat, oats, rice, barley, and rye, comprise all three layers of the grain. A rich source of carbohydrates and protein, wholegrains contain more fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than refined cereal foods like white bread, including folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus3.

Incorporating wholegrains into your diet can help reduce your risk of chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and diverticular disease, as well as support digestive health by preventing constipation3.

Sources of wholegrains include brown or wild rice, oats, barley, bread fortified with wholegrains.

2. Fruits and vegetables

There’s a reason fruit and vegetables are continuously recommended to include in your diet – they’re deliciously good for you!

Naturally high in dietary fibre, fruits and vegetables are also high in vitamins, minerals, polyphenols (a compound found in plants including flavonoids and phenolic acid5) and oligosaccharides (a type of carbohydrate that act as a prebiotic6), all associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, and of course, an improvement in gut health4.

When it comes to choosing the right vegetables, there’s no wrong answer, but try to keep things varied and your plate colourful. Also try to include leafy green and cruciferous vegetables (such as spinach, kale and broccoli, Brussels sprouts); legumes/pulses (such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils) and a variety of fresh fruit (choose whole fruit rather than juices).

3. Resistant starch

Resistant starch is pretty much what it sounds like. It “resists” being broken down in the small intestine, moving unchanged into your large intestine. This resistant starch is then fermented in the large intestine and can produce short chain fatty acid, such as butyrate7.

Renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, butyrate plays a crucial role in maintaining gut health by nourishing the cells lining the colon and promoting a balanced gut microbiome7. Butyrate has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes7, reduced abdominal fat8 and improved sleep9.

Foods high in resistant starch include oats, barley, pulses/legumes (eg. kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils), nuts and seeds, green bananas and plantains, cooked and cooled potatoes*, cooked and cooled rice or pasta*.

*Make sure to cool food in the fridge and eat within 2-3 days.

4. Fermented foods

Fermented foods aren’t just delicious – they’re great for your gut too! That distinctive tang on your tongue comes from the breakdown of sugars and starches by beneficial bacteria and yeast, which result in the creation of probiotics, including strains like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyce10.

Once eaten, these probiotics colonise the gut, adding diversity to your gut microbiota. This intricate community of microorganisms plays a pivotal role in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and even mood regulation11.

Some delicious, fermented foods that are a great addition to any diet include pot set and or kefir yoghurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, natto and miso and sourdough bread.

5. Eat plenty of fish

Fish is rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, essential for our overall health. Unlike other fats that our bodies can synthesise internally, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids must be obtained from dietary sources.

Omega-3 increases bacteria that produce anti-inflammatory chemicals in the gut12 and have been linked to protecting us against diseases like bowel cancer13 and depression14.

Aim to have a round of fish two to three times per week and omega-3 enriched food or drinks (such as eggs, bread and milk)15. If you’re vegan of vegetarian, plant sources of omega-3 include chia seeds, Brussel sprouts, and walnuts15.

Remember, before implementing any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle, it's essential to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional or registered dietitian.

Diet and nutrition cover with HBF

With benefits for dietitian and nutritionist visits, HBF extras cover can help you feel your best.

Find out more


1 CSIRO- The key to health could be in your gut

2 Better Health Channel- Gut health

3 Healthdirect- Gut health

4 Eat for health- Grain ( cereal ) foods, mostly wholegrain and / or high cereal fibre varieties

5 International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: Gut microbiome changes induced by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables

6 Heathline- What Are Polyphenols? Types, Benefits, and Food Sources

7 Heathline- What Are Oligosaccharides? All You Need to Know

8 CSIRO- Resistant starch facts

9 Obesity- Resistant starch from high amylose maize (HAM-RS2) and Dietary butyrate reduce abdominal fat by a different apparent mechanism

10 Scientific Reports- Butyrate, a metabolite of intestinal bacteria, enhances sleep

11 National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements- Probiotics

12 Healthdirect- Probiotics

13 Mediators of Inflammation- Associations among Dietary Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, the Gut Microbiota, and Intestinal Immunity

14 Cancer Council- Information sheet: Fish, Omega-3 fatty acids and cancer

15 Black Dog Institute- Omega-3 and mood disorders

16Healthline- The 7 Best Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.