Anita Tait, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Microba.
Summer is well and truly in full swing and many parents may be starting to think about maintaining the health and wellness of their families over the holiday break. Gut health is becoming an increasingly popular area of health and wellness with scientific research highlighting the many benefits associated with a having a balanced gut microbiome – the community of bacteria that live inside each person’s gut.
Your gut microbiome has been shown to be very important for your overall health. Believe it or not, your gut bacteria can help manage your appetite, maintain your gut barrier, keep your blood sugar levels balanced and support mental wellbeing and our immune system.
Eating plant-based foods is an excellent way to help keep your gut bacteria both in balance and thriving. Many of our plant-based foods that can be classed as prebiotics come from our vegetables, fruit and grains. Prebiotics are foods that aren’t broken down until they reach your gut microbiome, which means they can fuel these bacteria and help encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.
What you feed your gut bacteria matters, and for growing tummies, it can be even more important to get into great habits of eating gut-friendly foods! These prebiotic plant-based snacks don’t have to be bland or boring as there are numerous options that can be added to your holiday diet. These can be made in advance as a quick snack for a holiday road trip, when visiting family or just wanting a healthy snack while you’re relaxing at home.
Top five gut-friendly summer snacks:
- Spice-roasted chickpeas and peas – for a crunchy, satisfying snack, combine chickpeas and peas with extra virgin olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika and a touch of lemon juice and roast until crisp in the oven or air fryer. Chickpeas are a fantastic source of prebiotic fibres (galactooligosaccharides and resistant starch) and are also a great source of dietary iron. Peas add colour and are familiar as a household favourite as well as being an easy and cheap snack for the lunchbox. You can opt for frozen or salt-reduced canned peas as well as salt-reduced canned chickpeas.
- Potato salad – you may not realise the benefits of cooking and cooling potatoes, but they are actually a great source of resistant starch to keep your gut bacteria happy. Replace the mayonnaise in the dressing with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard and garlic with some added parsley, garlic, red onions, and celery for some additional gut-friendly prebiotics. You can also receive the same benefits with rice or pasta salad as resistant starch escapes digestion in the small intestine and is fermented by our gut bacteria to produce substances that are beneficial for our health. Our bodies can break down regular starch however, with resistant starch, the structure of the starch changes when we cook and cool starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta.
- Popcorn – the age-old popular snack of popcorn can be cooked and eaten in a variety of ways. This is a family favourite and can also be a fun activity to make with kids who love watching it pop! Popcorn contains resistant starch which is a key producer of the metabolite butyrate which contributes to many healthy processes in the gut. The key to healthy popcorn is making it yourself, as many commercial brands have added salt, sugar and saturated fat. You can make popcorn in a pot, using a bag in the microwave or if you are after a new gadget for Christmas – an electronic popcorn maker! If you want to store the popcorn, make sure it’s in an airtight container to stop it getting soft. Experiment with different flavours such as garlic, cinnamon, paprika or a dash of parmesan for an exciting new treat.
- Mini frittatas – these are handy snacks that you can make in advance, freeze and are perfect for little hands! Mini frittatas can be an excellent way of including a range of hidden and colourful vegetables for kids. Try adding onions, beans, pumpkin, cabbage and asparagus into the mix. Kids can help too by helping to throw in handfuls of vegetables to the mixture. Eggs will also provide a great source of vitamin D which plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Eggs also are a great source of protein as well as other vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, selenium, choline, folate, Vitamin E and B12.
- Oat and blueberry pikelets – pikelets are also a winner for kids and are a fun, easy and delicious snack for lunchboxes or the fridge! These can be made with oats, blueberries and wholemeal or buckwheat flour for added prebiotics and fibre. You can also top them with plain yoghurt for a tangy flavour and an additional source of probiotics – be mindful to check the label for the strains and types of beneficial bacteria within these products.
As you can see, it’s easy to make your summer snacks ahead of time and make sure your kids are getting some healthy, gut-friendly foods in amongst the feasting of the holidays and new year. Take the time to try out some new recipes, introduce new foods to your kids’ diets and have some fun in the kitchen by involving them in the process.