Tasked with breaking down all the food we consume, the digestive system is greatly impacted by our diet as well as our lifestyle choices. Keeping it in top shape—and helping it function efficiently—ensures our body gets all the nutrients it needs to survive as well as increases our overall sense of wellbeing. Follow Live to 100’s easy-to-use guide on the simple things each and every one of us can do to maintain a healthy gut.
Avoid fatty foods
It’s a known fact that foods high in fat negatively affect digestion. This is because they can stimulate contractions in the digestive tract, either leading to constipation or diarrhoea. However, no food group must be completely cut out as part of a healthy regime. Instead, try pairing fatty foods with high-fibre options so as to cancel out the negative effect they can have on your gut.
A diet high in fibre—and plentiful in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits—works to keep food moving through the digestive tract, effectively making individuals less likely to become constipated. In addition to this, a high-fibre diet can also go some way in preventing, or even treating, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), haemorrhoids and diverticulosis.
Research suggests that consuming meals and snacks at similar times of the day can go a long way in keeping the digestive system in top shape. Although the ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle is common nowadays, it’s important to try and sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner and to eat balanced meals at the same time each day.
The government advises 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, so it’s important to schedule some physical activity into your day. Keeping active will do wonders for your digestive health; it keeps food moving through the body and reduces constipation.
Choose lean meats
Protein is a crucial part of a healthy diet, and foods such as eggs, almonds, oats, chicken and cottage cheese are plentiful of it. When choosing a meat-based dish to have as a meal, select lean cuts such as pork loin and skinless poultry.
When stress activates the ‘fight of flight’ response in the body, this can have a detrimental effect on your gut. This is because stress and anxiety can cause the oesophagus to spasm and increase the acid in the stomach, causing painful indigestion. In addition to moderate exercise to alleviate stress and tension, both relaxation and talking therapy can have positive effects on the digestive system.
Quit bad habits
Smoking and excessive liquor and coffee intake can all interfere with the healthy functioning of your digestive system, leading to problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn.
Hydration is key
Insufficient water consumption is heavily linked to constipation. In order to combat this, drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day is key. Hydration also helps transport nutrients around the body, maintain a healthy urinary tract and flush out waste products and toxins. However, not all liquids are good for your digestion: stay away from fizzy, sugary drinks—these may cause an adverse effect on your gut.
Probiotics—the healthy bacteria naturally present in our digestive tract—keep the body healthy by counteracting the negative effects caused by antibiotic use, anxiety, stress and poor diet. In addition to this, probiotics can also increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, break down lactose, strengthen the immune system and alleviate symptoms of IBS.
Probiotics versus prebiotics
Both probiotics and prebiotics play a vital role in digestive health, but for different reasons. Probiotics are characterised as a large number of different strains of live bacteria and yeasts found in certain foods and supplements. These add to the bacteria that already exist in the gut. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement, or they may be found in live yoghurt and fermented foods such as kefir, miso and sauerkraut.
Prebiotics are non-live, non-digestible plant fibres that nourish and fertilise existing gut bacteria in the lower gut and large bowel in order for it to multiply and thrive. They are able to resist stomach acid, meaning that they are more likely to get to where they need to be in order to benefit the health of the gut. While more research is needed in this area, some sources claim that prebiotics have numerous health benefits. They occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables including bananas, garlic, asparagus and artichokes.
This article was originally published in Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones. Read the digital edition, here.