This month I want to talk about healthy digestion or the health of your digestion!
You may have heard of the gut microbiome, basically, it’s the bacteria in your gut that either help or hinder the way your digestion works. Ideally, you want to have plenty of beneficial bacteria and not so many of the ones that cause problems.
Why? Because the balance of bacteria in your gut affects so many things:
- Your mood and mental health
- Your immune system
- Your sleep
- The level of inflammation in your body
- Your skin
- Your teeth
- Arterial health
OK so I think you get it, they affect pretty much everything.
The bacteria in your gut process the food you eat and turn it into enzymes and vitamins that the body then uses to stay healthy. When we are short of specific bacteria the gut will find it hard to break down certain types of fibre, this is when you see undigested food in your stools and very possibly symptoms of bloating, gas and abdominal pain.
Does that sound familiar to you? OK, so what can you do about it?
I want to talk about what you can do to help your gut that is simple and will keep the bacteria healthy. After all, that’s what we’re aiming for, isn’t it? To have boundless energy and feel at our best as much as we can.
First on the list is SUGAR
Foods that are high in sugar negatively impact our gut bacteria and cause more inflammation in the body. So whether you have issues with your gut right now or not, sugar is not helpful to your long-term health.
How do we deal with it? Well, in my opinion, planning is vital.
Making sure that you always have something to hand that does not contain sugar and that you have it in your mind as well.
For instance – instead of eating a sweet treat I will have a handful of nuts, a slice of ham or a piece of cheese! If I’m opting for fruit then I will have a little bit of protein with it to reduce the sugar load.
Second is WATER
With any ailment, your first and best action is to drink a glass of water and this goes for digestive health as well.
Many common issues with digestion could be relieved by drinking water. Heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, colitis, and SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) to name the most common.
I want to talk about how our water intake affects the digestive process.
Digestion of our food starts in the mouth and then continues in the stomach. The food in the stomach has to be acidic enough to leave the stomach and go into the small intestine.
The next stage is less well-known. The small intestine is prepared by the pancreas to be alkaline otherwise the acid will damage the intestinal walls! If we are dehydrated the pancreas will not produce the watery bicarbonate solution needed. This makes the sphincter at the base of the stomach malfunction and we end up with an acid mix in our stomach that causes heartburn and acid reflux.
Put another way, the more meals you eat (including snacks), the less chance the intestine has to produce its waves of motion (peristalsis) to move the food on, making it easier for bacteria to colonise and cause digestive issues.
If we allow ourselves 3-4 hours between meals when we only drink water we can rectify this situation and support the release of food from the stomach, as well as increase the movement of food through the small intestine once it has been released.
Lower down the track in the large intestine water from food is reabsorbed into the body. If the stool is lacking water this leaves the faeces that are left unable to move easily down the colon. Then we put more food in on top and this is what often caused pain in the lower gut.
Water is vital to keep digestion healthy.
And third is VEGETABLES
Eating vegetables affects the type of bacteria we have in our gut.
Eat vegetables that contain prebiotic fibre, like chicory, rocket, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, elephant yam and Jerusalem artichokes. All these will feed the good bacteria in your gut making them stronger so that they can colonise which means there is less room for the less beneficial bacteria.
Keeping the bacteria strong and healthy supports the integrity of the gut lining which means that the gut lets nutrients into the bloodstream while keeping bad bacteria and pathogens out. It’s the bad bacteria and pathogens that cause issues with the lower gut like bloating, discomfort and diarrhoea (all common symptoms of IBS – irritable bowel syndrome).
Some people who come to see me don’t really eat vegetables at all, a few peas maybe and a tomato occasionally but certainly not anywhere near the 5 a day that is recommended.
If you are one of those people then start small, try to eat at least one portion every day, a portion is equivalent to the size of your fist. Once you are consistently managing one portion then and only then, introduce another one and so on.
If you are already eating 2 portions then increase it to 3 and be sure to be eating 3 consistently before you increase it to 4.
My recommendation to you is to aim for 5 portions of vegetables a day with fruit as an add-on. This is because of the sugar content in fruit. If you’re nowhere near that then as I said earlier start gently. Some is better than none!
Creating Healthy Habits
So you see, it’s not that complicated. It’s about creating healthy habits and sticking to them 80-90% of the time. If you would like some help with any of the symptoms mentioned or struggle with maintaining these healthy habits, then please get in touch. I promise I won’t make you give up loads of things or suggest things that you are completely unable to achieve.
I’d be happy to talk it through with you to help you live a healthier happier life.