Caring For Your Digestive System
Every part of our body needs to be looked after in order for it to thrive, and keep us in as good health as possible. This, of course, includes our digestive system, which is, after all, a key function within our body. It is a very important bodily system, as it is responsible for the digest, break down and absorption of nutrients from the food and drink which enters it. And without the system doing that, our ability to fight illnesses', produce energy, or have a balanced mood will be effected negatively. Caring for our digestive system can reap wonders, with results inside and out that we can really feel. This is why it makes sense to explore further ways we can give our digestive system the care that it needs.
Now there are of course a number of recommendations that we are advised to help keep our digestive system in good shape, and likely the most obvious thought to enter someone's mind will be around what we eat and drink. But before we get on to that let us look at the other key considerations, such as exercise.
Exercise is so important as it helps the digestive system to run efficiently. You see, the colon functions more effectively when abdominal muscles are strong and in a regular form of motion. It can also help us to maintain a healthy weight. Of course, there are many different types of exercise, some of which will help the digestive system more than others. And of course, whilst exercise clearly has so many positive benefits for our body, you should never do things that might upset your digestive system, otherwise your hard work could have the complete opposite of the desired effect. Something that can upset the digestive system is heartburn, and did you know riding a bike could help to reduce it? The target is light exercise that increases breathing and the heart rate, as this can help to create more efficient bowel movements. Yoga and Pilates are good examples of light exercise which can help improve the digestive system functions by reducing stress and anxiety levels which can lead to digestive disorders. Exercise such as walking is, of course, an excellent choice, it can improve blood flow to the intestines and colon.
As mentioned, just be careful not to overdo it, and do not exercise too soon after eating-it is suggested to allow two hours after a meal before exercising, exercise on a full stomach is not encouraged. Sometimes when a person is training hard, they can experience nausea and diarrhoea, particularly common in women, and especially noticed with female runners, as is acute gastric and gastro-oesophageal reflux. Although not a lot of research seems to be available on this matter, it is believed that these digestive issues faced by runners could be caused by the direct effect of exercise on the colon. Keep this in mind when considering exercise and training. It is recommended you speak with a health practitioner before beginning any kind of exercise program.
Right, let us now look at food and drink, starting with food. One issue with knowing which foods are good for your digestive system is that according to media reports they are always changing! You probably know what it is like, one week so and so is a superfood the next week we should all steer clear of it! Overall, like in general when considering the best ways to care for your digestive system, do your research and absorb all perspectives. With this said, there do seem to be certain foods that due to their makeup, are advisable to eat in aiding the digestive system.
Yoghurts are a good place to start as any. You may well have seen the various brands, one in particular, which claims to contain 'good bacteria' and have a great effect on one's digestive system. We have to be careful, because manufactures want to sell their brands of course, and are filled with marketing speak, but it looks like there could be truth in the goodness of the humble yoghurt. As well as plenty of other great benefits, yoghurt that contains active cultures may help certain gastrointestinal conditions including Lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhoea, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and the H. pylori infection.
Did you know that Chia, the high in fibre seed, is good for the gut? They will pair brilliantly sprinkled on your yoghurt too! These seeds form a gelatin-like substance in your stomach once they are eaten, and they work like a prebiotic would, in that they support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, aiding healthy digestion.
Peppermint oil, which is much more widely available these days, has been proven to help digestive issues. The thought process is that the oil contains a compound called Menthol which may ease symptoms of IBS, such as the associated bloating, stomach discomfort and bowel movement issues. This oil seems to have a relaxing effect on the muscles of your digestive tract, which may improve digestion. Furthermore, the oil can ease any indigestion while it is accelerating the food's movements through your digestive system.
Let us look at some of the fruits and vegetables that can help aid the digestive system. Starting on the fruity side and who doesn't love a juicy apple. You have likely heard the phrase about 'an apple a day' and part of their healthy charm also relates to how they can help with regards to caring for your digestive system. The strength of apples is that because they are a rich source of pectin which is a soluble fibre, the pectin bypasses digestion in your small intestine and is broken down by the friendly bacteria within your colon. It is also something that increases stool volume so is a choice for those trying to improve issues with constipation and diarrhoea. Furthermore, it has also proven to decrease the risk of intestinal infections in addition to inflammation in the colon.
But apples are not the only fruit that is helpful to our insides. Papaya is a delicious fruit that contains a digestive enzyme called papain which assists during the digestive process by helping to break down protein fibres, and it can also aid the digestion of protein. It is also believed that papain may help ease symptoms of IBS such as constipation and bloating.
On to the veg, and with have known for a very long time that it is advisable for our bodies to eat plenty of vegetables. But when it comes to the digestive system it is the green vegetables, in particular, leafy greens that should be our target. Green vegetables are a very good source of insoluble fibre which helps to add bulk to your stool, speeding the pace it takes through your digestive tract. On top of this, your greens are a good source of magnesium which also helps to relieve constipation by improving muscle contractions in your gastrointestinal tract. Look to veg such as Brussel sprouts, broccoli and spinach to gain these excellent benefits. Now I mentioned that leafy greens are especially positive and this is because in 2016 a study stated an unusual sugar had been found in green leafy vegetables that feed good bacteria in your gut, a sugar which is believed to aid digestion while also impairing some of the bad bacteria that can lead to illnesses.
Are you familiar with sauerkraut? It is a little different to most of the foodstuffs here as it is not a whole ingredient but one that has to go through a process, fermentation, but is still well worth exploring. So sauerkraut is made from shredded cabbage that is fermented with lactic acid, due to the fermentation it contains probiotics. Not only that, but it is also made up of many enzymes which help break down nutrients into smaller, more easily digestible molecules. On a similar note we have tempeh, which is made from fermented beans. The fermentation process and probiotic content can help decrease negative digestive symptoms once again and improve nutrient absorption by breaking down the antinutrient phytic acid. You by now should notice the benefits of the fermentation process and kimchi is another result of the process, this time made from fermented cabbage. Again, is contains probiotics and fibre that will help improve digestion and prompt healthy bowels.
Fennel may be an acquired taste, but if you like this green bulb plant, it is a good bonus for your health. Fennel contains an antispasmodic agent that relaxes the smooth muscles in your digestive tract which can reduce negative digestive symptoms like bloating, flatulence and cramping. Good old beetroots are also very healthy, and they can improve digestion by helping feed friendly gut bacteria and add bulk to your stools.
Some other foods to look in to include Kefir, which is a cultured dairy product made from grains added to milk. The grains are created from yeast and bacteria and seem like they can help improve digestion and decrease inflammation in your gut.
Why we are on the subject of grains, whole grains are another top choice. We are encouraged to eat whole grains and with good reason. A whole grain is a grain which contains 100% of a kernel which includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Some grains are not whole grains as they do not meet the previous requirements. You will have likely spotted, for example, some breakfast cereals are made with whole grains as are some breads, but some are not. A very popular whole grain breakfast choice is oats, but also quinoa and farro are also fully wholegrain foodstuffs. It is helpful to be eating from this food group because fibre products add bulk to your stool and can reduce constipation and some grain fibres act like prebiotics do, therefore helping to feed healthy bacteria in your gut.
if you consume any Japanese cuisine there is a good chance you may be familiar with Miso, used in Miso soup. Well not only is this a highly flavourful ingredient, it is also a beneficial one too. Once again the foodstuff is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji which is a fungus. The probiotics that miso contains can help to reduce digestive issues and defeat intestinal illness such as diarrhoea.
Ginger is perhaps one of the most well-known foods that can help the digestive system. You may have been recommended to consume some pieces if you have had an upset stomach. Pregnant women sometimes use it to treat morning sickness, too. Ginger has been found to accelerate gastric emptying. Ginger helps reduce your risk of heartburn and nausea too.
Even fish can have benefits when helping you care for your digestive system, in particular, salmon. Most people love salmon, so this is likely an easy choice to make. You can use the ingredient in all sorts of wonderful dishes, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a well-known fact that this fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats) which can help reduce inflammation. In turn, people with inflammatory bowel disease or another digestive disorder often have inflammation within their gut, but omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce this inflammation and in turn improve digestion.
It is not all about what you eat, but what you drink too. Some ingredients that have been mentioned so far can be consumed in the form of a drink, such as ginger, perhaps with water or as a tea, the same can be said for fennel. There is also Kombucha, a fermented tea which is made by adding certain strains of bacteria, sugar and yeast to black or green tea and then being terminated for around a week. Because of this process, probiotic bacteria is produced which can help improve digestive health, and some research has discovered that this drink may help the healing of stomach ulcers.
Moving on, it is not just about what you eat or drink but how you eat or drink it. It is advised that you become well educated in how certain ways of consuming food and drink may affect how your body is able to take it, and in turn how your digestive system reacts. However, with this kind of subject, there is a debate over what is accurate and what is not. Some people do not believe any of the following to be true, others will swear by it. Ultimately, you need to make your own educated decisions, but let us run through some of these theroies.
Some people say that you should never eat fruit with other foods as it could reduce the nutritional value, and even upset the digestive system. But the majority of people agree there is no truth in this, and eating fruit with or without over foods is not an issue. There is also no certain time that is better to eat fruits then another, the general claims on issues around what part of the day to eat fruit states. It is a good chance you have heard the one about never eating fruit on an empty stomach, but again most health professionals agree there isn't an issue there, either.
The cooking of vegetables is another minefield with different opinions coming from each direction. Some say if you overcook your vegetables you lose all the great nutrients, including those that can help your gut, others claim this to be nonsense. The jury still seems to be out.
The advice on not drinking water with a meal is interesting. This is something that has circulated online for many years, but a lot of people categorise it as a myth. It is said that in actual fact, drinking water with a meal is beneficial for your body. It does not dilute your stomach acid as the myth claims, but can actually help your digestion work in a more efficient way by helping break down the food in your stomach. So be careful about choosing what you believe to be fact, and what to be fiction and once again make informed, educated choices!
So, by way of summary and to provide a few extra handy pointers, let's look at a breakdown of what we can do to help care for our digestive system. Firstly, a high fibre diet, containing foods such as ones mentioned in this article, is a great way to go. Ultimately, a diet high in fibre will help to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated. Now you may have noted that some of these fibres are insoluble and some are soluble, it is recommended that you get both types in your body. Insoluble fibre can not be digested by the body and therefore helps to add bulk to your stools, but on the other side soluble fibre draws in water and can help prevent stools that contain too much in water volume.
Have a diet that contains plenty or probiotics as these are a healthy kind of bacteria which help fight your corner in keeping your body healthy. They can help to combat stress, something which of course also needs to be managed as best as you can, as stress itself can have a negative effect on the digestive system.
It is also pretty much a general rule of lifestyle, to get exercise where you can. Regular exercise does help your digestive system, it helps keep food moving through your digestive system and reduces the chance of constipation. If your not a smoker, then you cut down on some issues smoking can cause such as stomach ulcers and heartburn. The same can also be said for alcohol consumption along with caffeine, too. Of course not having too many fatty foods is also a good pointer. By all means, you can have some here and there but do not overdo it. Fatty foods usually slow down the digestive process which will increase your chance of constipation. But when you are having fattier based foods, pair those items in your meals with high-fibre foods is a top tip, as this can make them easier on that digestive system of yours. Another tip is to use leaner meats where you can.
The media is always reporting on how much water we need to be consuming, and in fairness, there could be a good reason. Drinking enough water is good for the digestive system according to many experts. The science behind this is that fibre in your body pulls water into the colon creating softer, bulkier stools, allowing them to pass through in an easier fashion.
Sometimes we are so hungry we can just woof our food down. Or we are rushing because we don't want to be late for work or miss the school run, etc etc. This can lead to an upset digestive system. In our busy modern lives, we often find ourselves grabbing food on the go, eating whenever we have time. But the times where we can sit down, digest our foods at a more reasonable speed, these types are always going to be more beneficial for our digestive systems. One way to look at it is that the process of digestion begins in the mouth so use this as the chance to eat slowly, making sure to chew each mouthful thoroughly as food which has been well chewed is easier to digest than larger pieces are. Also, relaxing while you eat actually helps the nerves of the digestive system, too.
Your digestive system really is a very important part of the working of your body. Please do not overlook it. Sometimes we remember to take care of our arms, our legs and the outside of our stomach, especially when choosing exercises to help do just that. But of course, our digestive system needs to be well looked after too, we need to limit the strain we put it under and feed it with powerful nutrients that will help our insides to truly flourish, something that will, of course, affect the whole of our outsides in a very positive manner, too.