Give yourself a digestive MOT
Acid reflux, frequent belching, heaving bloated feeling, stomach cramps, frequent trips to the loo or not enough trips to the loo? If you have experienced digestive issues you know just how miserable they can make you feel. Less energy, clothes feeling tight, physical discomfort or even the embarrassment of leaving a loo a little more “fragrant” that you would like. It’s no joking matter though, we need our digestion to work properly so that our bodies can make good use of the foods we eat. If you’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat” think again, “you are what you digest and absorb.”
Okay, so we know that digestive issues are not pleasant and we absolutely know that it’s important to do something about it, but where do we start?
Let’s consider some things you can do to stack the odds in your favour:
Generically there are some foods that we leave us more prone to digestive issues. Not surprisingly these are fast foods, deep fried foods, foods high in salt and foods high in sugar. You may also need to avoid caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods and citrus until your digestion is stronger. Don’t be fooled into thinking that acid reflux is always caused by too much acid, it can also be a sign of a lack of stomach acid and your nutritionist will be able to support you with identifying the cause.
Alcohol in excess can trigger digestive issues but even in moderation it can make symptoms worse. Drinks with added sugar are never good for our digestion and are best avoided completely. The same goes for drinks with added sweeteners. Make sure to drink one and a half to two litres of water per day to support your digestive tract. A staggering volume of liquid passes through your digestive system every day – about eight litres! Obviously a lot of this is coming from your body reservoir and gets recycled to use again but you can see why we might need to keep this topped up with two litres of fresh water every day. Fibre is important to keep foods moving through the digestive tract and we typically don’t get enough in the UK. When increasing your dietary fibre do it gradually to avoid triggering symptoms.
Eating your main meal late at night is very likely to contribute to digestive problems. Aim to eat your main meal by 7pm at the latest (earlier if possible). Make sure to eat a healthy breakfast and aim to have regular eating patterns.
Eating on the run, gulping down your food, not chewing foods properly will all contribute to digestive issues. Make time to eat in a relaxed way, seated at a table and chew your food well.
There are lots of reasons why your gut health may have been thrown off balance and you may need more than just healthy eating to get it back on track. Probiotics are a simple way to rebuild the “good” bacteria that is so important for our digestive health. Other nutrients that you might not automatically associate with digestive health are vitamin D, omega three and magnesium. You may have heard of prebiotics and wondered what is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics are food sources for good bacteria so that they can grow and flourish. Examples are garlic, leeks, onions, bananas, and broccoli (though wait to read part five before you rush out to the supermarket).
Specific food intolerances
This is where it starts to get tricky and is often the reason people need to seek professional advice. A specific food intolerance could be causing your digestive issues or it may be that you need to avoid certain foods until you rebuild your digestive health. Common “problem” foods are dairy, gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley), yeast, sugars, corn and soy. FODMAPs are foods that contain fermentable carbohydrates and aggravate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. In simple terms, natural sugars/starches in FODMAP foods pass undigested to the large intestine where they are fermented and produce a lot of gas and the associated bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Unfortunately healthy foods are a source of FODMAPs and include onions, garlic and broccoli. Any major changes to your diet should be done under professional advice.
Digestive issues have become increasingly common but unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution. Follow the simple advice given about in steps one to three and if you need more support seek professional advice
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