28 May World Digestive Health Day 2021
By Jeanann Doyle
Let’s take some time out of our busy lives to talk about our digestive health.
Did you know that we have a trillion good bacteria in our gut continuously working to keep our digestive system functioning properly and healthy every day? Yes, that’s right; we need plenty of good bacteria in our gut in order to fight diseases, infection and inflammation. The term “gut” is also referred to as the digestive tract which is simply the passage in which food and drinks are carried into the stomach and then broken down to nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. These are then absorbed into the bloodstream to be used by the body for energy or to grow and repair cells. The digestive tract is made up of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus. Interesting fact; our small intestine is actually 20 feet in length! However, just like machines, our digestive system doesn’t always run as smoothly.
There are certain factors to be mindful of if we want to take care of our digestive health to avoid unwanted symptoms and diseases. Some day-to-day symptoms may include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and heartburn. Long term diseases include IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), Coeliac Disease, heart disease, diabetes and Crohn’s Disease which can develop due to poor digestive health.
The large intestine is very responsive to what we eat. Certain eating habits such as having lots of greasy food (high in trans fats or saturated fats), spicy foods, tomatoes, refined carbohydrates, fizzy and caffeinated beverages can result in heartburn or bloating. Harmful lifestyle factors for our gut health include smoking and chronic stress. It is also useful to know that frequent antibiotic use, illness and taking certain medication can put your gut under pressure, disrupting the natural balance of healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics have shown to help restore the balance of good gut bacteria and also fermented foods such as sourdough, sauerkraut, pickles and yoghurts. However, each individual has a different make-up of gut bacteria and so what works for some might not work for others. Lactose intolerance or other food intolerances can also be the reason for discomfort during digestion.
What can I do to look after my digestive health?
- A healthy balanced diet is encouraged, consisting of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, low-fat sources of dairy or dairy alternatives, wholegrain carbohydrates and foods low in fat, sugar and salt.
- Drinking 6-8 glasses of fluids and having 30g of fibre a day good promotes digestive health while reducing symptoms such as constipation and bloating. Drink fluids such as water, milk and herbal teas which are all better for us than fizzy drinks and heavily caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee. Fluids act as a carrier of food through the tract alongside muscle movement of the digestive system
- Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and beans are great sources of fibre.
- Choose lean sources of fats particularly unsaturated fats which can be found in oily fish, vegetable-based oils, avocados and raw nuts.
- You may find out that you need to exclude certain foods in your diet or have lactose free food and drinks for which there are many alternatives nowadays in supermarkets.
- Lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep, exercising several times a week and not smoking will also keep your gut happy. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep.
If you are concerned about your digestive health you can seek advice from your GP or a dietitian. If you need some help with adopting a new healthy lifestyle, at Healthy Hearts we can guide you through your exercise, diet and well-being goals. Get in touch and book your assessment today with us by calling us at 020 3434 2500 or accessing our Typeform here.
If you are a resident of Westminster or Kensington & Chelsea, you can contact our partner services One You Westminster and One You RBKC at 020 3434 2500 or access their Typeform here to get started.
NHS- Good foods to help your digestion, British Nutrition Foundation, British Dietetic Association and Nicole Dynan (Gut health Dietitian).