The digestive system has received a lot of attention in the area of health and wellness lately and rightfully so. The digestive system is so closely linked to overall health. Scientists believe it to be the root of several diseases and conditions. A healthy digestive system also means that it is able to digest and absorb nutrients efficiently which your body uses for fuel and in turn it promotes optimal energy levels, a strong immune system and can help to prevent all kinds of diseases. So, below I’ve summarised 10 principles I believe are good to live by for a healthy gut. These are of course general tips and may still need be individualised according to personal needs and conditions.
1. EAT PEACEFULLY AND MINDFULLY
I’ve put this one first because I really believe it is so important to digestive health and I know from experience that it is something which most people living in the modern world struggle with. When we are stressed or are eating in a rush or on the run, our body activates what is called the sympathetic nervous system “flight or fight” response. This results in a release of several hormones which are aimed at keeping you alive and helping you to face the perceived threat. This results in slowing digestion and directing all internal energy and nutrients via blood to the brain and muscles. Therefore if you are stressed or rushed your body is not ready to digest food and often will lead to poor digestion and thus poor absorption of nutrients and the resulting side-effects of gas, bloating or cramping. Optimise digestion by making sure you are not distracted by watching TV, reading emails or talking on the phone. Another way is to practice “mindfulness”. You can eat mindfully by looking at your food, smelling it, appreciating it and making sure you chew, chew, and chew! Doing this will help your brain to recognise when you are full and optimise digestion.
Many digestive problems originate because people simply eat too much. This often leads to side-effects of poor digestion such as cramping, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea. Manage appropriate portion sizes by using smaller plates, not eating out of the cooking pot (first plate food and then eat), portion snacks (don’t eat out of a big packet) and drink out of smaller glasses. Try to eat regularly (every 2-3 hours) so that you never get to the point where you are extremely hungry. This is often when most people over-eat and eat far too quickly.
3.TAKE PROBIOTICS DAILY AND EAT PROBIOTIC-RICH FOODS
There are naturally occurring bacteria in your digestive tract, some of which are harmful but mostly which are beneficial (bifidobacterium and lactobacillus) as they maintain a healthy environment in your gut. Consuming probiotics and probiotic-rich foods help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria thus maintaining a healthy bacterial balance. As far as possible try consume homemade probiotic-rich products. In commercially made products, the probiotics often don’t survive by the time they get to the consumer. So also look for labels such as “contain live cultures”. Some fermented foods to include are yogurt, cheese, sourdough, sour cream, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. FUTURELIFE® Bran Flakes and Barley with Probiotic Capsulescontains 10 capsules of HOWARU® Premium Probiotics.
4. EAT ENOUGH DIETARY FIBRE
Fibre’s health benefits are very well established, particularly within digestive health. Fibre assists with maintaining regular bowel movements and cleaning out the gut. It is important to increase fibre gradually and to do so according to tolerance whilst increasing water intake too. The recommendation is 25g per day for women and 38g for men. Sources of fibre include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, beans, peas and legumes. FUTURELIFE® Bran Flakes and Barley with Probiotic Capsulescontains a whopping 9.9g of dietary fibre per 45g serving.
Many types of fibre actually also function as prebiotics, known to support the growth of good bacteria by serving as a food source for bacteria to ferment or “feed” on. It is therefore recommended that you include prebiotic-rich foods to support the growth of the healthy bacteria in your gut. All FUTURELIFE® products except for FUTURELIFE® Smart Oats®and FUTURELIFE® ZERO WITH OATS™contain inulin which is a prebiotic. Other sources include bananas, apples, oranges, carrots, asparagus, artichoke, garlic, onions and leeks.
5. SOAK GRAINS, NUTS AND SEEDS
Soaking and sprouting grains may increase phytase activity which is an enzyme involved in breaking down phytic acid. Phytic acid is often referred to as an “anti-nutrient” because it prevents absorption of vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and all B vitamins. Sprouting grains also have several health benefits but specifically improving ease of digestion and an increase in availability and absorption of nutrients (folate, amino acids, iron and several vitamins).
6. START YOUR DAY WITH A GLASS OF LEMON WATER AND START A MEAL WITH A TABLESPOON APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice is known to help increase the amount of stomach acid in your stomach which is often the cause of indigestion and heart burn. A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of clean water in the morning or before meals may help to improve digestion by ensuring there is enough stomach acid available.
7.DRINK IN-BETWEEN MEALS, NOT WITH THEM
Drinking fluids with meals dilutes stomach acid and digestive enzymes which makes digestion a bit more difficult and often results in side effects of poor digestion such as bloating, cramping and gassiness. The recommendation however is to drink at least 2 litres of clean water per day. To ensure you still reach this requirement, make sure you drink lots of clean water in-between meals.
8.DRINK HERBAL TEA
Apart from the fact that tea is an excellent source of protective antioxidants, also called polyphenols (also found in wine and chocolate) certain herbal teas also have distinct benefits for your digestive health:
- Camomile tea soothes and relaxes the bowel wall and reduces possibility of constipation.
- Peppermint oil and peppermint teas help to alleviate bloating and excessive gas by relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract and promoting normal peristalsis (the movement of the digestive muscles which help to digest and move food along the GI tract). Studies have found that daily use of peppermint oil is effective in relieving IBS symptoms. If you suffer from GERD (heart burn) then you should avoid peppermint oil as the relaxing action will worsen the reflux.
- Ginger and ginger tea has been found to improve digestion and reduce digestive problems such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and gas. To make ginger tea, grate ginger root (about 1 teaspoon) into a teapot, add boiling water, cover and leave for 3-5 minutes. Pour through a small sieve.
9.CUT DOWN ON EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF SUGAR
Excessive amounts of sugar in the diet promotes inflammation and feeds bad bacteria in the gut. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends no more than 50g of sugar per day which is 12 teaspoons. This includes sugar added to foods (hidden sugar). One 50g serving of FUTURELIFE® Smart food™ provides only 1½ teaspoons sugar. FUTURELIFE® ZERO Smart food™ and FUTURELIFE® ZERO WITH OATS contain zero added cane sugar.
Avoid eating excessive amounts of fruit (aim for 2 servings per day) and choose lower fructose fruits such as berries, granny smith apples, goji berries, figs, citrus fruits, papaya, kiwifruit, passion fruit and stone fruit such as nectarines, plums and peaches.
10.IMPROVE STRESS MANAGEMENT
Some experts have called the digestive system a “second-brain” because the stomach and intestines actually have more nerve cells than the entire spinal cord. The digestive system and brain are therefore extremely intimately relatedand it is a two-way street. If you are stressed it may cause digestive problems and digestive problems can result in stress. An imbalance in your gut microbiota (the colony of good bacteria in your gut) has also been linked to mental health, depression and anxiety. It therefore makes sense that 95% of the body’s serotonin (the happy hormone) is found in the digestive system. Here are some tips to manage your stress better:
- Relaxation therapy such as yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music, progressive muscle relaxation, deep-breathing exercises and mental imaging.
- Talk therapy such as talking to friends or family about your stress or even better if you can see a trained therapist who can use cognitive behavioural therapy to teach new coping skills or stress management skills.
- Exercise – even a quick burst of exercise (run up a stairs) is an excellent stress relief technique. It provides a distraction and the release of endorphins which improves your mood. Exercise provides an outlet for frustration so it immediately allows you to feel less stressed and also increases resilience to stress in the long-term.
- Laugh because maintaining a sense of humour can relieve stress in several ways; specific benefits that laughter provides, laughter connects people, and social support is good for stress relief. It’s hard to stay stressed when you’re laughing.
- Time management: learn to streamline your schedule and stop procrastinating to avoid added stress.
For more tips on how to manage stress or how to perform quick and simple relaxation therapies such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), aromatherapy or meditation visit this website:
Start now. Make the small changes and ensure that you take care of your gut health thus improving your overall health.
- LK Mahan, S Escott-Stump. Krauses’s Food and nutrition therapy. 12th Saunders, 2008.
- JL Thompson, MM Manroe, LA Vaughan. The science of nutrition. 2008.