The ‘gut’ is a very sensitive organ and if you’re not digesting adequately, have an imbalance of bacteria or are eating too many irritating foods, the gut lining is prone to becoming inflamed and ‘leaky’. It is essential to restore balance before healing and repair can take place. There are a number of substances that will aggravate a leaky gut by causing irritation to the delicate lining. The most important to avoid are alcohol, excess caffeine, cigarettes, drug use, processed food and food additives. To promote the good bacteria in your gut, reduce your intake of sugar and refined foods – these encourage bad bacteria to increase quickly. Eat plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and some live natural yoghurt – these help to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. I would also recommend a good quality probiotic supplement to help restore levels. Probiotics have been shown to replenish healthy bacteria in the gut that are removed by antibiotics.
We think we digest our own food – actually it is the bacteria living in our guts that do most of it for us, and if they are not happy, we don’t get fed. Probiotics can be found in yoghurts, fermented foods such as miso, and are available as powders and supplements. Make sure you read the label for live and active cultures as well as checking the expiration date and making sure they are properly stored.
- Oliver’s Top Tips:
Try fermented foods. Kimchee or Sauerkraut, a cabbage prepared in its fermented form is a prebiotic (plant fibres), which helps the good bacteria return to your gut. It is also rich in glutamine.
- The preferred ‘fuel’ for the cells lining of the ‘gut’ is an amino acid called glutamine. A generous supply of glutamine can help repair and maintain a healthy small intestinal lining.
- Another key to gut healing and repair are omega 3 fats from oils of fish, nuts and seeds especially golden flaxseed blended with warm water in the mornings. These have been shown to help in calming an inflamed gut.
- Eat food. May sound obvious, but by food I mean substances that your body recognises and knows what to do with. The problem with most artificial ingredients, from hydrogenated fat to artificial colours, is that our bodies don’t know what they are, and can’t break them down. They are like unwanted wedding gifts from your relatives – you don’t know what to do with them, but can’t throw them away.
Dietary fibre keeps your ‘gut’ and digestive system healthy pushing other foods through your gut, and balancing out the flow. It also contributes to other processes, such as stabilising glucose and cholesterol levels. It is recommended that adults eat 25–35g daily. Here are some ways to increase your dietary fibre intake:
- Choose hummus instead of cheese when snacking. While cheese has no fibre, a quarter cup of hummus, which is made from chickpeas and sesame seeds, provides nearly 4g.
- Swap a serving of meat for a serving of beans. Half a cup of beans has 5–8g of fibre, depending on the type, while chicken and beef have none.
- Munch on nuts. Adding a quarter cup of nuts can give you an extra 2–4g of fibre. Almonds have the most, but peanuts and walnuts are also good sources.
- Eat your vegetables. You can boost your fibre intake by 4–8g by remembering to eat half a cup of cooked greens or a couple of raw carrots.
- Go with whole grains. If your rice is brown, a cup will give you about 4g of fibre, but if it’s white, it only has 1g. Other whole grains like oats, oat bran and quinoa also provide lots of fibre.
- Drink one and a half litres of water a day for hydration to maintain a moist and soft gut rather than a dried and irritated one.
We should be producing at least one “good” bowel motion every day, a well-formed, soft stool that can be passed easily without straining. Efficient elimination is just as important as optimal digestion. Irregular bowel movements or poor bowel health can impact our lives in more ways than just the feelings of bloating, fullness, wind and general discomfort.
A sluggish bowel results in faecal matter remaining in the intestines for longer than necessary. This leads to excess fermentation which in turn creates gas or bloating.
Gas and bloating are indications that you are not digesting your food adequately. The first vital stage of digestion is to chew your food thoroughly. Aim to have reduced your mouthful to liquid mush before you swallow. This allows the digestive enzymes a greater surface area to work and do their job properly. Additionally, toxins that should have passed with the stool are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, which places extra strain on the cleansing organs (predominately the liver), and compromises their ability to function effectively. A poorly functioning liver can contribute to poor digestion, feelings of sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain and difficulty in losing weight. If that isn’t enough incentive to start upping your fibre intake, this may be the last push you need. Poor liver function can also result in skin blemishes and breakouts. Our skin, appearance, energy and vitality are a reflection of our inner digestive system.
If you find you are struggling with your digestion and elimination, there are effective and natural bowel foods and herbs on hand. Foods like lecithin and psyllium husks for example, promote the regular and easy passing of bowel motions by increasing fibre intake, which is essential to bowel health and maintaining bowel regularity.
If you believe you are eating enough fibre but experiencing wind or straining, you can look to aloe vera to help soothe and calm your digestive system. Probiotics maintain a favourable balance of good bacteria in the colon for bowel health. The freshwater algae, Chlorella contains the richest source of chlorophyll of any known plant. Because of this, it has powerful cleansing properties and is an excellent tonic.
A few basic tips to remember for bowel regularity:
- Eat plenty of fibre
- Drink plenty of water
- Be active, love your exercise
- Never ignore the urge
- And try and stay calm and positive about life
- Mind over matter
Oliver McCabe @NutritionOliver