The more we learn about the role of gut, the more it seems that the gut can be thought of as the centre of overall good health. Our gastrointestinal tract runs right through the core of the body and has does a lot more than just digest our food. Our gut is home to lots of bacteria – known as gut flora. A healthy digestive system has a balance of good and bad bacteria. If the balance gets upset, through a course of antibiotics, too many refined carbs or not enough dietary fibre the bad bacteria can flourish leading to digestive problems.These problems can range from simple indigestion from eating too much at dinner, to more chronic problems such as heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome, to serious diseases including bowel cancer. When your gut is not working as it should your energy levels are affected, your mood can be affected and your ability to concentrate is affected. You can help maintain your digestive system by ensuring you consume prebiotics, probiotics and sufficient dietary fibre.
You've probably been reading a lot about probiotics and prebiotics - but before we get to those let's just look at your fibre intake. Getting enough fibre has been linked to reduced risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes
Prebiotics are certain plant fibres which nourish the good bacteria already living in the large bowel or colon. Prebiotics include asparagus, oats, bananas, berries, tomatoes. Why not try my banana and date porridge for double the prebiotics?
Probiotics are the live micro-organisms living in the digestive system. Sources are probiotic yoghurts,kefir, miso, tempeh. If you are looking for a yoghurt with probiotic benefits make sure it contains at least 1 billion probiotics per serve and that it shows the bacteria strains. A good choice is Jalna. I like to include a shot of kefir every morning.
As well as making sure you consume your prebiotics and probiotics, it’s important to make sure you consume enough fibre to help your gut function properly. Men need to consume 30g of fibre per day and women should consume 25g. Getting enough fibre has been linked to reduced risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.
There are three main types of dietary fibre:
- Soluble fibre, which is found in fruits, oats and beans. It helps move waste through the digestive tract and helps lower cholesterol.
- Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and moves undigested through the intestinal tract. Insoluble fibre is found in wheat bran, grain based breads and cereals and in many vegetables - it helps to keep you regular.
- The third type of fibre, resistant starch, comes from legumes such as kidney beans and chick peas and other wholegrains and is thought have play a special role in protecting the gut from colon cancer.
Most people get enough insoluble fibre but not enough resistant starch or soluble fibre.
A guideline to making sure you get a mix of fibre, plus prebiotics and probiotics would be:
- 2 pieces of fruit and 5-6 serves (fists) of vegetables will give you about 1/2 your fibre needs
- grain based cereal, crackers and bread will also give you between 3-5g of fibre per serve. Check the label of your bread and cereals to check it has more than 4g fibre per serve. I like the Helga’s low carb range and Burgen breads.
- To make sure you are getting enough resistant starch add more legumes into your diet – chick peas, black beans and baked beans are all great options. You can also add more wholegrains like brown rice, oats and barley.
- Add in some fermented food such as yoghurt (with live cultures) to cover off probiotics
As well as eating well to ensure optimal digestive health make sure you:
- Exercise - By moving your body you actually help to stimulate the gut to contract. This is of crucial importance in maintaining a healthy gut and avoiding constipation.
- Drink plenty of water. - Fibre in the gut absorbs water, putting pressure on the gut walls and in turn stimulating the gut to contract and move intestinal contents along. We need to therefore drink plenty of water otherwise you risk getting blocked up. Plenty of water helps to keep the gut happy and your body well hydrated and working as it should.