“You Are What You Eat”
That is literally true. But beyond that, you are also what you digest, absorb and assimilate so keeping your gastrointestinal (GI) system working well is extremely important for your overall level of wellness. Let’s have a look at the factors that contribute most to digestive health.
Dietary fibre, also referred to as bulk or roughage, consists of plant materials that we are not able to digest. Because it is indigestible, it carries various substances with it as it passes through the digestive system. Think of fibre as the janitor that keeps your GI system clean.We need to think about two types of fibre in our diets: soluble and insoluble.Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. It is responsible for the bulkiness of feces Increased bulk helps to move fecal material out of the GI system. Cellulose, which is common in fruits and vegetables, is an example of insoluble fibre.Soluble fibre dissolves in water and has a gel-like texture. It affects the balance of water in the GI tract and is important for weight management as well as levels of hormones, cholesterol and blood sugar. Pectin, common in fruits such as apples, is an example of soluble fibre.The benefits of a high fibre diet may include:
- regular bowel movements;
- improved bowel health;
- better levels of insulin, cholesterol and blood glucose, and
- improved elimination of potential toxins and carcinogens.
Men should consume 30 – 38 grams of fibre daily; women should aim for 21 – 26 grams per day. If you are planning to increase your fibre intake, make the change slowly. Too rapid an increase may result in unwanted side effects such as gas and bloating.
Enzymes are helper molecules that facilitate interactions between other substances. Although our bodies use them for many things, they serve a key function in the processes of digestion. Digestive enzymes, produced by the salivary glands, stomach, small intestine and pancreas, aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Sometimes, our bodies don’t produce enough of these enzymes. This can result in incomplete digestion with fermenting carbohydrates (as with lactose intolerance), putrefying proteins, and fats going rancid, all of which are toxic to some degree.
A great way to help prevent incomplete digestion and ease the burden of enzyme production for your body is to ensure you eat enzyme-rich foods every day. Examples include: papaya, kiwi, pineapple, unrefined oils like extra virgin olive oil and sprouts such as bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts. These foods are best consumed raw because exposure to heat alters the enzymes.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, similar to beneficial bacteria found in our digestive systems. A prebiotic is a form of indigestible carbohydrate that stimulates the growth of probiotic organisms.
The balance of bacteria in the GI tract may become distorted because of infection or antibiotic use. This off-balance state, sometimes called “dysbiosis”, can alter the way the intestines absorb nutrients and water.
Dysbiosis can be associated with many signs and symptoms but bad breath, body odor, bloating, gas, nausea, and constipation are common ones.
Eating foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut can help to keep the micro-organisms that we host in balance.
You’ve heard it before – how important it is to drink enough water everyday. The volume of water you drink is important because almost all the chemical activities of our bodies (and there are millions of them) need water in order to take place.
Water also works with insoluble fibre to prevent constipation and enhance the actions of soluble fibre.
The timing of your water consumption matters too. Drinking too much too close to a meal or during it will dilute those beneficial enzymes. Do your best to limit fluids consumed during meals to 125 ml (4 oz) and consume the majority of your fluids a half hour before or an hour after you eat.
3 Easy Tips
Improving your digestive health is easy. Here are the key tips:
- eat lots of fruits and vegetables – 10 to 15 servings daily.
- include foods like apples, papaya, kiwi, pineapple, extra virgin olive oil, sprouts, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir
- drink lots of water away from meals
What could be simpler?