How to Maintain a Healthy Digestive System
Our digestive system plays a major role not only in our gastrointestinal health, but in the health and well-being of our entire body. Many people might be surprised to learn that stress can also significantly affect digestion, therefore looking after your digestive health is especially important during challenging times.
And with the global pandemic restricting many of us to the confines of our homes, making the right lifestyle choices to maintain a healthy digestive system can feel particularly onerous. However, achieving good digestive health needn’t be complicated. Consider these eight handy tips to get you started.
- Let fibre be your friend
Fibre is necessary to maintaining a healthy digestive system. A diet that is high in fibre helps to move food along your digestive tract and avoid unpleasant conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), haemorrhoids, diverticulitis, ulcers and reflux.
It can be relatively easy to boost your daily fibre intake through diet. Some foods that are high in fibre include vegetables, fruit, whole grain cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds. Most plant-based foods contain a mixture of soluble fibre and insoluble fibre, which are both beneficial to the body — therefore it’s great to include as many plant-based foods in your diet as possible.
- Choose your fats carefully
Foods that are high in fat can make digestion sluggish as fats generally take longer to digest in the body compared to other foods. However, the right amount of fat does contribute to a balanced diet so it’s important to strike a balance. To do this, try to eat moderate amounts of healthy fats and reduce your intake of saturated fats.
Healthy fats that contain Omega-3 fatty acids promote good cell health, minimise inflammation and help you to feel full without compromising digestion. Healthy fats can be found in foods including nuts and seeds, olive oil, and oily fish like sardines, salmon and avocado.
Saturated fats on the other hand can take longer to digest in the body and can also contribute to other health issues like poor cardiovascular health, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Saturated fats can be found in animal products like cheese, butter and margarine and in many processed foods so it’s good to limit these
Remember, any fats consumed in excess can cause weight gain (even the healthy ones), which can damage the digestive system so you should still eat them sparingly and pair these healthy fats with fibre-rich vegetables to help you digest them properly.
- Eat moderately, slowly and regularly
Overeating, especially unhealthy foods, can take a toll on your digestive system — causing foods to be digested much more slowly and less efficiently. Avoid this by reducing your portion sizes and take the time to eat slowly and regularly. Doing these things will help you to feel fuller for longer and help your digestive system become more regular. For some people, eating too much of the wrong foods too quickly can also result in issues like stomach cramps, indigestion, and bloating.
If you suffer from regular digestive discomfort or medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome where underlying causes are largely unknown, symptoms may need to be addressed through other means. There are a number of great supplements available in pharmacy to aid indigestion and provide relief from discomfort associated with such conditions. A good example is Chemists’ Own’s IBS Support Digestive Drops. But remember, supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- Lean on your protein
Protein digestion in the stomach takes a longer time than carbohydrate digestion, but a shorter time than fat digestion. Therefore, protein is great for helping you feel fuller for longer without compromising your digestive health. Some proteins can be excessively fatty however, so choose lean cuts such as skinless chicken breast, beef steak, and loin of pork or lamb.
- Stay hydrated
For good digestive health it’s essential to stay hydrated. Aim to drink between 2 to 2.5 litres of water a day to keep your bowel movements regular and avoid constipation.
- Keep on moving
We all know that exercise plays a critical role in our overall health, but it also specifically contributes to better digestion. Exercising increases blood flow to the muscles and can help move food along the digestive tract. It has also been shown to help ease digestive complaints such as gas, stomach aches, constipation, and heartburn.
- Stay healthy
In stressful times and when our routines are upended, people are more likely to turn to unhealthy habits like comfort eating, consuming alcohol, or having too much caffeine. And these can all put strain on your digestive system; leading to problems like heartburn, ulcers, and weight gain. Be mindful of any increased intake of alcohol and caffeine and try to replace these beverages with healthy alternatives such as water, herbal teas, and sugar-free soft drinks.
Lentil Dahl – Serves 4
12+ plant based ingredients plus high in fibre for good gut health!
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ fresh chilli (sliced)
1 teaspoon of tomato puree
1 brown onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
600g of pumpkin (butternut) cut into cubes
2 carrots (chopped)
300g eggplant (cubed)
400g tinned chickpeas (drain and rinse)
100g yellow split peas (rinsed)
100g red lentils (rinsed)
100g green lentils (rinsed)
400 ml coconut milk
400g diced tinned tomatoes
1 L vegetable stock
300g of green beans
Handful of Coriander
½ cup Probiotic Greek yoghurt
1 cup brown rice
½ cup quinoa
- Heat a large saucepan over low heat and warm the tablespoon of olive oil, add the brown chopped onion and sauté until fragrant, add garlic and chilli, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally
- Add spices and tomato puree to the saucepan
- Add pumpkin, eggplant and carrot and pour in the coconut milk, diced tinned tomatoes and leave to simmer for 7 minutes.
- Add chickpeas, peas and lentils, along with vegetable stock
- Mix well and leave to simmer for 30-35 minutes or until vegetables soften, stir frequently
- Cook brown rice and quinoa as per packet instructions
- Steam green beans (approx. 5-6 minutes or until softened slightly)
- Serve 4 bowls with lentil and vegetable mix on top of the cooked brown rice and quinoa and a side of the green beans
- Top with coriander and yoghurt as desired