Dara Morgan's 10 ways to better digestive health
Dara Morgan, a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, shares her tips for a good gut with Ailin Quinlan.
1. Have regular meals
Skipping meals is commonplace in our fast-paced world - but one of the first changes you need to implement if you are experiencing gut discomfort is to establish a regular meal pattern and avoid skipping meals or leaving long gaps between meals."I notice that people presenting with issues relating to gut health can often have erratic eating patterns," says Dara.
2. Pace not race
Slow down mealtimes. Eating too fast or on the run can cause you to gulp lots of air, leaving you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Take time to enjoy how your food looks and smells; this in turn helps to kick-start the digestive process. Chew food well and put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls.
Good posture is also conducive to good digestion.
3. Eat more fibre
Four out of five people (80%) are not getting enough fibre. Adults need 24-35g fibre every day. Fibre in the diet, says Dara, does far more than prevent constipation. In the large intestine, dietary fibre is fermented into short-chain fatty acids. These help improve the transit of material through the large bowel, provide energy to the cells in the colon, nourish the protective mucous layer in the colon, strengthen the gut barrier and support the immune system.
4. Soluble and insoluble fibre
There are two main types of fibre in the diet - soluble and insoluble fibre. Plant-based ingredients or foods generally contain a mixture of both. Soluble fibre disperses when mixed with water, making the digestive contents more viscous. This helps to slow down digestion, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Insoluble fibre has a water-binding capacity, which helps make our stools softer and bulkier.
5. Hydrate your body well
An approximate guide is eight to 10 glasses of water per day, although you will need to drink more if you are exercising. A simple way to know if you are drinking enough is to look at your urine, which should be pale yellow. If it's darker, it's a sign you are dehydrated.
6. Know your body well
If you're experiencing uncomfortable gut symptoms, it can be a good idea to keep a food and symptom diary."Obviously, it's not advisable to remove too many foods - or indeed entire food groups - without getting professional guidance from a registered dietitian," says Dara.
7. Be physically active
Physical activity stimulates the muscles in the bowel to contract, helping to promote a regular bowel habit. Regular activity has so many other health benefits to offer that we should try to be active every day, Dara says. Using a pedometer can be a great way to monitor your activity levels, she suggests.
8. Top up your probiotics
Probiotics are the 'good' bacteria found in certain food and supplements that can beneficially affect our health by improving the balance of the gut bacteria. They can be found in a variety of forms, such as capsules and powders, or in foods like fermented milk drinks and some yoghurts.
9. Don't overload
Probiotics are strain-specific, to specific disorders. What this means is that probiotics are definitely not a case of 'one size fits all'."We must match the probiotic to the condition or benefit you want, and be guided by the original research papers in terms of the dose used," says Dara, who says more research is needed on the most effective mode of delivery of probiotics.
Seek advice from a registered dietitian or your doctor regarding the evidence for probiotic use in specific conditions, she advises.
10. Fermented foods are not a panacea
Although fermented foods have been around for a lot longer than probiotic supplements or products, their natural probiotic effects are much less tested in clinical trials, Dara cautions. Examples of fermented foods soaring in popularity are kimchi, kefir, miso and sauerkraut.