Not many of us do, it seems. Recently there has been an upsurge in digestive issues, with problems such as bloating, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food intolerance or allergy becoming much more prevalent. In the past, such issues night have been dismissed as relatively insignificant, but it is now accepted that the gut is the hub of good health. Far from being just ‘plumbing’, it plays numerous vital roles within the body.
Amazingly, the gut is often considered to be the second brain, because the gut and the brain are in constant communication. Many vital brain-communicating chemicals, such as serotonin, are made in the gut, which is why having a healthy gut leads to good mental as well as physical health.
So what simple things can we all do to ease the strain on our digestive system? Here Patrick Holford, author of Improve Your Digestion, shares some practical ideas for giving your gut a helping hand:
- Try and eat 80 per cent alkaline-forming foods and 20 per cent acid-forming foods. This means eating large quantities of vegetables, fruit and protein foods such as beans, lentils and whole grains, and lesser quantities of meat, fish, cheese and eggs.
- Try and eat fast-fermenting and acid fruits on their own as snacks. Most soft fruits ferment quickly. These include peaches, plums, mangoes, strawberries and melons. Highly acid fruits (although alkaline-forming) might also inhibit the digestion of carbohydrate. This includes oranges, lemons, grapefruit and pineapple. All these fruits require little digestion, releasing their natural fructose content quickly. Eat them on their own as a snack when you need an energy boost.
- Concentrated proteins – such as meat, fish, hard cheese and eggs – require large amounts of stomach acid and a long stay in the stomach (about three hours) to be digested. Don’t combine fast-releasing foods, or food that ferments, with animal protein. Either have with just vegetables, or with a small portion of ‘slow-releasing’ carbohydrates; for example, have half a plate of vegetables, one quarter of the plate as protein and one quarter as low GL starchy carbohydrate such as butternut squash, parsnip and beetroot.
- Try and avoid refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, rice and bread. Instead eat slow-releasing carbohydrates such as brown rice, and whole grains such as oats, barley and rye.
- In the mornings, don’t eat until your body is fully awake. Leave at least an hour between waking and eating. If you exercise in the morning, eat afterwards. Never start your day with a stimulant (tea, coffee or a cigarette) because the ‘stress’ state created by this inhibits digestion. If you do take a stimulant, leave an hour between it and your breakfast.
The digestive tract is one of the most regenerative parts of the body and, with a suitable diet, the majority of digestive problems can be swiftly resolved. For more information on this fascinating area of health, you can read Patrick’s book. Patrick has also put a fascinating a short video, explaining the importance of resolving any digestive issues you may have.