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Demystifying Digestive Health

Fruits and vegetables rich in fibre

While you may have heard that consuming enough dietary fibre each day is important for healthy digestion, consuming sufficient fibre alone isn’t enough. To perform it’s expected duties, fibre must absorb water and be encouraged to move through your system. It is the combination of adequate fibre, ample fluids, and regular movement, that work together to keep your digestion functioning optimally. Now that you have a general idea of what is involved, let’s take a closer look at each aspect of digestive health to build on your knowledge:

 

Fibre

Although you do not digest or absorb dietary fibre, it is critical for your health. Your blood fat levels, colon health, intestinal motility, gut health, and satiety are dependent on a proper dietary fibre intake. Foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains contain fibre. Animal foods such as meats and eggs have no fibre.

Fibre exists in two forms, namely soluble and insoluble – both are essential to support your digestive health. The soluble variety (found in foods such as oat bran, oatmeal, legumes, and fruits such as apples and oranges) absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in your gut. Soluble fibre is chiefly responsible for helping control blood sugar and reducing cholesterol. Insoluble fibre (found in foods such as wheat bran, whole grains, and most fruits and veggies) is the bulk-forming fibre. Insoluble fibre is known for its ability to promote regular bathroom habits – though both types of fibre are important in this area. We recommend getting your fibre from whole food sources (rather than supplements) whenever possible.

Each day, we should eat a variety of foods to obtain a mixture of both soluble and insoluble fibre; luckily, many foods naturally contain both types. Need ideas for adding more fibre to your diet? Try these suggestions:

  1. For breakfast choose a high-fibre cereal – we recommend choosing a cereal that offers 5 or more grams of fibre per serving. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran or bran buds to your favourite cereal.
  2. Aim to consume at least half of your grains as whole grains. Look for products where the first ingredient listed is whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, whole grain corn, brown rice, wild rice, barley, bulgur, or oats.
  3. Substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking. Or sneak some wheat bran, psyllium fibre, or crushed bran flakes into baked goods.
  4. Add beans & legumes to soups and salads. Or make nachos with refried black beans, lots of fresh veggies, whole-wheat tortilla chips, and salsa.
  5. Aim to eat five or more servings of vegetables, and two or more servings of fruit, daily. And we encourage you to eat the skins and seeds of produce when edible!
  6. Try homemade popcorn as a high fibre, whole grain snack.

 

Fibre is a nutrient that can and should be strategically placed in your diet to help you remain feeling full between meals. If you have a fairly low fibre intake, we recommend that you increase your consumption slowly to give your body time to adapt. To start building your daily fibre intake, we suggest dividing fibre-containing foods throughout the day at both meals and snacks.

 

Fluids

Regarding fluids, the amount of water that a person needs to drink every day is different for everyone. What is most important is that you drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Your fluid intake can include water as well as a variety of other fluids. With that said, we recommend limiting high sugar drinks as they can quickly add up in the way of carbs and calories, but offer little nutrition. Plain water (perhaps kicked-up a notch with fresh fruit slices) or tea are your best options to ensure that you stay sufficiently hydrated.

Dehydration is when you lose more fluid than you take in. Some physical signs of dehydration include thirst, dry lips and dry mouth, flushed skin, headache, dizziness and fainting, dark yellow and strong smelling urine, low blood pressure, and increased heart rate. You may be dehydrated even if you don’t have any of these signs so it is important to drink fluids often even before you feel thirsty.

 

Movement

Aside from helping support your digestive health by encouraging motility, including activity in your life has many other physical and mental benefits. Regular activity works to boost your energy levels and immune health, regulate your sleep patterns, and maintain (or assist you in gaining) muscle mass.

Additionally, incorporating regular exercise in your life can speed body composition change progress and help you break through plateaus by keeping your metabolism fired-up. Being physically active every day is another important healthy lifestyle choice that will help you to stay healthy and feel good.

 

In summary, to ease digestive issues, make sure you are consuming sufficient fibre (a minimum of 25-38 grams per day is recommended for most), drinking fluids throughout the day [in general, 2 Litres (or 8 cups) per day is recommended, and 3 Litres on days when you workout], and moving your body regularly.

While these three aspects, or pillars if you will, are key areas to consider in the pursuit of digestive health, another facet well worth examining is the health of your gut bacteria, or your gut microbiota.

The regular consumption of probiotics and prebiotics contribute to health benefits that include improved immune function, better digestion, and a lowered allergic response. While supplements aimed at supporting digestive health are all the rage these days, we feel it is important to look to naturally occurring food sources of these beneficial substances first. Both pre- and probiotics are easy to get through the food we eat because they occur naturally in foods.

Some delicious ways to get prebiotics include: Leeks, Asparagus, Chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, Garlic, Onions, Wheat, Oats, Soybeans, Honey, and Bananas. Probiotic rich foods include: Tempeh, Kombucha, Kimchi, and certain brands of Yogurt.

In addition, utilizing herbs and spices in your diet regularly (most notably, mint, licorice root, and ginger) has been shown to have digestive aiding properties. In general, we encourage you to include these foods in your diet regularly for a few months before considering the use of supplements.