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Achieving Optimal Digestive Health

Did you know that both the cause of digestive disorders and their cure lie in the foods you eat? Does “you are what you eat” ring a bell?

Everyone would have at least one digestive complaint at any one time, such as constipation or diarrhoea, heartburn, indigestion, abdominal pain and bloating. These are so common that we often take them for granted but it is usually treatable with lifestyle measures.

Making changes in lifestyle can help or prevent these problem, rather than pharmacy remedies that only mask the problem for a while. These problems can sometimes persist and become a dangerous illness, although sometimes it is harmless and often settle down on its own.

Word of advice, do not underestimate how serious a condition is and please consult a physician if it persists for more than two weeks, especially without improvement after taking a pharmacy remedy.

Cut down on fat

Fatty foods, such as fries, burgers, fried foods, and even butter and cream are harder to digest and may overwhelm the stomach, causing pain and heartburn. High-fat food also can result in pale-coloured stool, a phenomenon called steatorrhea.

Cutting down on greasy fried foods eases your stomach’s workload. Try to eat more lean meat and fish, drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and grill rather than fry foods.

Go easy on the chili peppers and spices

This staple of spicy cuisine can irritate the oesophagus and lead to heartburn pain. Many people love spicy food and it does not bother their digestive system. Others find their tummy is upset when they have spicy food. Milder but flavourful foods like garlic and onion can also bring on heartburn.

If spicy foods give you heartburn, stomach pain or diarrhoea, cutting down will be best for you, but do avoid them completely if you already have a problem like heartburn or an irritable bowel.

Beware of lactose

Lactose intolerance, a common problem, occurs when people do not make enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk. If you cannot digest lactose, you will develop wind and diarrhoea after drinking milk or eating dairy products, including cream, cheese, yoghurt and chocolate. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and chemotherapy can damage the intestines, which also can lead to lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, staying away from dairy is probably your best bet.

Be gentle on alcohol, coffee, tea, and soft drinks

Alcohol relaxes the body, but, unfortunately, it also relaxes the oesophageal sphincter. This can lead to acid reflux or heartburn. Drinking also lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, impairment of certain enzymes and preventing nutrients from being absorbed. Too much alcohol may cause diarrhoea and cramping. Guidelines suggest no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. However, if you binge drinking, which is drinking eight or more units of alcohol in one session for men, and drinking more than six units in one session for women, it may aggravate other digestive disorder and worsen heartburn.

Drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and carbonated beverages not only over-relax the oesophageal sphincter, which keeps stomach acid confined to the stomach, but they also can act as diuretics, which can lead to diarrhoea and cramping. They also boost acid in the stomach, leading to heartburn, whereas carbonated drinks in general tend to bloat the tummy, causing heartburn.

To make digestive problems less likely, choose drinks that are not fizzy and do not contain caffeine, such as herbal teas, milk and plain water. If coffee is a must have for you to keep going, limit your intake to one or two cups a day.

Some medicines can upset your tummy

Certain medicines that are prescribed for your other health conditions may lead to side effects that is upsetting your stomach and cause indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation. Always inform your doctor if your prescribed medicines are causing you gut problem.

NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided if you have an ulcer or you get indigestion. Certain tranquillisers, painkillers, iron tablets and cough medicines can cause constipation and some people get diarrhoea while taking antibiotics or blood pressure pills.

Stop smoking

Smoking can cause reflux as it weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the oesophagus and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up the oesophagus.

Reflux causes the symptoms of a burning sensation in the chest, known as heartburn and can bring on or aggravate peptic ulcers and inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Smoking is also associated with stomach cancer.

Beat stress to ease tummy troubles

Have you noticed a feeling of unease in your stomach during times of stress? That is because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance of digestion. In some people it slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo. Some people lose their appetite completely. Stress can also worsen digestive conditions like peptic ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.

Avoid eating when you are feeling very anxious, stressed or unhappy. Arguing or getting angry at the dinner table can put you off your food or make eating harder. Therefore, try to be mindful when eating and keep mealtimes happy and relaxed.

Lose excess weight to beat heartburn

It is very common for those who are overweight to experience heartburn and other acid-related stomach complaints. Shedding some pounds may relieve these digestive symptoms because you are relieving the pressure on your stomach which is caused by your tummy fat. Exercise and eat healthy is the key.

Choose good carbs

Carbohydrates are somehow difficult for people with digestive problems to break down. Because of this, some undigested carbohydrates end up feeding harmful bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria damage the intestinal wall and further impair digestion. You should decrease the total amount of carbohydrates you eat if you do have these problem and be selective about the quality of the carbohydrates you eat. Avoid white starch such as white rice, white flour and white sugar in total.

Maintain healthy gut with probiotic and prebiotic

Probiotics are so-called “friendly bacteria” that also occur naturally in the gut and have been linked to all sorts of digestive health benefits, including helping irritable bowel syndrome and traveller’s diarrhoea. It is best to replenish after a course of antibiotic too, as antibiotic may have destroyed some good bacteria while combating bad bacteria during your illness.

Yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut have bacteria, the good ones which replenishes the normal flora within the gastrointestinal tract to help you digest food and keeping the gut healthy. You can also take probiotics as supplements obtain from health stores. Choose the ones that packed with enzyme to enhance gut health. Since these are live bacteria, try not to add heat to them, otherwise they will be “dead”.

Kimchi is a Korean favourite usually made with cabbage, radish, or onion, along with lots of spices. The main ingredient is usually cabbage, a type of fibre that is not digested, so it helps eliminate waste, keeping bowel movements regular. Sauerkraut is good for the same reasons.

However, kimchi can be spicy, so it might not be a good option if spicy foods trigger digestive problems for you.

Prebiotics are food for your good bacteria and they are non-digestible fibre compound. Basically, probiotics eat prebiotics. The more prebiotics that probiotics have to eat, the more efficiently these live bacteria work and the healthier your gut will be.

Opt for lean meat and fish

Your body can handle lean meats and fish and chicken a whole lot better than red meats as they will go down a lot easier because red meats tends to be fattier. Besides that, lean meats and fish have not been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer like high-fat red meats have.

Fill up on fibre

Whole grains, such as wholemeal bread, oats, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, and even fruits and vegetables are a good source of fibre or “roughage”, which helps digestion and prevent constipation. We need 20 to 30 grams a day.

Fibre can help you feel full and lower cholesterol, but it can cause bloating, gas, and other problems in people who quickly ramp up their intake, therefore, take it slow and chew properly when consuming more. Avoid wheat grains for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

It is important to get fibre from a variety of sources, as eating too much of one type of food may not provide you with a healthy balanced diet. There is strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Choosing foods with fibre also makes us feel fuller, so snack on fruits, vegetables, unsalted, non-roasted, non-sugar coating nuts and seeds. Go for tapioca, sweet potato and yamor potatoes with their skins on. Adding pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads can also increase your daily fibre intake.

Drink plenty of fluids to aid digestion

It is important to keep drinking, especially water. It encourages the passage of waste through your digestive system and helps soften stools. Fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing water. Without fluid, the fibre cannot do its job and you may experience constipation.Try to have at least one and a half litres of liquid a day.

Have some ginger

This spice has been used for thousands of years to relieve nausea, vomiting, gas, loss of appetite, and colic. High doses of ginger can backfire, so it is best to consume it in moderation. More than 2 to 4 grams per day can cause heartburn.

Eat properly to help your digestion

In this modernised era, it is very easy to be eating on the move or at our desk, gulping down food between meetings and then crashing out in front of the television or laptop watching movies with a takeaway dinner. Eating this way can cause havoc in our digestive system.

  • Take the time to eat slowly, do not rush your meal. Chew each mouthful well and stop in between.
  • Reduce the size of your portions at mealtimes, or try eating smaller but frequent meals instead of large ones. The key is to not overeat.
  • Eat regularly and try not to skip meals. Always bring along a healthy snack such as an apple or a banana in-case you are caught up at lunch time.
  • Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before lying down. Try not to eat a big meal just before you go to bed. It will end up fermented in the stomach until the next morning leading to foul breath and indigestion.
  • For those who love eating or do eat a lot, it is best to get some digestive enzymes to enhance your digestion. From time to time, it is best to deworm or undergo a colon cleansing to avoid toxins overload in the colon.
  • One way to figure out which foods cause your symptoms is to keep a food diary and consult a physician for proper evaluation on your condition if it prolong.

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