Our digestive tract is highly sensitive to what we eat and certain things can really improve or worsen its function. Its connection with the brain also means that it has a significant impact on our mood so having a healthy digestive tract can leave your gut and your mind feeling good. We also have billions of different bacteria living in our gut that help us digest food and absorb nutrients and they can become imbalanced easily which has been associated with many health conditions. You would be right in thinking that it is quite a complex system! While there are many things that are important for digestive health such as stress levels, exercise and a balanced diet there are a few things that can be particularly important. So let's talk about 5 nutrients for a healthy, happy digestive tract.
This is one that I think most people have heard of, and for good reason, fibre is amazing for digestion! Fibre is certain types of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by our bodies and so passes through us. Some ends up as fuel for our gut bacteria but some also passes through untouched. It is vital for digestion because it attracts water to our stools which reduces constipation and helps things move along. It is also great for the health of our digestive tract in general and most of us aren't eating enough. Some of the best sources of fibre are legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), wholegrains (brown rice, brown pasta, brown bread, barley, quinoa), oatmeal, seeds, berries, broccoli and apples. Don't be afraid of eating bread, starting your day with two slices of wholemeal toast is an amazing way to get some fibre in!
Our digestive tract is filled with living bacteria that do so many wonderful things for us. Changes in our diet, stress, medications and more can all affect our bacteria and change the ratio of species present or wipe them out. Probiotics are one way to support your digestive health by introducing more healthy bacteria to your system. They are also particularly important if you have taken antibiotics recently as they will have killed your good bacteria too. There are a few foods we can eat that have live bacteria in them, these include live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, probiotic drinks (yakult, benecol) and any fermented food. As these are foods that many people don't eat regularly, a supplement can be beneficial. Look for one that has multiple species and a high number of bacteria.
As well as keeping our digestive tract stocked with good bacteria, there are things we can do to keep them healthy, happy and performing all the functions we need them for. Prebiotics are undigestible fibre that act as food for the bacteria and help them grow and thrive. As we cannot digest this fibre, it arrives in our large intestine where the bacteria then ferment it. You can find probiotics in onions, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, asparagus, cabbage, green bananas, radicchio and whole grains. One thing to note is that most of the prebiotic benefits are higher in the raw versions of these foods as cooking tends to remove some of the prebiotic fibre.
Omega-3s have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation in our gut. Many digestive symptoms - stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and malabsorption are related to inflammation of the lining of our gut. Omega-3s reduce inflammation and also are vital for healthy cell membranes so it makes sense that they are great for our digestive tract. The best source of omega-3s is seafood, as it contains the most beneficial types of omega-3s (EPA and DHA). However things such as seeds, nuts, soybeans, flaxseed oil and rapeseed oil provide a different kind of omega-3s that are still great for us and can be partially converted to EPA and DHA.
5. B vitamins
Our B vitamins have some important functions in the digestion and breakdown of food in addition to many other metabolic processes. For digestion, they are essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates and also for the breakdown of fats and protein. Vitamins B1, B2 and B3 are particularly important and can be obtained from a range of foods. Meat, fish, dairy and eggs are all full of B vitamins and many leafy vegetables and legumes are also good sources.
1. Exercise regularly and things will flow regularly!
2. Find some ways to de-stress, your tummy will thank you.
3. Chew your food properly, we can't expect our stomach to do all of the work!