How to keep your gut healthy

Getting our digestive health right is key to having overall better health

Our digestive system breaks down our food, absorbs nutrients, eliminates toxins and so helps our bodies to function efficiently.

Having a healthy gut means we are better equipped to fend off illnesses and our bodies have the greatest chance of functioning at their best.

In a nutshell, what we choose to eat and drink directly affects our digestive health. Although other lifestyle factors can play their part too – smoking, exercise and even our mental health can have a direct effect on the digestive tract.

Rajkeeran Kundhi, associate registered nutritionist at AXA PPP healthcare tells us that making healthier lifestyle choices is one of the ways we can help ourselves to stay healthy. “Eating a fibre-rich diet is a good place to start as fibre quickly moves through the gut helping to prevent constipation. The bowel is less likely to be exposed to toxic chemicals and therefore less likely to develop bowel cancer the faster our waste food passes through.”

Foods with good sources of fibre are fruit, vegetables and wholegrains including brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat breakfast cereals, oats and barley. These wholefoods are also packed with vitamins and minerals along with anti-oxidants which can help to protect us against cell damage.

Rajkeeran tells us “the more colourful the plant foods you eat the more important antioxidants will be included in your diet.”

Essential antioxidant vitamins we should aim to eat are: 

Carotenoidstomatoes, carrots, red peppers, pumpkins, spinach, broccoli, kale, watermelon, mangoes and corn

Flavonoidsblueberries, raspberries, blackberries, onions and beans

Seleniumwhole wheat, eggs, fish and Brazil nuts

Folate wholegrains, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils and nuts

Vitamin Ccitrus fruits, red and green peppers, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kiwi fruit, strawberries, tomatoes and sweet potatoes

Vitamin E wholegrains, nuts, seeds, wheatgerm and avocados

How important is water?

Our bodies need around 2 litres or 6 to 8 glasses of water a day and this isn’t only to stay hydrated.  Water is essential for digestion and to eliminate waste products from our bodies.

“So along with keeping us hydrated, water helps us with regular bowel movements, can reduce indigestion, bloating, headaches and may aid concentration.”  It is important to try and drink little and often throughout the day,” advises Rajkeeran.

Find out here if you are drinking enough 

More rice

Rice is one of the non-gluten grains and therefore more easily digested and gentler on the gut.  In particular, Basmati rice is digested and absorbed slowly.  Rice has been used for centuries in natural medicine to treat digestive disorders; it may even relieve mild cases of constipation and diarrhoea.

What about ginger?

Historically ginger root has been used to help eliminate gas and so soothe stomach pains, it can also reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting.  Gingerols are compounds found in ginger that have anti-inflammatory properties and so may help reduce arthritic pain.

A good drink to try is hot water and fresh ginger – great for the gut and lovely and warming too!

Eat more pears

Pears are tolerated by almost everyone as they are very gentle on the gut.  They are a good source of antioxidants (soluble fibre pectin and bioflavonoids) and may protect against a range of diseases.  Pears are also a source of vitamin C and potassium and so may help to regulate blood pressure too. 

Find out how to eat the right kind of food and create a nutritious salad

How can probiotics help?

So-called ‘friendly bacteria’ or probiotics, help keep the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut.  This balance can be upset by such things as excess alcohol, drugs, stress and disease and can lead to an increase in harmful bacteria which can cause us to become ill.

Probiotics may be recommended if you are suffering from diarrhoea, IBS or perhaps after a course of antibiotics that has given rise to constipation.

Plain live yoghurt is an excellent dietary source of probiotics and Rajkeeran suggests including it wherever we can into our diet.  “Just adding it to fruit or cereals or swapping it for coconut milk in curry is an easy way of eating it.”

Other good dietary sources of probiotics are fermented foods such as tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics can help by increasing the growth of friendly bacteria in our gut which improves gut health by aiding digestion and boosting our body’s immune system.  Prebiotics may also help with the effects of food intolerance and even reduce the symptoms of food poisoning.

Prebiotics include compounds that are naturally found in complex carbohydrates and plants such as onions, leeks, garlic, wheat, chicory root and artichokes.  A prebiotic called inulin has begun to be added to some brands of breads and cereals.

Teas may help

Teas have long been thought to help with the health of our gut:

  • Peppermint tea – may help with digestion and prevent bloating and heartburn
  • Ginger tea – may help to prevent nausea and upset stomachs
  • Fennel or chamomile tea – have a calming influence and so may help with IBS symptoms

 A healthy diet is key

“It is so important to have a healthy gut and having a healthy diet is the key.  If we get our diet right, exercise regularly, quit smoking and limit our alcohol intake then we are in the position to best equip our bodies to fight illness and function well,” says Rajkeeran.

Read more on how to make exercise fit into your lifestyle and find out why walking is the most underrated form of exercise.

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Have you got a health question?

We've teamed up with AXA PPP healthcare to bring you articles, information and tips from their clinical teams on a wide range of health topics. And if you have a health related question of your own - about your or your family's health, medication or upcoming procedures, for example - you can also access their, "Ask the Expert" service. Available around the clock, 365 days a year this free resource allows you to ask the team of friendly and experienced nurses, midwives and pharmacists about any health concerns you may have - whenever you need them, 24 hours a day, every day. Please get in touch now.

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The more you know about your body and how you can look after it, the healthier you are – and the stronger and bolder you become. That’s why we never stop looking for ways to support your health. We want to give you the tools and knowledge you need to take care of yourself – so you’re ready to face whatever the world brings.

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