September 20, 2020
How healthy your gut feels has an enormous impact on how you feel. A sluggish or sensitive gut – one that’s not able to digest food properly and move waste through the body – can cause symptoms including bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, wind and stomach cramps. Any patient I’ve helped with gut issues has told me it’s not just the physical discomfort that makes an impact; they experience a huge blow to their confidence and dignity, too. Their lifestyle suffers, too. After all, you’re unlikely to go out to meet friends if you’re worried you’ll spend half the evening in the loo.
Our understanding of the role of the gut in our health and wellbeing is growing every day, as science reveals it’s more than simply a mechanism for digesting food. The body is home to the ‘microbiome’ – trillions of microbes, most of which are found in our gut, where they help us to digest our food, and also work to develop our immunity, defend against disease, synthesise vitamins and fat storage, and even influence our mood and behaviour.
It’s so important to look after our gut health and not feel we have to live with discomfort and pain. And the good news is, there are simple tweaks that can help improve your digestion today.
1 Keep a food and mood diary
Make a record of your food and drink choices for a least two weeks and notice any that trigger uncomfortable digestive symptoms. When you pay attention to what you’re putting into your body, you might find you’re expecting it to cope with a lot of caffeine, convenience foods, alcohol or fats.
If you have a really bloated, overactive gut, it may be a symptom of fat malabsorption – your gut is struggling to cope with the amount of fat in your diet. Too much fat can cause the gut to become inflamed, which can be further aggravated by gallbladder or pancreas issues. The fat is not absorbed and passes through the bowel and creates unpleasant side effects.
2 Monitor your stress levels
When an animal is frightened, it empties its bowels then runs away. This is the body’s way of diverting energy from the digestive process, and channelling it to the muscles to flee a predator. Humans have the same instinct – stress causes the body to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which work to relax ‘smooth muscle’ in the body, including the bowel. If you experience a ‘stressy stomach’ or diarrhoea, finding ways to calm the body’s stress response may help to relieve symptoms. Meditation, deep breathing or gentle exercise can all help to calm the gut, as well as the mind.
3 Establish a regular eating pattern
If your gut is sluggish or overactive, eating a pattern of three nourishing meals a day, plus two snacks, can help to settle your digestive system. Also look at what you’re drinking – you may find you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, but feel dreadful if you have too much caffeine later in the day and do better if you switch to herbal teas. If you’re not a morning person and can’t contemplate eating breakfast, having a Nourish Drink will give you the same nutrients as a regular meal, without making you feel overloaded – you could even add a shot of espresso to a Vanilla Nourish Drink. If you need an energy boost during the day, opt for a Nourish Drink as one of your daily snacks.
Tender vegetable tagine is gentle on the gut
4 Factor in fibre
With an overstimulated gut, too much fibre can make symptoms worse. But you don’t want to miss out on the essential nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables. Cooking fruits and vegetables can make them easier to digest – and there’s also something wonderfully comforting about warm foods for a sensitive tummy. That’s why vegetable soups are another great option – they pack in a huge amount of nourishment in each easy to digest bowful.
5 Add fermented foods
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and even slow-fermented sourdough bread, and drinks such as kombucha and kefir, have been proven to balance and increase the ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut, improving our digestive health, reducing inflammation and potentially preventing serious disease in the future. Try adding fermented foods to some of your meals and seeing if it helps to improve how your gut feels.