Opinion

Get on the right 'tract' with a healthy gut

Do you have digestive or bowel problems, such as bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation? Are you aware that certain types of bacteria can be very important for gut health?

There are foods in a well-balanced, varied diet that can help support favourable digestion. The health of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) can be a main factor in affecting illness and long-term diseases. Conditions such as intestinal bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, and colon cancer can be linked to environmental factors, such as diet (over the long term) and lifestyle.

Recently, research is showing just how important certain foods can be to support the good bacteria in the digestive system. Probiotics come from fermented items and foods that have live culture, such as yogurt, kefir and tempeh.

The word ‘probiotics’ literally means to promote life and refers to a substance that stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the gastro-intestinal flora). Studies indicate that probiotics may be helpful for various indications, including for people experiencing diarrhea related to antibiotic use, and other causes.

Also, keeping the right balance of good versus bad bacteria in the GI tract, in general, can help prevent other bowel issues, such as bloating, gas, indigestion, diarrhea and constipation.

In addition, plant-based foods containing fibre are critical for optimal, long-term digestive health. These foods have been referred to as ‘prebiotics’, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for the live probiotics to thrive on in the GI tract.

Many prebiotics are found in fibre-rich foods, such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, whole wheat and fruit. This is an important health reason to ensure good variety in your daily meals. Unnecessarily restricting whole grains and other fibrous, carbohydrate-rich foods may not be good for your long-term digestive well being.

By pairing prebiotics and probiotics together in meals, a beneficial environment can be created for the good bacteria to thrive. For example, eating a banana with yogurt offers a ‘prebiotic’ meal for the live culture of the ‘probiotic’. This supports good digestive health.

Other prebiotic foods include; artichoke, asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, onion, tomatoes, barley, rye, whole grains, chicory root, and dandelion root. Prebiotics (often labelled inulin or FOS) are sometimes added to foods, such as bread, breakfast cereal, sauces, soups, and snack bars. In Canada, prebiotics may be found in supplemental form in pills, powders or beverages. The evidence suggests prebiotics found naturally in whole foods, such as bananas, whole grains, onions, etc. are safe for consumption.

The jury is still out regarding supplemental forms of prebiotics and if they are beneficial and effective for long-term health.

Drinking adequate fluids, and choosing  water as the main liquid will help your body digest, process and break down the whole foods optimally. Also, moving daily with walking, or other forms of physical activity will help with digestion, plus overall health and wellness.

Check out local fitness facilities to determine what program may suit your interests, skill level and schedule. Parks and Recreation facilities can be an excellent resource for a variety of activities to suit the whole family.

Maintaining bowel health by eating a wide variety of whole foods, daily exercise and water can help with long-term health and prevention of bowel diseases.

 

Sandra Gentleman is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.

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