Blog > The best foods to eat for maintaining a healthy digestive system

25 January 2018


What could you add or take away from your diet to help your digestive system stay happy and healthy?

According to Dr Anton Emmanual, Consultant Gastroenterologist at University College Hospital in London, 40% of people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time. So, what can we do to aid digestion and keep our stomachs feeling happy and healthy? A good place to start is taking a look at the foods you eat. Some can be more helpful than others.

There's a lot of information out there; "eat a rainbow", "don't drink caffeine after 2 pm", "drink 8 glasses of water a day"-it can be hard to keep up with what's best to prevent a stomach ache and promote good digestive health. With so many diets and recommendations, it can be difficult to know what's best for you.

Of course, some foods affect people in different ways and each of us is different, so it's important to remember that not all the 'rules' apply to everyone in the same way. We've put together a handy list of foods that could help you to keep your tummy feeling in tip-top shape and discovered some interesting food facts along the way.

Fill up on fibre

Fibre not only makes you feel fuller for longer; it can help prevent heart disease and diabetes-but it is possibly better known to aid digestive health. Adults should aim to eat around 30g a day.

Fibre comes from foods that are made from plants. So, meat, fish and dairy products don't contain any fibre. There are two different kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in the water found in your digestive system and insoluble fibre doesn't; it passes through without being broken down.

If you have an illness such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibre could be an important factor in your diet as it can affect your symptoms. Soluble fibre can help reduce cholesterol and soften stools, which can relieve constipation. Insoluble fibre moves food through your digestive system easily because it isn't broken down, but if you are suffering withdiarrhoea it might be best to limit this kind of fibre.

Foods with soluble fibre in them 

  • Oats, barley and rye
  • Root vegetables
  • Fruits 

Foods containing insoluble fibre

  • Cereals
  • Nuts and seeds 

So, when it comes to keeping your digestive health in check, water can really help. Of course, the taste can be a little boring at times, so you could try sparkling water or adding a slice of lemon or lime.

The power of probiotics

You may have heard of these described as 'good' or 'friendly' bacteria, but officially, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can either be in the form of food supplements or added to food like yoghurt.

Although there is little evidence to support the claims, probiotics have been said to restore the natural balance in your body if you've recently had a tummy bug or stomach disorder.
When it comes to aiding your digestive health, probiotics may help reduce bloating and flatulence in IBS sufferers and there's evidence to suggest they also may reduce some of the symptoms of being lactose intolerant (unable to digest lactose-a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products).

Superfoods

To be completely clear, there is no official definition of a "superfood", but the term is often associated with particular foods that claim to be beneficial to our diets for various reasons. This could be physical benefits like a reduced risk of disease and claims have even been made regarding particular foods boosting intelligence. 

Luckily, the EU has banned claims that aren't supported by scientific evidence. And it's important to remember that often the research conducted doesn't deal with the right concentration of the food to be useful to the average person. The NHS use the example of garlic, which contains a nutrient that could potentially reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, but would have to be consumed in unrealistic amounts to have any effect (we doubt anyone fancies 28 cloves a day).

There are 10 popular foods that have been described as "super":

  • Blueberries 
  • Gogi berries
  • Chocolate
  • Oily fish
  • Wheatgrass
  • Pomegranate juice

Fruit and Veg 

Of all the things you can eat to maintain a healthy stomach and keep your digestive health in tip-top shape, plenty of fruit and vegetables is probably the most obvious, or the one you are likely to hear most about in terms of benefits. The rule of eating at least 5 portions a day is covered in the Eatwell Guide 5 and fruit and veg contain vitamins and minerals that can ensure your body has a healthy balanced amount needed to function properly.

Fruit and veg are usually low in fat and calories, although some contain higher amounts of natural sugars than others, and the best part is that there is a huge variety, so you are sure to find some that you like to include with your meals. What's more, they can be dried, frozen, canned or fresh and they will still count towards your 5 a day.

Here are some of the more common fruits and vegetables and the benefits they can bring to a balanced diet:

  • Broccoli - Packed with vitamin  Bl,  magnesium, protein, zinc, calcium, and iron. Broccoli is linked to improving the body's ability to impede the growth of cancer cells. This is backed by Alison Hornby, a dietician for the British Dental Association who says: ""Broccoli may not live up to the hype, but nevertheless it contains many nutrients, such as folate, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamins C and A, and calcium, which are needed for numerous functions in the body...  An 80g serving will count towards your 5 A Day.
  • Apples - With a low-calorie count (around 95) and 4g of soluble fibre per apple, they also are a good source of immune system boosting  vitamin C.
  • Carrots -Although the myth that carrots help you see in the dark is somewhat questionable, they do contain beta­ carotene, which is what makes them appear orange, and this is turned into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps your body's immune system fight illness and infection and it does, in fact, help vision in dim light. It's also good for your skin.
  • Bananas - Bananas contain potassium which helps control the balance of fluids in your body. They also keep the heart muscle healthy as potassium helps generate an electrical charge which keeps your heart rate steady. "It is crucial for survival and can be found within every single cell of the body," says Catherine Collins, a dietitian at St George's Hospital in London.

Balance is key

Ultimately, a balanced diet that includes fruit, vegetables, dairy, protein, and carbs is the one that is more likely to help your body stay healthy and promote good digestive health. But we all know that it can be difficult to achieve. However, being aware of what foods can do for your body is half the battle and that way, you can increase your intake of particular foods that you like the taste of, that contain the same things as the ones you're less keen on! (e.g. Brussel sprouts for broccoli).

Keeping track of your tummy and how your body is processing the food you eat is important to your overall well-being and your body needs to digest foods to create energy and ensure cells can repair themselves. Hopefully, this guide will help you begin to navigate the wealth of information on diet and food. Just in case you're curious, we've listed our sources below, so you can find out even more.

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The information in this article is intended as advice only and should never be substituted for the advice of a medical professional. Always seek guidance from your GP if you are concerned about your health.

The Eatwell Guide is a good resource for more information on achieving a balanced diet. You can download it here.

Sources

  1.         https://www.nhs.uk/Livewel1/digestive-heaIth/Pages/gut-heaIth.aspx
  2.         https://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/ll4l.aspx7categoryid=51
  3.         https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/water-drinks.aspx
  4.         http://www.heaIth.com/heaIth/gallery/0..20918991.00.htmI#probiotic-foods--0
  5.         https://www.nhs.uk/Livewel1/Goodfood/Pages/the-eatwel1-guide.aspx
  6.         https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/superfoods/Pages/is-broccoli-a-superfood.aspx
  7.         https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-apples
  8.         https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-A.aspx
  9.         http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34225517

















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