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A happy tum

31 January 2022
Graphic image of a lady placing her hands over her stomach

Follow these digestive tips, from naturopath Deanna Copland, to look and feel confident.

The digestive system (AKA your gut) is nine metres long and home to bacteria that help to break down food. Different sections also deal with the absorption of nutrients and excretion of waste. Gut health can have a big impact on the rest of your body – and even your mood.

Many people experience problems with bloating, irregularity of bowel motions and stomach discomfort – all tell-tale signs of poor digestive health. Simple changes can improve how we feel and function.

What to consume

Digestive juices and enzymes enable our food to break down and are naturally produced by the aroma of food and the act of chewing. Lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (ACV) also prompt the secretion of digestive juices. Start each day with a tall glass of warm water and the juice of half a fresh lemon squeezed in, or two tablespoons of raw ACV added. When choosing ACV, opt for an organic, raw and unpasteurised one that has the murky bits in the bottom; this is the ‘mother’ and is a sign of quality.

Ensure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Add fresh mint leaves or lemon slices, if desired. Sip frequently across the day, but try to avoid drinking with meals as this can dilute the acid and enzymes needed for digestion. Stomach acid ideally sits at a pH of 2 and water is around 7.

Have fresh fruit rather than dried, and enjoy it on its own as a snack between meals. It is thought that fruit ferments in our gut, particularly when consumed with fats or proteins, so this is lessened when eaten alone. Having one to two pieces of fresh fruit per day is ideal.

Fennel seeds, fresh ginger and cinnamon have digestive properties so try adding these to food. Fennel is nice as a rub on fish and chicken, or in oil-based dressings. Cinnamon is great in smoothies.

Fermented foods are a beneficial addition to your diet. Many cultures have used fermentation to preserve their food when it’s in seasonal abundance. Lacto-fermentation uses salt, and sometimes whey, to encourage the ‘good’ bacteria (Lactobacillus) in vegetables to flourish, producing lactic acid that staves off ‘bad’ bacteria. There is a huge amount of research that shows the benefits of having healthy bacteria living in our intestines. Research has found that gut bacteria actually secrete specific proteins that are similar to hunger-regulating hormones, affecting both our food cravings and mood. A healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut also improves digestion and encourages regular bowel motions.

Try these fermented foods:

  • Yoghurt (if you are not lactose-intolerant), sauerkraut, kimchi and miso.
  • Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and offers vitamins A and C as well as K2. With this, you would start with one teaspoon a day on the side of a meal and build it up to have with each main meal, if desired.

If you have a course of antibiotics, it is important to supplement with a probiotic from a pharmacy or health shop for at least 30 days after the course is finished, to recolonise your gut.

apple cider vinegar and fresh apples, flat lay
Apple cider vinegar prompts the secretion of digestive juices. Photo: Getty Images.

Try to avoid

Limit grains. Some people tolerate breads or pastas containing wheat; however, most people find that when they reduce it, their digestion improves – with less bloating, less reflux and more regular bowel motions. You can get plenty of fibre from a varied diet rich in nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables without relying so heavily on these foods.

Limit or avoid fizzy drinks – this includes beer and bubbly, as well as diet fizzy drinks – they cause gas in your stomach, which can lead to bloating (and burping).

Rethink how you eat

Remember to chew. So many of us are in such a hurry with our meals, or we are so excited by the flavour of our food, that we tend to inhale it. Instead, slow down and chew. You can do this by:

  • Eating meals at a table
  • Engaging in conversation around the dinner table
  • Putting your fork down between each mouthful
  • Chewing your food and swallowing it before you put the next mouthful in

Pay attention to whether this improves how your tummy feels after eating.

Lastly, a piece of advice from my beloved late grandad – “Don’t eat so ruddy much!” The stomach is actually a small space, so where possible avoid platters, pre-meal nibbles and buffets. Make sure most of your plate contains plant-based foods, such as leafy greens.

Seek help for intolerances

If you have tried doing these things and are still experiencing digestive issues, you may have food intolerances. In that case, it is best to make an appointment with a nutritionist or naturopath to explore other factors.

woman enjoying vegan meal with friends
Photo: Getty Images.
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