Do you suffer from excessive gas, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation? If you think you have “just” a digestive problem you might want to think again.
The health of your digestion determines which nutrients are absorbed and which toxins, allergens, and microbes are expelled. As a result, your digestion is central to your overall health and it is connected to everything that happens in your body.
Keeping your digestive system healthy is critical because ultimately you are not what you eat but what you absorb!
Here are a five simple ways to tune up your digestion:
1. Eat more gentle fibre
It's common for many people to reach for bran and wheat when things get sluggish on the inside. Wheat bran is the opposite of gentle fibre. It is often processed (think crunchy (i.e. sugary) Bran Flakes and All Bran). It is a common food allergen and may promote bloating, sluggishness and indigestion, making it the worst choice for someone with constipation or other digestion problems.
Switch to a gentle source of fibre such as pysllium husks and/or ground flaxseeds. Eat them daily for best results, starting slowly. Make sure you drink a minimum of 1-1.5 litres of water each day.
Leave the sugary, processed ‘breakfast cereals’ where they belong: ON THE SHELVES (or give them away if you've already bought them). This one simple swap could keep things moving more regularly for you!
2. Eat more vegetables
Eating fibrous plant foods is a very important step in supporting your gut bacteria and digestion. The diversity and number of vegetables you eat will be reflected in the diversity and number of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut; the more the better. Aim for two to three servings of fruit, and six to eight vegetables daily. Eat the rainbow!
3. Make friends with fermented foods
Fermented foods provide a great natural source of probiotics and prebiotics (see below). Probiotics support the balance of good bacteria (flora) in your gut. Try water kefir or milk kefir, a tangy, slightly fizzy drink that’s packed with healthy bugs. I’m hoping to post a video soon on how to make your own. It’s a really easy and cheap source of probiotics.
Other probiotic powerhouses include naturally fermented sauerkraut and kimchi; they contain both live bacteria and prebiotics that nourish your gut bacteria and support gut healing. The best way is to make your own but if you decide to buy sauerkraut make sure it is raw. The stuff in the supermarket won't do because it is pasteurised. Look for products that say “live and active cultures” on the label.
Organic tofu and tempeh are also good choices. They are made from fermented soya beans.
4. Include prebiotic foods
Prebiotics are a type of soluble fibre found in certain plant foods that act as “food” for probiotics. They are like fertilizer helping probiotics grow and flourish in your gut. Prebiotic-containing foods include Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, and shallots. Eat some type of prebiotic food every day.
5. Eat bitter foods
Bitter foods such as watercress, rocket and apple cider vinegar stimulate digestive enzyme production and aid digestion. Stomach acidity shortfalls, and enzyme deficiency could be a root cause of digestive disturbance and is easily supported through supplementation and dietary improvements. Sometimes this is all it takes to see improvements in digestion.
Still having problems with your digestion?
If you have already tried these steps and you are still experiencing an irritable digestive system, contact me for a personalised plan. You have many options for supporting digestion so don't give up! Contact me here
If you suffer from diarrhoea read my blog post natural way to support diarrhoea >>
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Loose stools (AKA diarrhoea)! Not the most glamorous of topics but something most of us experience at some point or other. Most people recover with no ill effects within a few days. But how can you minimise the misery?
What causes diarrhoea to occur?
Diarrhoea may be caused by bacterial, viral, yeast or protozoon infections, irritable bowel syndrome, overuse of laxatives, anxiety, antibiotics or inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
What is diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea is a loose consistency stool plus increased frequency of bowel motions. It occurs when the bowel secretes increased amounts of fluid and the speed at which contents pass through the intestines increases. The problem is usually intermittent and associated with other classic symptoms such as distention, bloating, and excess wind.
Five natural ways to support diarrhoea and digestive complaints
Replace lost fluids and minerals with water and an electrolyte solution.The focus should be on water, or herbal teas if you can stomach them. Avoid fruit juices and prunes, milk and dairy products as sometimes temporary lactose intolerance (to milk sugar) can occur.
Diarrhoea causes large amounts of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium as well as water to be washed out through the bowels, causing dehydration and low blood pressure.
Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes including sodium and potassium. Coconut water is the liquid in the cavity of the coconut when you crack it open. Luckily for us, brands such as Vita Coco and Biona do this for us, (Cocoface even allows you to drink straight from the nut itself) so you don’t have to be lounging by a beach somewhere exotic to enjoy the health benefits. A trip to your local health food store will suffice.
Over the counter electrolyte mixes (example Dioralyte) contain saccharin – a synthetic chemical sweetener, so look for one without.
2. Avoid caffeine
When you have gastric irritation it's best to eliminate caffeine (tea and coffee) as it is highly acidic and will irritate your stomach. Switch to herbal teas or water.
Mint contains an essential oil that has antiseptic and painkilling properties. It aids digestion by increasing gastric emptying stimulating secretion of digestive juices and bile and also relaxes excessive spasm of the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract.
Drink mint tea to relieve indigestion, intestinal cramps and spasms, flatulence and mild IBS and to aid rehydration.
3. Slippery Elm
Slippery Elm, the inner bark of the slippery elm tree, holds amazing soothing properties, thanks to its ability to form a ‘slippery’ lining of the gut.
Slippery elm forms a gummy, mucilage substance when it comes in contact with water and coats and soothes the stomach and intestines, reducing inflammation and irritation, when taken internally, either as a drink or in capsule form.
This curious brown powder is soothing to stomach ulcers, gastritis, acid reflux, heartburn, diarrhoea, IBS or any inflammation of the bowel.
4. Saccharomyces Boulardii
Saccharomyces Boulardii (S. Boulardii) is a natural yeast, extracted from the lychee fruit. S. Boulardii has undergone years of clinical research, demonstrating its ability to bind to and flush out pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella; thereby naturally supporting your gut health in the case of diarrhoea.
S. Boulardii has also been shown to have considerable anti-inflammatory properties, helping to maintain gut health in those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Due to its immense popularity among scientific communities, it is in fact registered as a medicine in over 100 countries. A supplement cupboard essential for episodes of embarrassing tummy troubles. Studies show Saccharomyces Boulardii may shorten the duration of diarrhoea. Read more about Saccharomyces Boulardii here
5. Probiotic supplements
Probiotic supplements containing healthy, digestive bacteria (e.g. Lactobacilli Acidophilus and bifidobacteria) help to keep the digestive system in balance and keep harmful bacteria at bay through a number of mechanisms, including the production of natural antibiotics (bacteriocins). Look for products containing a million to billions of bacteria per capsule (popular, big brand 'yoghurt drinks' do not qualify).
If you need digestive support please contact me for personalised advice.
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It is always recommended to consult with your GP if you experience ill health and before supplementation in case of drug/nutrient interaction.
OK, I admit it.. I’m rather obsessed with coconut oil. I’m constantly coming up with a new use for it. At the moment I use it for just about everything, cooking: stir-fries for added flavour, baking, blended into smoothies or porridge for creaminess and it’s great for gluing together my home-made granola. Sometimes I just spread it on an oatcake straight from the jar. The amazing properties of coconut oil know no bounds.
I’m also massive on natural skincare and I use it daily as a facial cleanser, body lotion, after sun (when I’m lucky enough to see any) and it makes a brilliant hair mask especially with a few drops of essential oil thrown in. It’s great stuff! All thanks to its rich antioxidant and fatty acid content, which penetrate deep into the underlying tissues.
The beauty benefits of coconut oil are a post in itself so for today I’m going to focus on how I use it in my kitchen and more importantly, why.
Isn't coconut oil fattening?
I know that some people are reluctant to eat coconut oil because of its high fat content, but in fact, the opposite is true. It turns out that not all saturated fats are created equal. Each saturated fat has its own structure, and their individual make-up influence the way they operate in your body.
Coconut oil contains MCTs (medium chain triglycerides). This type of saturated fat readily converts to energy in contrast to the fat found in animal products such as cheese and red meat and vegetable oils (long chain triglycerides/LCT). MCTs can actually increase the amount of energy that your body burns and boosts your metabolism making it ideal if you're watching your weight.
Our relationship with fat is an unhealthy one. We need good fat because it makes healthy brain cells and hormones and carries fat soluble vitamins (e.g. A, D, E, K) around the body. So without these essential fats we deprive our body of essential nutrients.
Studies have also shown that the consumption of coconut oil is actually linked to a reduction in obesity and offers protection against insulin resistance, reducing risk of type 2 diabetes – so please, don’t fear the fat! You’ll also find that healthy fats are way more satisfying than sugary (diet) snacks, so if you are craving something sweet or feeling tired try adding some healthy fats to your snacks – I love a smoothie with a little added coconut oil.
Coconut oil and sports nutrition
Coconut oil is increasingly being used in sports nutrition. MCT fats are metabolised more like carbohydrates than fats, and quickly used for energy. This is why coconut oil is such a big hit with sporting stars (and weekend warriors like myself). The MCTs don’t end up being stored as fat or adipose tissue as much and they offer a longer release of energy and decrease the amount of muscle broken down. MCTs increase the amount of energy your body burns and boosts your metabolism.
The MCT fat in coconut oil can be taken up from the digestive tract and into the blood without much metabolic work of any kind making it a great choice for people with digestive or absorptive problems including candida, parasites or bacterial imbalance in the gut.
Immune boosting coconut oil
Coconut oil also has fabulous immune-boosting compounds like lauric and caprylic acid. The predominant MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is responsible for coconut oil’s antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. These same MCTs are found in breast milk to give baby the best start in life. Pretty impressive, eh?
Cooking with coconut oil
Thanks to its high smoke point, coconut oil is a great option for cooking and baking. This means that it is really stable when cooking at high temperatures (roasting, stir frying, for example). This prevents oxidation and the creation of damaging free radicals (those things that contribute to inflammation and ageing!)
Where will I buy coconut oil?
Coconut oil is pretty easy to find in your local health food store. There are a few things that you should watch out for when buying your coconut oil however. It really needs to be cold pressed, unrefined ‘virgin’ oil in order to get all these amazing health benefits – I should add there is quite a price difference. Expect to pay between £12 and £17, but each jar lasts a few months and trust me it’s really worth every penny! The type you don’t want will cost about a fiver. Some of my favourite brands in the UK and Ireland are Viridian, Biona, and Optima.
Deliciously potent, multi-purpose stuff for use in your kitchen and your bathroom!
Have you tried it for yourself yet?
Before I started eating real foods, things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir were definitely not on my radar. I preferred my bland carbohydrates thanks very much! Fast forward a couple years and as I studied more about their health benefits, I was eventually brave enough to try them out.
Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, like sauerkraut in Germany, kimchi in Korea and kefir in Turkey. The average UK diet is definitely lacking in fermented food – unless you count cheap beer, of course. Even when we do eat foods that are traditionally fermented, like sauerkraut they’re often mass produced, processed versions from the supermarkets and preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional (and naturally occurring) fermentation juices.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, produces B vitamins, beneficial digestive enzymes and various strains of probiotics to support digestion and immune health. The lactic acid does the same in a jar of sauerkraut as it does in your large intestine - it keeps the bad yeast and parasites at bay while providing the right environment for healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus to thrive. Lactic acid is why real sauerkraut is sour - it is not because of vinegar.
Why eat fermented foods?
How to incorporate fermented foods into your diet
Most sauerkraut on the market is pasteurised (contains no bacteria or enzymes) - If it doesn't say unpasteurised, it's not the real thing. Ask for unpasteurised sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of your health food store. The key to using unpasteurised sauerkraut for digestive health is to take small amounts on a regular basis. Eat it raw with meals to get the benefits of the digestive enzymes. Start with a forkful or two depending on the health of your digestion. At most, consume 5-6 forkfuls at a time with 2-3 of your daily meals.
Kefir can be drank as a drink or used the same way as you would use plain yoghurt – over fruit, with your breakfast muesli, as a snack with nuts and seeds. Look for an organic version in your local health food store.
What’s the difference between kefir and plain yoghurt?
Like yoghurt, kefir contains beneficial bacteria but unlike yoghurt, which contains transient bacteria (passing through your gut) kefir contains bacteria that will reside in your gut and actually help colonise your intestinal tract. Some of the well-researched strains of bacteria (aka probiotics) are found in kefir such as Lactobacillus Caucasus, Acetobacter species and Streptococcus. Unlike yoghurt, kefir also contains beneficial yeasts such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir which help control and eliminate disruptive pathogenic yeasts from your body. You can drink it or use it as you would use yoghurt. It can also be very useful during acute diarrhoea, traveller’s diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
Studies have shown that kefir intake enhances lactose digestion in people with low intestinal levels of lactase (the enzyme needed to digest lactose).The effect may be explained by the ability of the starter cultures used in the manufacture of kefir with live cultures to produce the enzyme lactase, which digests the lactose.
What’s your verdict? Are you a fan of fermented foods or are you still unsure? If you already eat fermented foods, please share your favourites in the comments below!
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