Your digestive system is the first contact between the external environment and your internal body. As the saying goes, 'You are what you eat', the importance of the health of your digestive system cannot be undermined. Here are 6 tips on how you can improve on your digestive health!
Dietary fiber is also known as bulk or roughage. They are a type of carbohydrate our body cannot digest. It may be commonly found in cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Intake of dietary fiber has its benefits, such as improving digestion and regulating the bowels to manage constipation. It also facilitates the fermentation of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to help increase muscle contraction of the large intestine. These SCFAs are produced as by-products when the bacteria in the gut (known as the gut microbiota) metabolize these dietary fiber in the large intestines.
According to the National Academy of Medicine, the recommended intake of dietary fiber for men is 30-38 grams per day and 21-25 grams daily for women. The recommended daily intake for children is 19-25 grams daily .
Figure 1. Fruits and vegetables
Processed food contains trans-fat that may be associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis . It also contains high quantity of salt and low fiber content. Salt has also been known to have dehydrating effects that results in constipation . You should opt for fresh fruits and vegetables with enough dietary fiber or poultry instead of processed meat.
Probiotic foods are fermented food containing good bacteria naturally found in the intestine . These bacteria improve intestinal health by helping food digestion and influencing your immune system. Examples of probiotic food include yogurt, cottage cheese, apple cider, and buttermilk. Probiotics are also available in supplements, functioning similarly to fermented food. The American Association of Family Physician (AAFP) recommends a daily intake of 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) .
Figure 2. Dairy products (including yogurt and cheese)
It is important to feed both the good bacteria from probiotics as well as those innately present in your digestive system. Prebiotics are used by these good bacteria to manage their activities and compositions. Prebiotics remain indigestible by your body but are digested by probiotics. Simply put, they are food for probiotics. In addition, prebiotics may provide health benefits of their own when taken in adequate amounts.
Prebiotics are present in high fiber food such as chicory root, garlic, onions, wheat bran, and barley, etc. They can also be taken in the form of dietary supplements. Some of the most commonly studied prebiotics include inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) recommends a daily intake of 5 grams of FOS and GOS, including from dietary sources .
Figure 3. Foods rich in prebiotics
Not only does exercising regularly help you stay in shape and keep you active, it also has benefits related to your digestive health. A study has shown that spending 40 minutes, three times a week on moderate exercise, may decrease the time taken for food particles to pass through the digestive tract . This can help with decreasing the incidence of constipation and improve bowel regularity.
Figure 4. People exercising
Staying hydrated is very important to your gut’s health. The human body is composed of 60% water, and it requires a constant intake of water to function effectively. Dehydration causes a change in the acidity of the intestinal environment and water contents, and is often found to be a cause for dehydration . The Institute of Medicine recommends that 2-3 liters of water be consumed daily for overall health .
Figure 5. Woman drinking a glass of water
Eating sufficient food rich in dietary fiber, prebiotics and probiotics is the best way to care for your digestive system. They also come in supplements that help meet the daily intake requirements.