It is important to have a healthy digestive system because it helps you obtain all of the essential nutrients from your food. A balanced diet with a variety of nutrients like protein, complex carbohydrates, fibre, fruits and vegetables along with moderate amounts of fat and sugar can ensure your gut stays in good condition. More information about a balanced diet can be found here.
Sometimes, however, upsets to the gut can happen, either through illness or inadequate diet. A few examples are outlined below.
Heartburn is a painful feeling when some stomach contents move up into the throat. It affects a third of the population from time to time and may happen if you eat or drink too much.
Tips to avoid heartburn include:
Coeliac Disease is an auto immune disease, where the body's immune system damages the lining of the small intestine when foods containing gluten are eaten. To find out more about Coealiac Disease please click here.
Food passes along your gut and is broken down and absorbed along the way. Anything that is not absorbed passes through and leaves as waste. This usually happens in a regular cycle, although sometimes it can be difficult to go to the toilet and you may become constipated and experience bowel discomfort. Constipation usually reflects lifestyle and it is important to have regular sleep patterns, be active and to eat regular balanced meals. Constipation can also be alleviated by increasing fibre in the diet. To find out more about fibre, please click here .
IBS is a disturbance of the large intestine that can cause symptoms like abdominal pain and spasms, bloated feelings, rumbling noises in the gut, excessive passage of wind and an alternation between constipation and diarrhoea. The cause of IBS is unknown and can affect around a third of the population at some point in their lives. If you think you have IBS you should see your GP. More information about IBS can be found at the NHS website.
Everyone in good health has naturally occurring micro-organisms (tiny living things such as bacteria) in their gut. Some of these may be harmful and some are believed to assist in the normal activities that occur in your gut each day. Eating the right diet can help to maintain the correct balance of gut bacteria and prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria that may upset you. There are hundreds of varieties of bacteria in the gut. Each one will have slightly different features, such as a preference for what it eats (e.g. fibre, protein) or what by-products it produces, such as lactic acid. Bacteria that produce lactic acid can help to keep other harmful bacteria at bay, as it can hinder their growth.
Certain medicines and illnesses can decrease normal levels of gut bacteria and may cause tummy upsets, but they should begin to return to normal once treatment has finished. It isn't essential to eat foods that contain bacteria and it is important to not eat foods that have been spoiled by bacterial growth. Foods that look or smell 'off' should be disposed of appropriately.
Not all bacteria in food are a bad thing, however. In fact we rely on some 'friendly' bacteria to provide us with some familiar foods. For example yogurt uses bacteria called 'lactobacillus' to turn the lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. This is what makes yogurt taste so good. Other foods such as Blue Stilton also use 'friendly' bacteria to give them their characteristic tastes.
Gut bacteria are most happy when they have the right conditions for their growth. They thrive on complex carbohydrates and fibre naturally found in foods such as asparagus, chicory, leeks, artichokes, bananas, onions, garlic, wheat, oats and soya beans.
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