- 1 in 4 people across all ages and genders in the UK are affected by poor digestive health
- IBS affects 10-20 % of individuals
- Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
As you can see, digestive problems affect many people but for many, small and simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in terms of our digestive health and overall well-being. Here is my first tip to make your gut a happier place.
1. Increase fibre intake
Dietary fibre helps to keep our gut moving, reduces the likelihood of becoming constipated and getting haemorrhoids (piles) and lowers our risk of developing bowel cancer. Current dietary advice states we should be eating a variety of fibre containing foods. In the UK most people do not eat enough fibre (the average intake is just under 14g/day) which is some way off the recommended 18g per day; many other countries recommend more and it is likely that UK dietary guidelines will suggest a further increase soon (30g / day for adults).
Ideally we should be having a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre in our diet; eating more fruit and vegetables (with the skins on where possible) will help you on your way. Soluble fibre is like a sponge and absorbs water. It becomes like jelly (making it easier to pass stools) and is broken down by the bacteria in our bowel (they ferment it). So we have a nice symbiotic relationship with our friendly (good) bacteria; we give them fibre from which they have the ability to salvage some energy, and in return they help us out.
Particularly eating more soluble fibre, will help boost the numbers of good bacteria. In return, they provide us with some nutrients (vitamins B & K), keep harmful bacteria at bay and the by-products of their action can help lower cholesterol levels and help us better manage our blood sugar levels (reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes).
Good sources of soluble fibre include:
Foods that will particularly help increase the numbers of good bacteria in our bowel include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, soya beans and certain honeys.
These are known as prebiotic foods; you can buy prebiotic-containing foods from the supermarket; look for prebiotic ‘live’ yoghurt and yoghurt drinks, breakfast cereals and cereal bars (but do watch the sugar content of some of these ready-made foods).
Insoluble fibre does not absorb much water and is completely indigestible but it is this feature that gives ‘bulk’ to our stools and gives its laxative effect.
Good sources of insoluble fibre include
- wholemeal breads
- whole grain breakfast cereals
- dried fruit
- brown rice
If you decide to increase your fibre intake it is important to do this gradually. A sudden increase can make you very windy (passing wind more than the average 15 times a day anyway), leave you feeling bloated and cause stomach cramps. Too much insoluble fibre can do this and can increase symptoms in those that suffer from IBS.
In IBS sufferers beans, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas and onions can certainly cause painful wind and bloating.
If you experience this, try eliminating these trigger foods and it might be worth approaching a registered dietician or nutritionist and asking them about a low FODMAP diet. Such qualified professionals can be trained in this specialist area.
A Low FODMAP diet
FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and PolyolS. These are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. FODMAPs can alter the fluid content of the gut and affect bacterial fermentation in the large intestine which may trigger undesirable symptoms in individuals with IBS. Removing FODMAPs from the diet has been seen to be effective in improving symptoms. There are many low FODMAP diets available over the internet and they can be very restrictive and limiting so it is essential you get professional guidance to ensure you still eat everything you need and you are making the right choices for your body.
When upping your fibre intake it is vital you drink plenty of fluids; at least 1-1.5 litres a day as the fibre will absorb this water which helps soften it and gives it a more gentle action. It doesn’t have to be just water; just be sensible about what you are drinking but get those (low sugar) fluids down 🙂
Here are the rest of posts to help you love your gut:
Further information on IBS can be found here at the IBS Network
NICE released new guidelines in February 2015 on Irritable bowel syndrome in adults: diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care
Bowel Cancer UK have a very informative website that you can access here