Be honest: when was the last time you thought about how healthy your digestive system was?

The truth is that we only tend to think about it when something goes wrong, but Gut Week is all about focussing on how important it is to consider what you eat.

Think of the digestive system as the pistons of an engine - to get the most amount of energy, and to ward off future illnesses, it's important to keep it running right.

healthy food

Alice Mackintosh, nutritional therapist at The Food Doctor Clinic says: "The digestive system is responsible for assimilating nutrients from food and delivering them to the rest of the body.

"This alone is a big job, and if you don’t do it properly you can be eating the healthiest diet in the world, but you aren’t likely to be getting the full benefits of it. As well as this, the gut forms a complex network around the body, communicating with our nervous system immune system and endocrine system.

"It is therefore a cornerstone for health, and the symptoms of imbalances can be surprisingly far-reaching. Headaches, depression, hormonal imbalances and adrenal dysfunction can often go hand in hand with poor gut function. It is also one of the most immunologically active organs in the body, so look after it, and it will look after you!"

digestion

Recent figures revealed that nearly a quarter of Brits (24%) are not eating three square meals a day and instead grabbing snacks twice during the day and once after dinner according to research carried out for Gut Week. Dr Nick Read, medical advisor to the IBS Network warns that snacking on the go "can hinder digestion leading to bloating, abdominal pain and bowel upset".

The gut does more than just digest food though. Nutritionist Karen Poole says: "It supports the nervous system as it is responsible for the synthesis of serotonin the 'feel-good' hormone that helps to regulate mood and our sleep wake cycle."

Proof that we're a nation of stress addicts, is the revelation that we're also under pressure to eat as quickly as we can to get on with our work or tasks.

indigestion

Research revealed:

  • 25% spend under 5 minutes on breakfast
  • 33% wolf down lunch in under 10 minutes
  • Despite almost a quarter (24%)who cook their dinner at home taking between 31 and 40 minutes to prepare dinner, nearly half (44%) have gulped it down in 20 minutes or less.

Eating at your desk is also inadvisable. Gut Week researchers said that a hunched posture can cause acid reflux and heartburn.

“It’s worrying that almost a third of the people surveyed feel stressed and anxious most days” added Dr Read, “as these feelings can activate the sympathetic nervous system which can increase intestinal sensitivity and cause spasms, bloating and indigestion.”

GOOD CHEWING PRACTICE:
  • Eat slowly
  • Chew carefully
  • Take time to eat
  • Do not overeat

digestion

Dietician Jo Travers recommends adding food high in fibre to your diet. "Whole grains, beans and pulses, fruits and vegetables help to build the cells that line the gut, keeping it healthy. Fibre also makes stools softer so prevents constipation.

"There is growing evidence that probiotics can aid digestion of fibre and reduce bloating, by re-balancing the friendly bacteria in our gut. So if your tummy swells a lot after a meal and you have a feeling of discomfort, it might be worth taking a daily probiotic. A dietitian will be able to help you if you suffer from any of these symptoms."

Good probiotics, says Jo, are onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke and bananas.

"It's important to remember that the only way we can get the nutrients from our food is by proper digestion which happens in the gut," she adds. "If you don't feed your gut well, it may not work properly and you may find you aren't getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy."

For more on Gut Week, visit the website.

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  • Water And Fruit Juices

    "These will all help the contents of the gut to stay moist and prevent constipation. All cells function more efficiently when they are properly hydrated," says Karen Poole.

  • Fresh Coconut

    Alice Mackintosh swears by coconut. "Coconuts contain beneficial fats, some of which have been found to help support the immune system in the gut. "Lauric acid in particular has been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal actions, helping to fight off occasional stomach upsets. I recommend snacking on fresh coconut fruit which can be bought from many supermarkets."

  • Kale Chips

    A great alternative to crisps, Alice says: "Inflammation in the gut can disrupt its function, and some foods can be quite pro-inflammatory (meat, refined carbs and sugar). "Kale and other green leafy vegetables are anti-inflammatory, whilst also being rich in nutrients, antioxidants and fibre, making them an ideal gut supporting snack."

  • Fruits And Vegetables

    A really good salad for the gut, says Karen is broad beans, rocket and tomatoes. <a href="http://www.loveyourgut.com/getting-gut-healthy/good-gut-food/" target="_blank">Loveyourgut.com says: "Rich in essential vitamins, minerals and fibre</a>, ensuring you have five fruit and vegetables a day can make a big difference to your diet. "Experts believe eating five or more daily servings can help ward off cancer, heart disease and strokes and ideally by eating a wide variety – aim for a rainbow of different colours."

  • Natural Yogurt

    "There are trillions of bacteria living in the gut," says Alice, "and these are a fundamental component of a healthy digestive system. Imbalances in these bacteria can lead to bloating and indigestion, so top up the levels of beneficial bacteria with natural yoghurt. Aim for sugar/sweetener free types, and sweeten with immune supporting manuka honey or berries if you need to." Karen adds: "If you don't want dairy, try soy yogurt with raw oats topped with blueberries."

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

    Alice recommends apple cider vinegar to combat bloating. "It's also very supportive of the digestive system."

  • Ginger Tea

    "Ginger has long been heralded as a gut supporting food, primarily because it can trigger digestive processes and help prevent indigestion and bloating," says Alice. "It has also anti-inflammatory and contains healing anti-oxidants that support the gut structure. Have it fresh in hot water with lemon, or drink it as a tea."

  • Wholegrains

    "Rye bread with sliced avocado and crushed walnuts," is a great combination, says Karen Poole. "Fibre helps the gut to function normally by forming healthy stools and eliminate excess hormones."