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.
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!"
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.
- 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
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.