An article by Monique Piderit, RD (SA), a registered dietitian located in Johannesburg.
Did you know that the gut is home to over 40 trillion bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiota? Just as our DNA varies from person to person, so too does the massive collection of microbes in our gut and each person has his or her very own composition of gut microbiota – much like a unique fingerprint. Every day we live in harmony with these healthy bacteria which live on the fibre in food and help to digest the food, regulate our immune system, produce vitamins and protect against harmful bacteria that can cause disease.
However, a disturbance in the gut microbiota, called a dysbiosis, may mean a less than happy gut with bloating, cramps, excessive wind, constipation, diarrhoea, and just feeling sluggish over all. Luckily, keeping your gut microbiota happy for a healthy gut is do-able with these simple nutrition-related lifestyle tips from Monique Piderit, registered dietitian.
- Feed with Fibre
Fibre is found in plant-based foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains – and is the part of the plant that cannot be broken down by the digestive enzymes in the gut. Our gut needs diverse types of fibres to keep it healthy, each of which has its own unique function. Soluble fibre acts like a mop and helps absorb fluid in the gut, forming a soft, gelish mush that helps the stool to easily pass through the gut. This fibre is found in rolled oats, oat bran, oranges, bananas, apples, carrots, berries, and legumes such as beans, lentils and split peas.
The other type of fibre is insoluble fibre, also referred to as roughage – this fibre does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibre acts like a broom, roughly sweeping through the length of the gut to remove waste. This type of fibre is found naturally in wholegrains such as high fibre bread and breakfast cereals, digestive bran, brown/wild rice, nuts, seeds, corn and the skin of fresh produce.
- Focus on Ferments
Fermented foods such as yoghurt and amasi/maas have great gut-enhancing benefits due to the live cultures that exist naturally in these foods. A poor diet, stress, medication such as antibiotics and anaesthesia after an operation and other factors can cause a substantial number of the beneficial bacteria in your gut to die off. Include fermented foods in your diet to restore the balance of good healthy microbiota in your gut. Yoghurt – whether plain or flavoured, full cream or fat free – is a food that supports a healthy gut and provides naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates that are essential for good health. Enjoy yoghurt as snack between meals, blended with fresh fruit for a quick and easy breakfast smoothie, or serve as a healthy dessert dusted with cinnamon.
- Practice Portion Control
Eating large volumes of food at a time will add extra pressure on the digestive system, affecting gut health. For this reason, eating smaller meals more regularly is an easy way to avoid feeling too full and bloated. For most, two smaller snacks in between main meals will help control the amount of food eaten at the next main meal. To help manage the volume of food in the gut even further, chew your food more thoroughly and eat more slowly. To reduce the amount of air taken in, avoid gassy cool drinks.
- Dear Diary
Few people are truly conscious of how much they eat, how often they eat and exactly what they eat. Many people have food triggers for bloating which vary greatly depending on the person. Keeping a symptom diary is a great tool in increasing such awareness and helping you figure out which trigger foods aren’t keeping your gut very happy.