Anatomy and physiology of the GI tract:
The gut is comprised of the mouth, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver and large intestine. Food is broken down in the mouth; it then passes through the esophagus into the stomach where the food is churned by the stomach muscles and the acids help break it down before it moves into the small intestine where food is digested and nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream. The large intestine is where water is absorbed, undigested fiber is mixed with bacteria that help digest the fiber and nourish the cells of the large intestine. Feces is formed in the rectum and passed out through the anus.
Why is it important to maintain gut health?
The health of the gut is now being looked at closely by doctors, allied health professionals and researchers since gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, reflex, constipation and IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) have now become increasingly common. Poor gut health is not only linked to gastrointestinal issues but also other diseases such as depression, chronic fatigue, depression and diabetes. In fact, the bacteria in the gut have a major influence on our immune health.
Steps to follow to improve a healthier gut
1. Include adequate fibre in the diet
Fibre is the indigestible part of plant food. This means it passes unchanged into the large intestine. Women require 25g of fiber and men require 30g of fibre in a day.
There are three types of fibre
Soluble fiber slows down the time it takes for the food to pass through. It can be found in oats, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Insoluble fiber softens the stool and increases the time it takes for the food to pass through. I can be found in wheat bran (found in weet-bix), wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds.
Resistant starch goes through fermentation in the large intestine by healthy bacteria producing short chain fatty acids that that contribute positively to bowel health. It can be found in cooked and cooled pasta, firm bananas and legumes.
Research suggests a combination of the three types of fibre is most beneficial as each type of fiber has its own unique function.
Probiotics refers to the good bacteria. Our gut has at least 1000 different species of bacteria. The bacteria are a mixture of healthy and unhealthy bacteria depending on our diet and environment. The increasing proportion of healthy bacteria helps maintain a healthy gut. Sources of probiotic include probiotic yoghurt, probiotic drinks or a probiotic supplement.
3. Adequate fluids
6-10 glasses of water is recommended everyday (about 2-3 litres) to maintain a healthy gut. Also, keep in mind that fibre absorbs water during digestion. Hence when increasing fibre intake, it is equally important to increase fluid intake. Try and meet your fluid intake mainly from water and not from other drinks such as fruit juices and soft drinks.
4. A healthy diet overall
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain bread and cereals is the best option for ensuring a healthy gut. Processed foods and high sugary drinks such as takeaway and soft drinks have a lot of fat and sugar with no fibre in them. In addition they act as a fertilizer for unhealthy bacteria.
5. Physical activity
It is important to constantly keep moving as adequate physical activity helps in avoiding constipation and even colon cancer. Exercise can also have a positive influence on the growth of healthy bacteria.
Contact us for results focused on nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have any questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.