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A Recipe for Healthy Digestion
You’ve probably heard the statement “You are what you eat”. More literally, you are what you eat, digest, absorb and assimilate. Your gastrointestinal (GI) system is responsible for the digest-and-absorb portion of that process so its health is a key factor in your overall level of wellness. Let’s have a look at the “ingredients” that contribute to digestive health.
Dietary fibre is also referred to as bulk or roughage. It consists of plant materials that we are not able to digest. Because we are unable to digest fibre, it carries various substances with it as it passes through the digestive system. You could almost think of fibre as a broom that sweeps out any unwanted matter that collects in the GI tract.
There are two types of fibre that we need to address: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and increases the bulkiness of feces; the increased bulk helps to move this material along and out of the GI tract. Cellulose is an example of insoluble fibre common in fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and has a gel-like consistency. It influences the water balance in the digestive system, and has an impact on weight management as well as levels of hormones, cholesterol and blood sugar. Pectin is a source of soluble fibre. Pectin is common in fruits such as apples.
The recommended daily fibre intake for adult males is 30 – 38 grams and is 21 – 26 grams for adult females. Many people find it challenging to obtain all the fibre they need from dietary sources. In these instances, fibre supplementation can be helpful. Unless supplementation is undertaken for therapeutic reasons, in other words to treat a specific condition, it is preferable to look for supplements that contain both soluble and insoluble sources of fibre.
If you are planning to increase your fibre intake through your diet or with supplements, plan on making the change slowly. Too rapid an increase may result in unwanted side effects such as gas and bloating.
Enzymes are chemically active proteins that enhance reactions between other substances. Our bodies use them for many things, including digestion. Digestive enzymes are produced by our salivary glands, stomach, small intestine and pancreas to aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. There are times when, for various reasons, we don’t produce sufficient quantities of these enzymes. This can result in incomplete digestion; undigested carbohydrates ferment, proteins putrefy, and fats become rancid.
Lactose intolerance, with its symptoms of gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea, is a common example of a malabsorption syndrome associated with incomplete carbohydrate digestion due to an insufficiency of the digestive enzyme lactase.
At a minimum, these by-products of incomplete digestion can create some havoc in the GI tract, producing symptoms like gas, bloating, fluid retention, cramps, constipation or diarrhea. Supplemental enzymes may provide symptomatic relief. If you are going to take an enzyme supplement, look for one that is broad spectrum and provides support for the digestion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
A probiotic is a live microorganism, usually a type of bacteria, that is similar to beneficial bacteria found in our digestive systems. A prebiotic is a form of indigestible carbohydrate that stimulates the growth of probiotic organisms.
The balance of different types of bacteria in the GI tract may become disturbed due to infection or treatment with antibiotics. This off-balance state is sometimes referred to as “dysbiosis”. Dysbiosis can alter the way the intestines perform the function of absorption.
Dysbiosis may underlie such signs and symptoms as bad breath, body odour, bloating, gas, nausea, and constipation. It has been associated with conditions such as attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and nervousness, brain fog and confusion, digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease and immune disorders.
A part of the immune system known as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is embedded in the GI tract. Probiotics appear to play a role in modulating immune system activities related to these tissues and thereby have an impact on infections, allergies and chronic conditions like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and others.
When dysbiosis occurs, or even just a health-promotion measure, it may be helpful to support the microfloral balance by consuming probiotic supplements, along with foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.
Supporting Your Digestive Health
We usually think about eating in a way that promotes our health as a whole but by ensuring adequate intake of fibre, enzymes and probiotics, we can build and maintain the health of the system that is so vital to our overall well-being; the digestive tract.
Courtesy of OmegaAlpha www.omegaalpha.ca .
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