Dr Deirdre G. O'Donovan, Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Blackrock Clinic
Today, Wednesday, May 11th, is National Eat What You Want Day. The idea is to help people break away from frustrating health and diet trends. Experts universally agree that giving yourself a break now and again is good, but we are also encouraged to follow our gut instincts and focus on foods that nourish the body and mind.
What you eat isn't just nutrition for you; it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut. Of course, everyone is different, but some broad principles apply to everyone if you want to improve your digestion and look after general health. Dr. Deirdre O'Donovan, Consultant Gastroenterologist in the Blackrock Clinic, says that gut health can significantly affect the quality of people's lives, but there is a lot that we can do to stay on track. She says we must choose gut-friendly options, and in return, our tummies will thank us for it.
Dr. Deirdre O’ Donovan’s easy tips for gut health
Add more fibre to your diet. Become familiar with the labels on your food. If a product has more than six grams of fibre per 100-gram portion, then that’s considered a high fibre product. Foods like porridge and wholegrain cereals are top of the tree, but simple changes like swapping wholegrain bread for white bread can make a real difference.
2. Plant-based foods
Help your gut to help itself by taking in a wider variety of plant-based foods. Our guts are filled with good bacteria to make what’s called our gut flora. By eating more fruit, vegetables, and pulses we are not only eating healthily for ourselves, but we’re also ensuring our gut flora are eating healthily. To help further, avoid processed foods and choose a better alternative.
3. Limit red meat
Try to limit red meat, and increase your intake of fish. Red meat is fine in moderation, but eat too much and you increase the likelihood of consuming too many nitrates. This can adversely affect long-term gut health.
4. Eat regularly
Don’t allow too long between meals, and when you eat, make sure you chew your food well before swallowing. Give your gut every chance to absorb the best nutrients it can from what you eat as the food passes through.
5. Prebiotics and probiotics
Explore the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that can encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, such as asparagus, leek, artichoke, onions, and garlic. Probiotics are products that can directly add good bacteria to the gut to help it stay healthy, such as Alflorex, which is available in chemists and health food shops.
6. Vitamin D
As well as probiotics and prebiotics, consider adding some vitamin D to your diet. Known as the sunshine vitamin, it interacts well with your gut flora.
Dr O’Donovan stresses that you should never ignore red flag symptoms that your gut is in distress. She says you should look out for unexplained weight loss, persistent heartburn, a change in bowel habit or any bleeding from the back passage. Should you experience any of these, seek urgent medical help from your GP.
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