Nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker on food and health products for good gut health.
Aloe vera juice is said to have many benefits including helping to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The aloe vera plant is made up of a variety of amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals which are said to assist the biochemistry of the body. It’s suggested that aloe vera has natural healing and detoxifying powers and works gently within the gut to help break down impacted food residues and cleanse the bowel, improving regularity.
Many herbal teas are said to aid digestion and help alleviate gut problems. Peppermint is thought to help digestion after a meal, prevent bloating and heartburn. Ginger tea may soothe upset stomachs and prevent nausea. Fennel and chamomile teas reportedly help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which is stongly associated with stress.
Pears are very gentle on the gut so are tolerated by almost everyone. They are a good source of the soluble fibre pectin and bioflavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants and are thought to protect against a range of diseases.
Pears also provide vitamin C and potassium, which can help to regulate the blood pressure. They come in a range of varieties and textures and, as well as being a great snack on their own, can be poached in red wine and vanilla, or even dipped in chocolate for a special treat.
Prebiotics are nutrients which feed the probiotic bacteria in the gut, increasing their numbers and improving digestive health and the immune system. Prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides, found in leeks, onions, wheat, chicory root, garlic and artichokes.
The prebiotic inulin is now being added to bread and cereals and research shows that eating 5g of inulin per day can optimise gut flora and improve digestion. Prebiotics can also be taken as a supplement.
Naturally occurring gut flora can be adversely affected by factors such as alcohol, stress or disease. Probiotic or ‘good’ bacteria support gut flora and increase their numbers. They are recommended for problems such as IBS, or after a course of antibiotics that has resulted in constipation. Maintenance of healthy gut flora also depends on a good intake of prebiotic foods, which probiotic bacteria feed on.
The UK diet is heavy in wheat products, and as a result, gluten (also found in barley, rye and oats). While not everyone needs to avoid gluten, some people may benefit from eating more non-gluten cereal grains such as rice, which are more easily digested.
The starch in rice, particularly basmati, is absorbed slowly, providing a steady release of glucose into the blood for sustained energy. Rice is used in natural medicine to treat digestive disorders. It is also believed to relieve mild diarrhoea and constipation.
Much of our daily water consumption is needed for digestion and the elimination of waste products from the body. Drinking at least 1.5 litres (6-8 glasses) a day helps to prevent dehydration, which can cause constipation and other health problems such as indigestion, bloating and headaches. You should drink little and often, as a large amount in one go will not be absorbed as efficiently, so always carry a small bottle with you.