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Healthy Gut

Here's some expert advice from Vandana Verma, the nutritionist on our panel

Our digestive systems continuously extract water and nutrients from an astonishing amount of solid foods and liquids over our lifetimes, all the while fending off nasty microbes and processing waste. What we put into our stomachs is so important that it affects whether we feel well, how flat our bellies are and even our chances to prevent cancer.

EAT TO BEAT DISEASE : citrus fruit, fibre-rich foods, leafy greens and yellow vegetables

"Strive to get 20 to 25 grams of fibre a day," Why? For one thing, it may help protect against cancers. One 2007 study found that a high fibre intake was associated with a decreased risk for esophageal and gastric cancers. And citrus fruit appears to have a protective effect against stomach cancer, according to a survey of studies published in the March 2008 issue of Gastric Cancer.

Fibre is important for our overall digestive health-particularly in preventing constipation-not just for cancer prevention. Whole grains, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, wheat bran, apples, broccoli, beans, figs and pears are all great fibre sources. "Start slowly, adding more fibre every few days, and drink lots of water". This will help prevent the gas, cramping and bloating that can occur if you add fibre too quickly.

Recent studies suggest that eating light green, dark green and yellow-coloured vegetables help add up to a healthy stomach, too. These vegetables tend to be rich in carotene, vitamins C and E, and folate, which may help protect the stomach from cancer.

Preliminary lab research shows that juices-cranberry and raspberry juices, for example-contain compounds called phenols that may prevent GI pathogens such as salmonella. And resveratrol, an antioxidant that is found in red wine, may zap stomach pathogens while leaving the healthy bacteria alone, according to a 2007 study from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Try this: Eat more fibre-rich whole grains

Aim for at least three servings of a whole-wheat or whole-grain food per day to help boost fibre intake. A slice of bread or 30 grams (one ounce) of breakfast cereal make one serving.

HELP THE GOOD BUGS : yogurt, bananas, garlic, asparagus, onions

About 100 trillion bacteria call your gut home-improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria by eating foods that contain probiotics (various types of healthy bacteria).

"The good bacteria in fermented foods like yogurt, miso and sauerkraut can make it through the gastric acid to the colon, where they go to work," "There are some claims that the acid in your stomach kills the probiotic bacteria in food and that's why you should take supplements instead, but that's not true."

To support the growth of probiotic bacteria, also choose foods known as prebiotics that naturally contain lots of soluble fibre, such as bananas, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, honey, leeks and onions.

CHOOSE FOOD THAT SOOTHE: caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, mint, nutmeg, oatmeal

"Try foods called 'carminatives' that prevent or relieve gas, and are used to help the digestive process," "Cumin, for example, helps with the digestion of black beans, which is why they're often found in recipes together. Other carminatives include caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom."

Ginger is a traditional nausea remedy, and new studies are backing up the claims. Research shows that it can help quell nausea due to pregnancy

"Oatmeal is a 'demulcent,' which means it gets slippery in water, helping to coat and soothe the stomach," says Salib Huber. Cooked oatmeal is your best bet, rather than cookies or granola bars where the oatmeal is dry.

Peppermint leaf and oil have long been used to help relieve digestive disorders by relaxing stomach muscles. However, avoid peppermint if you're prone to heartburn "The small amount of flavouring in mint gum or antacids shouldn't cause problems," she adds.

Try this: Ginger

To soothe motion sickness, chew a one-inch (2.5 cm) piece of peeled raw ginger, or candied ginger, several hours before-and every four hours during-travel.

EAT FOOD TO FLATTEN YOUR TUMMY : avocado, brown rice, dark chocolate, nuts, oatmeal, olive oil, seeds

Choose foods from the Mediterranean diet-lots of fruit, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, olive oil and low-fat cheese and yogurt, plus a moderate amount of fish, eggs, poultry, sweets and wine; and small amounts of meat. That, along with a daily exercise routine, will help you maintain a healthy body weight.

"If you lose weight, your GI tract will feel better. Carrying less weight helps prevent abdominal discomfort-that full, bloaty feeling-and acid reflux. Extra abdominal pounds increase pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach from the esophagus. That pressure makes the valve open more often, allowing food and acid from the stomach to backwash into the esophagus, causing heartburn.