Our gut and digestive health is vital to our overall wellbeing – and while we might not like to talk about it, gastrointestinal issues are extremely common and affect almost all of us at some point in our lives (including myself).
And while the symptoms may appear differently for everyone, they can commonly manifest as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion or heartburn.
All these issues are associated with our bodies having difficulty digesting food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste – resulting in the uncomfortable (and often embarrassing) symptoms we experience.
But why does this occur?
Each of us is unique, meaning the way we digest our foods differs. Some of us lack certain digestive enzymes necessary to process some foods, while others are sensitive to certain chemicals found in certain foods.
As a result, it estimated that 15-20% of us have some form of food intolerance.
That is why it is important we listen to our bodies and understand what types of food aren’t agreeing with us. This is especially the case when we are making changes to our diet.
The digestive system is directly linked to our immune system, mood and mental health, it is critically important that we look after it by eating well and keeping an eye on any irregularities in its functioning.
The good news is that there are some simple diet and lifestyle changes we can make to improve our digestive health and ease issues when they arise.
Eat a balanced diet. While having a little bit of fat is important for our overall health, overly fatty foods and heavily processed carbs can slow digestion and this can lead to heartburn and bloating. Instead, try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet consisting of fresh and unprocessed whole foods that tend to have fewer calories and contain lots of nutrients.
Reach for alternatives that are lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt. While foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt can taste great, they are not the best for our digestive system. We should also be mindful about how frequently we’re consuming rich or overly processed foods, as they often contain additives that can cause a stomach upset. Instead, try eating fresh and opting for naturally lower sugar or reduced-salt alternatives.
Probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. For everyday gut health, try eating more naturally probiotic rich foods like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Keep active. As part of a healthy lifestyle, exercise also provides huge benefits to our digestive health by increasing blood flow to the muscles in our digestive system. We don’t need to do anything too vigorous to enjoy the benefits – just try and move, especially after meals.
But most importantly, remember:
Listen to your body. Our bodies will tell us if we’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with us, so take note to minimise ongoing issues.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Digestive health issues happen to everyone and is a completely normal part of the human body – while uncomfortable, it is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
Talk to your GP. If you’re experiencing frequent or severe symptoms, or if symptoms get progressively worse or change abruptly, talk to your GP who can rule out any serious conditions.
Dr Mataroria Lyndon is Co-Founder and Clinical Director for Tend.
Tend is everything you’d expect from a GP, and a whole lot more. See a Tend doctor your way, in-app or in-person. Get prescriptions, medical certificates and specialist referrals sorted quickly and easily through an online or in-person consultation at our Kingsland Clinic. Tend doctors are available when you need them, with in-app appointments available from 7:30am – 9pm weekdays, and 8:30am-4:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. You can also contact your Tend care team using our safe, secure in-app messaging. Learn more and download the app at tend.nz.
For more from Dr Mataroria, check out his article on maintaining a healthy weight here.