The importance of a balanced diet for gastrointestinal health

There’s hardly anything wiser than the old saying “you are what you eat”. If many medical conditions can be treated with a balanced diet, why couldn’t gastro-intestinal disorders be prevented in the same way? Let’s find out more about it and see a few useful recommendations to help you get started.

balanced dietAre you allergic?

Many common gastro-intestinal disorders such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea could be nothing more than an allergic reaction to food additives/preservatives you may have no idea you’re intolerant to. According to Dr. Daniel More M.D., a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist, food dyes and colorings, emulsifiers, stabilizers (gums, lecithin), flavorings (spices, sweeteners) and preservatives (benzoates, nitrates) are all potentially harmful chemicals your body may not tolerate well or reject altogether.

Three meals a day keep the doctor away

Your stomach produces gastric acid, a mixture of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride. Gastric acid is released periodically to help break down the foods you ingest, whether you’ve had anything to eat or not. Therefore, if your meal schedule is hectic, or if you have less than two meals a day, gastric acid ends up “eating through” your empty stomach. This leads to gastritis and ulcer, and worsens the symptoms of pre-existing gastro-intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. For that reason, keeping a minimum distance of 5 hours and a maximum of 6 hours between meals is very important in the prevention of gastro-intestinal disorders.

A second advantage of balanced meals would be the gradual energy release. Skipping breakfast or eating junk food (which is filling, but not necessarily nutritious) means your body won’t be supplied with sufficient energy resources to easily carry out daily activities. This is why you may often feel worn down in the afternoon, even if temporarily exhilarated by your morning coffee – which takes us back to rule number one: don’t skip your breakfast.

Why avoiding junk food prevents GIT disorders, particularly IBS

As suggested by the studies dedicated to the irritable bowel syndrome, it would be fair to consider it a disease of the small intestine and colon. These two segments of the gastro-intestinal tract host different types of bacteria, many of which are important for a healthy digestion. However, the more toxic the food you eat is, the more residual byproduct (resulted from the chemical/biochemical transformations suffered by food, OR from unhealthy ingredients) will build up.

Nevertheless, junk food is toxic. Apart from being high in fat and simple carbohydrates, but low in protein, fast food contains industrial chemicals that are known to increase cellular toxicity, as relevant research has shown: per fluorinated carboxylates, high-fructose corn syrup (a more harmful, but cheaper sweetener), guar gum and cellulose gum (they artificially create the thickness/texture of milkshakes), dimethylpolysiloxane (a type of silicone that’s also used in breast implants). Simply think about the damage you could do by ingesting chemicals that don’t belong in the human body, on a regular basis! In the long term, fat leads to atherosclerosis and a number of other heart conditions.

Therefore, cleansing your colon should be the first step in the prevention and management of GIT disorders, especially IBS. Moreover, research suggests IBS can be managed or even reversed if the patient commits to a healthy diet, rich in fibre and probiotics.

Cleansing your gastro-intestinal tract

A detox diet followed up by permanent diet and lifestyle adjustments would be the ideal way to prevent gastro-intestinal disorders. Dietary fiber cleanses your colon and stimulates bowel movement, but make sure you drink plenty of water (approximately 0.5 ounces per 1 lb body weight or more) to avoid constipation. Stay away from white grains, junk food, artificial sweeteners and fried food; limit consumption of red meat, sweets and fizzy drinks. You can make a delicious healthy sandwich using whole-grain bread, a few slices of chicken/turkey breast, salad, tomatoes, cucumbers/pickles or any combination of tasty veggies. Get creative!

balanced dietA balanced diet consists of several key nutrients. One of these nutrients is carbohydrates which provide our body with energy. Proteins are required for the repair and growth of the tissues in the body. Fats are a concentrated source of energy for the body. Fats help transport vitamins, which are essential, throughout the body. To keep the body healthy and functioning to its full capabilities it also needs vitamins and minerals. Although fiber isn’t actually a nutrient, it is extremely important for the proper functioning of the whole digestive system. Fiber helps move the waste products along the digestive track and through the elimination process. Some fiber can actually help control the blood cholesterol levels.

Also, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Protein contributes to the development of lean muscle mass. There’s hardly any purpose to exercising if you don’t include protein sources in your diet! Chicken and turkey are good examples to begin with.
  2. Starches are complex carbohydrates with low water content that turn into sugar very quickly and raise your insulin levels in a heartbeat. These are mostly found in potatoes, corn, white grains and beans. There are also “good” starchy foods – whole grains, quinoa, lentils, barley. They are fully digested and contain more fiber.
  3. While all starches are carbohydrates, not all carbohydrates are starches (e.g. fruits which have very high water content).
  4. Protein and starches in the same meal are a bad combination for good digestion and may cause bloating, heartburn, gas and indigestion (our bodies digest protein and starches in fundamentally different ways).
  5. Fiber is fantastic, but having too much of it causes bloating!

Eating a healthier diet will help you avoid these GIT issues. A healthy diet consists of several food groups:

  • Servings of fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients and vitamins. Dried, frozen, tinned fruit and vegetables as well as juices can also be used instead of fresh products.
  • Milk and dairy products are great sources of protein. They are also a source of calcium and vitamins which our body needs to function properly.
  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are the protein sources that are necessary for a good health.

Probiotics, prebiotics and dietary fiber in preventing/managing GIT disorders

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help digestion when consumed. A few examples of probiotics would be lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. According to Dr. Katherine Zeransky, the consumption of probiotics may help prevent and treat:

  • Diarrhoea
  • IBS
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Intestinal infections

Milk products (i.e. yogurt) are the most important sources of probiotics, while prebiotics can be found in foods like whole grains, bananas, artichokes, honey, garlic and onion.

All in all, why shouldn’t we choose to care for our body if it’s well within our limits? It goes without saying that if an unhealthy diet damages the digestive system, a balanced one helps you prevent GIT disorders and avoid having to depend on treatment.