A little wind or the occasional burp every now and then is a natural sign there’s some digestive activity going on inside, however, excessive occurrence of these bodily functions may be a sign that’s somethings up with your gut.
If you suffer from frequent abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea or bloating these are often signs your diet and your body are not getting along or some form of dysfunction is kicking off in the digestive system. If you visit a GP they may offer a diagnosis of ‘irritable bowel syndrome,’ perhaps anti-spasmodic medication and suggestion of a low FODMAP diet. All they have really confirmed here is that you have a collection of symptoms (yes really!) and they’re not sure why but avoid ‘farty’ foods and hopefully things will get better.
Improving digestive health is really about finding the causes and triggers of your symptoms. Some of these may be ongoing like stress, anxiety or a gluten intolerance and it’s about managing these symptoms where you can. Others may be due to some issues with the digestive infrastructure (low stomach acid, enzyme deficiency, poor motility or increased permeability in the gut barrier) or an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria or yeast or a parasite infection.
All the principles of Fitter Food are geared towards developing a strong, healthy gut as this is the foundation for optimal energy production, immune function, good mood health and balanced hormones. We work with lots of clients to help them fix their digestive system, if you’ve been wondering what’s up with your gut follow these simple steps:
Test Your Ability To Digest
Burp Test – Pardon You!
Our stomach acid production maybe insufficient due to stress, nutrient deficiencies. medications (especially acid blocking prescriptions e.g. Omprazole). One simple test that can be done uses bicarbonate of soda; add ½ teaspoon to a glass of water and drink it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. If you don’t burp within a few minutes you are potentially suffering from low stomach acid known as hypochlordria. This effects your body’s ability to breakdown food for absorption, especially protein as it activates the enzymes that break the bonds between the amino acids. Stomach acid also protects us from foreign substances which enter the body via the food we eat and water we drink, so it is essential in preventing infections and neutralising toxins.
Other symptoms that suggest low stomach acid include an immediate sense of fullness after eating only a little, consistent bloating, multiple food intolerances and stinky wind after eating a protein rich meal. If you’re suffering from low stomach acid having slow cooked proteins (as they’re predigested by the cooking process) and adding acidic foods like vinegars, lemon juice or lime to meals will aid the breakdown of protein. You can try supplementing your diet with HCL and Pepsin to see if this helps too, detailed below.
Peek a Poo!
If you’re eating now, finish your meal before reading on! All done? Okay let’s go.
So no one likes to talk about toilet trends but actually you should always check out what’s coming out the ‘other’ end. The Bristol Stool Scale is used by GP’s and nutritionists to help investigate digestive disorders. Take a look:
Nice eh?! Types 1 and 2 tend to indicate you are suffering from constipation and sluggish bowel movements. Type 3 and 4 are the “ideal stools” especially type 4 and should be a relatively easy experience 🙂 Type 5–7 are tending towards diarrhoea.
If you are more type 1 & 2 you may need to look at the fibre content of your diet and increase sources that are rich in antioxidants as these promote healthy gut motility too. Good examples include beans, fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Hydration is another important factor to consider and also do you eat enough? If you’re running about all day on a cappucino, smoothie and handful of nuts, only eating 1-2 proper meals this could be a factor.
If you are the opposite you may need to consider what is overstimulating your gut, the usual suspects include caffeine, alcohol, fruit (especially dried) and intense training, stress is another big factor.
Unusual bowel movements can be indicative of other issues including poor thyroid function, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease or bacterial infection so seek professional advice and of course contact us if you need further advice with this.
Transit Time Test
If you really want to get pro-active you can test your gut transit time by eating sweetcorn or beetroot. Each time you visit the toilet to drop the kids off at the pool have a quick check for a corn kernels or a pink poop.
The purpose of this test is to evaluate the time it takes for food to pass through your digestive tract using a ‘food marker.’
The average normal transit time ranges from 14 to 24 hours after the ingestion of the food marker. It should take place within 36 to 48 hours. If the transit time takes longer than 72 hours, it’s an indication of sluggish bowel function.
Digestion: The Fitter Fix
If you’re pretty sure there’s something up with your gut the following are a helpful place to start. Sometimes the issues maybe a little more complicated and require some functional testing with stool samples, blood tests, urine samples, colonoscopy or endoscopy, if your symptoms persist don’t simply as digestive dysfunction will soon cause health issues elsewhere.
Remove gluten products and dairy for at least 4 weeks, ideally for 8-12 weeks if you can. Gluten elevates a protein called zonulin, which increases the permeability of the gut barrier (known as leaky gut), we discuss this in more detail in our book Paleo Primer Second Helping.
Dairy proteins are a commonly implicated in digestive issues too so trial using a good dairy substitute including almond or coconut milk, avoid soya. Good substitutes for gluten products include rice, quinoa and potatoes.
**Check products labelled “Gluten Free” as they may contain milk proteins and other additives or preservatives that aggravate the gut***
If symptoms continue trial the removal of the foods listed below that often trigger sensitivities. Ideally you should remove for 4 weeks and introduce one by one to monitor your bodies reaction.
- Legumes: chickpeas, beans, lentils, peanuts
- Alcohol – especially wine due to the sulphite content.
Include some digestive aids into your diet. If you are showing signs of nutrient deficiencies (broken nails, easy bruising, bleeding gums, joint pain, brittle hair) perhaps consider a good quality digestive enzyme (that includes HCL), a probiotic and a formal design to help restore the gut barrier with nutrients like L-glutamine, N-acetylglucosamine, deglycrrhizinated licorice and collagen to strengthen the tissues that line the gut.
If you have a long history of digestive issues you should consider working with a nutritional therapist to follow a gut healing protocol to restore digestive function.
The following foods all naturally assist digestion:
- Apple cider vinegar; a spoonful before eating can aid digestion.
- Bitter foods like watercress, rocket, endives, olives or chervil can help to stimulate the production of enzymes so eat these as an appetiser.
- Sauerkraut and artichokes are a good source of FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides are prebiotics– best pals with good bacteria and makes the gut a great environment for probiotic party).
- Fermented foods are a good source of live bacteria – live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and miso.
- Root vegetables like leeks, onions & asparagus also act as a prebiotic as they contain inulin which supports healthy bacteria.
- Fennel is great digestive aid, sprinkle seeds into meals or roast whole.
- Bone broths or stock and eating animal foods nose to tail provides lots of tissues that support the integrity of the gut barrier.
Eat Like You’re On Your First Date
A big cause of digestive symptoms are eating too fast and not chewing food, imagine each meal is a chance to impress someone you have the hots for with some impeccable table manners:
- Chew your food, over and over, to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes and secretion of stomach acid.
- Sit down to eat in a calm environment so your body can register this and focus on the task in hand. Take breaks between mouthfuls and put down your knife and fork.
- Ideally don’t eat on the go or continue working eating at your desk.
- 30 minutes after your meal take a gentle walk or move around a little.
- Try to leave 3 hours before your evening meal and bedtime, ideally have this meal around 6.30-7pm so that digestive activity won’t effect sleep.
- If stressed avoid caffeine and alcohol as stress can over stimulates the bowel leading to cramps and diarrhoea, adding further stimulants will simply exacerbate the situation.
So the key to keeping strong, fit and healthy is a steel constitution! We cover the gut in more detail in our latest book, Paleo Primer: A Second Helping. Pick up your copy here.