Top 5 Ways to Look After Gut Health
Advice from Karen Canning, National PRO, Irish General Practice Nurses Educational Association (IGPNEA) & Love Your Gut spokesperson
Although knowing how to look after your digestive health can seem confusing, making small changes to your diet and lifestyle can make a big difference.
From choosing the right food and drink, to reducing stress and getting enough sleep, Karen Canning, National PRO, Irish General Practice Nurses Educational Association (IGPNEA) & Love Your Gut spokesperson shares her top 5 ways to look after digestive wellbeing for Love Your Gut Week (18th-24th September).
A lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your bowel function, appetite and body weight, so it’s important to ensure we get enough. As a general rule, adults need one hour’s sleep for every two hours awake, so you need to aim for eight hours sleep a night[i]. Your sleep will significantly improve if, within an hour or two of going to bed, you can reduce or cut out consumption of fatty foods, as these are more difficult for your gut to process; alcohol, which can cause dehydration and disrupt specific sleep cycle stages[ii]; and caffeine, which can increase the activity of your brain and nervous system
In stressful situations (exams, job interviews, driving tests etc), adrenaline pumps around the body and speeds up everything inside it, including the rate at which food is passing through the gut. When this happens, it can cause diarrhoea, or looser and more frequent bowel movements. Making time to relax can help you minimise the effects of stress and making time for activities you enjoy, such as going for a walk or swim, will help you achieve this.
Have a balanced diet
To keep your gut happy and healthy, it’s important to make sure your diet has plenty of variety. This should include carbohydrates, a good range of protein rich foods, essential oils from nuts, seeds and oily fish, dairy, lean meat, and cereals and grains, which are rich in fibre.
Give time to your meals
Don’t eat your meals on the run. Good comfortable digestion only takes place if you relax and allow yourself time to consume your food. Make ‘meal time’ an opportunity to relax and eat slowly, savouring each mouthful.
Having enough fluid with your food aids with digestion, ensures adequate hydration and may help to prevent constipation. Listen to your body and do not ignore a feeling of thirst. Aim to enjoy 6-8 glasses of fluid every day and remember that water, lower-fat milk and sugar-free drinks all count[iii], while alcoholic drinks and coffee and tea can cause dehydration. You can examine your urine as a guide – it should be a very light straw colour. Dark yellow to orange urine may indicate that you need to drink some more water.
[ii] Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., Lim, J. T., & Kim, J. Y. (2015). The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean journal of family medicine, 36(6), 294–299. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294