Be kind to your gut

The lucky few can devour a curry, wash it down with beer and follow it with a fry-up the next morning, without any ill-effects.

For the rest of us, when it comes to digestion, not all foods are created equal. Some can be more of a hindrance than a help to our digestive systems.

Here are some common culprits behind excess wind, indigestion, constipation and bloating, with a few tips on how to improve your overall digestive health.

Fatty foods

Eating fatty and fried foods on a regular basis can challenge the hardiest of digestive systems, as they take longer to digest. Eating too much or too often can lead to stomach pain and heart burn. If you are already susceptible to heartburn, you may want to avoid them altogether.

Give your gut a chance, by grilling foods rather than frying them, use vegetable oils for cooking, and choose low-fat dairy products whenever you can.


Indian, Chinese and Thai food is popular, with good reason – it tastes great, thanks in part to the clever use of spices. Although some are able to eat any amount of spicy food, for others it can cause indigestion, heartburn and diarrhoea, especially after a large meal.

Acidic foods

Acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits or fruit juices, salad dressings and vinegars are not for everyone. In those who are sensitive, they can cause heartburn or an upset stomach.

Caffeine containing drinks such as tea, coffee and cola are also acidic, and should be kept to a minimum if you have a sensitive stomach. Try herbal teas instead.

Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables


In the short-term, drinking too much alcohol can lead to heartburn, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting; in the long-term, drinking over the limit can damage the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver and intestine.

For low risk drinking, stick to the recommended limits; these are no more than 21 units of alcohol a week for a man, and 14 units a week for a woman. Men are also strongly advised to drink no more than 3-4 units, and women no more than 2-3 units of alcohol a day.


Used as an artificial sweetener in some diet foods and chewing gum, sorbitol also occurs naturally in prunes, apples and peaches. However, for some it can cause stomach cramps, wind and diarrhoea.

What’s good for digestion?

To keep your digestive system in good working order, include plenty of fibre in your diet, such as whole grain cereals, breads and pasta, beans, lentils, fruit and vegetables.

If you’re not used to eating these foods, gradually add them to your diet, as their sudden introduction can cause excess wind and bloating.

Drink plenty of water, especially if you are eating more fibre. Fibre soaks up water, and makes stools more bulky and soft so they can exit the body more easily. But if you are not drinking enough, you may end up with constipation instead.

Leave out fizzy drinks as these can cause excess wind.

Fresh foods are better than processed, as the latter are often low in fibre and high in additives.

Try to eat regularly during the day, rather than just one or two large meals, and chew food thoroughly; digestion begins in the mouth, not the stomach. Gulping down lumps of food can also contribute to excess wind and bloating.

In general, exercise is also good for your digestion. It helps to keep food moving through the intestine and counteracts the negative effect stress can have on the digestive system.

Intense exercise after a large meal is generally not advised, as the body diverts blood away from the intestines to the muscles, which may lead to nausea and cramps.

If you think a particular food is causing problems, keep a food diary and then take it to your doctor. Note down what you eat, when you eat it and any symptoms that occur afterwards.

You should never exclude an entire food group from your diet as it can leave your body deprived of essential nutrients, and may make you feel worse than before.

Dash diet encouraged for youngsters

An eating plan designed to reduce high blood pressure in adults is being encouraged to help keep tweens and teenagers trimmer.

Researchers found that girls aged between 9 and 19 whose food intake most resembled the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet had the smallest gains in body mass index (BMI) over 10 years, and the lowest BMIs at the end of the follow-up period.

The findings indicate that educating people about healthy eating is still one of the most effective ways to tackle obesity.

The DASH diet focuses on a higher consumption of low-fat dairy products; fish, chicken and lean meats; and nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables.

The eating plan, which is being pushed by the American Heart Association, leads to significant blood pressure reduction.

‘I think these were the results we were hoping to find,’ said study author Dr. Jonathan Berz, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

Acknowledging that eating healthily – as the DASH diet encourages – is likely to help keep the weight off, Berz said that this dietary study differed from previous ones because it looked at overall eating plans rather than individual foods.

It also took place over a longer timescale than many other studies.

The dash diet

Berz and his team looked at data from 2,237 girls, starting at age 9, who had participated in the National Growth and Health Study.

The girls were followed for up to a decade and they logged their food intake once a year in three-day diet records extending for two weekdays and one weekend day.

They were trained by a nutritionist to record the information using standard household measuring instruments to estimate portion sizes.

Each participant was then given a DASH food group score by Berz’ team which documented how closely their diet resembled the DASH diet.

Those with the highest DASH score were found to have gained the least weight at the end of the collection of data.

Conversely, more girls in the lowest DASH score group had a BMI score that indicated that they were underweight.

The study is published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine’s June issue.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said young people tend to be better at controlling their weight if they receive behavioral therapy and dietary education.

But he feels the message of the study is still lost on most Americans, who are still getting heavier despite the abundance of information about eating healthily. Teaching people to eat healthily needs to be combined with other measures.

Dr Roslin said: ‘I don’t necessarily feel the results are earth-shattering or incredibly impressive, but I think people have to give up on the (idea) that we can educate ourselves out of the obesity epidemic.’