A great deal of our daily requirement for water is needed for the digestion and the elimination of waste products from the body. The current advice to drink more water, at least 1.5 litres (6-8 glasses) a day, is important not only to help stay well hydrated but also help to prevent constipation, which is one of the first symptoms of habitual dehydration. It is thought that many of us exist in a semi-dehydrated state which can often lead to niggling health problems such as indigestion, bloating, irregular bowel movements, as well as headaches and lack of concentration. The key to staying hydrated is to drink little and often throughout the day. Drinking a large amount all in one go will just go straight through you as the body cannot hold onto it all, so get into the habit of carrying water with you wherever you go.
The UK diet is often heavy in wheat and wheat products, and as such gluten (which is also found in barley, rye and oats). While not everyone needs to avoid gluten, some may benefit by choosing non-gluten cereal grains more often such as rice, which are more easily digested and gentler on the gut. The starch in rice, particularly Basmati rice, is digested and absorbed slowly, thereby providing a steady release of glucose into the blood for sustained energy. Rice has long been used in natural medicine to treat digestive disorders, from indigestion to diverticular disease. It is also believed to relieve mild cases of diarrhoea and constipation.
Pears are known to be one of the least allergenic foods and are very gentle on the gut so are well tolerated by almost everyone. Pears are good sources of the soluble fibre pectin and of bioflavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants and may protect against a range of diseases. Pears also make a useful contribution to vitamin C and potassium intake, which can help to regulate blood pressure. Pears come in a range of flavours and textures and can be enjoyed in many different ways (other than as a delicious snack on their own). They are of course exceptional when poached with red wine and vanilla, and they are also stunning when dipped in chocolate!
Probiotic bacteria, or ‘friendly bacteria’ as they are often known, are thought to assist the body’s naturally occurring gut flora and increase their numbers. They are often recommended for gut related problems such as diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome, or after a course of antibiotics that has resulted in constipation. The rationale for probiotics is that the body contains a system of microbes, collectively known as the gut flora. A number of bacteria in the gut are thought to be thrown out of balance by a wide range of circumstances including the use of drugs, excess alcohol, stress, disease or exposure to environmental toxins. In cases like these, the bacteria that work well with our bodies may decrease in number and allows harmful competitors to thrive, causing ill-health. Maintenance of a healthy gut flora depends not only on probiotic intake but also on a good intake of prebiotic foods (see below).
Prebiotics are nutrients and constituents of food which our gut flora feed upon, thus increasing their numbers. Prebiotics include compounds known as fructo-oligosaccharides, which are found naturally in many plants including leeks, onions, wheat, garlic, chicory root and artichokes. The prebiotic inulin is now being added to breads and cereals and research has shown that having about 5g of inulin per day can optimise the gut flora and improve digestion. Prebiotics help the proliferation of the ‘friendly bacteria’ in the gut, which in turn aids digestion, improves gut health, boosts the immune system and may also help reduce the severity of food poisoning and the effects of food intolerance.
A number of herbal teas have been suggested to aid digestion and help alleviate gut problems. Peppermint tea, in particular, is thought to help food digest after a meal, prevent bloating and heartburn. Ginger tea may help upset stomachs and prevent nausea. Fennel and chamomile teas have been reported to help with symptoms of IBS, which is strongly associated with stress. These teas can have a soothing and comforting effect, reducing levels of stress and preventing symptoms such as abdominal spasms and loose stools.
Boston Baked Beans
Haricot beans and all other beans, lentils and pulses are a good source of soluble fibre, which as well as aiding digestion, can also help to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar levels.
1) 450g haricot beans
2) 1 tsp. mustard powder
3) 2 tbsp. brown sugar or treacle
4) 2 tbsp. tomato puree
5) 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
6) 1 onion, sliced
7) 1 bayleaf
Transfer the beans to a casserole dish and pre-heat the oven to 120′C or gas mark half. Add all the ingredients plus 1 pint of water. Cover the casserole with a lid and bake slowly in the oven for up to 6 hours. From time to time stir the beans and if they show signs of getting dry add a little more water.