Healthy Bowels, Healthy Body
Healthy Bowels, Healthy Body
by Lisa Tsakos
I am one of those people who believe that what happens in the bowels is a reflection of the state of your entire body. The large intestine is one of the body’s major elimination organs. If it’s full of toxins, so is the rest of you. It’s said that 80 percent of your immune system is in the gut. If this is true, protecting and maintaining bowel function is key in good health and longevity.
Abnormal intestinal conditions such as constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel, colitis and candida, are so commonplace that many of us aren’t taking these disorders seriously. Antibiotics, stress, antacids, sugar, processed foods, pesticides, and chlorine in drinking water are just a few factors that can upset the delicate balance of intestinal flora and disrupt bowel mobility.
Fiber is one of the most neglected nutrients. As a result, we live in a constipated society. Most diets provide only 12 g of fiber. No wonder the average transit time is one week! For good health, the colon requires 25 to 50 g of fiber daily. Early signs of unhealthy conditions in the bowels include bloating and gas, dark, dry stool and painful defecation, migraine headaches, and acne on the chin, chest or back. Besides being an effective antidote to constipation (by the way, being ‘regular’ means a daily bowel movement), eating high-fiber foods is a low-cal way to fill your tummy.
Here are some top picks for fiber:
Lentil soup, 1 cup...14 g
Chili, vegetarian...11 g
Figs, 3, dried...10 g
Spinach, 1 cup, cooked... 7 g
Multigrain bread, 2 slices...6.5 g
Papaya, dried, 2 slices...6.4 g
Chickpeas, half cup, cooked...6 g
Black beans, half cup...6 g
Whole wheat pasta, 1 cup, cooked...5.6 g
Kiwi, 1 medium...5 g
Raspberries, half cup, fresh/frozen...4.6 g
Broccoli, half cup, raw...4 g
Brown or wild rice, 1 cup, cooked: 4 g
Oatmeal cereal, 1 cup, cooked...3.5 g
Apple, medium with skin...3.5 g
Almonds, dried, quarter cup...3.5 g
Bran muffin, 1 medium...3 g
Many of us assume we are eating enough fiber if we're consuming lots of bread and pasta, but the refining of grains strips away almost all of the fiber — and most vitamins and minerals too. The whole grain – bran, germ, and endosperm – provides much more than fiber, including B vitamins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. White bread has only 7% of the vitamin E and 13% of vitamin B6 found in 100% whole wheat bread. Many breads list enriched white flour as the first ingredient and add fiber (like bran or flax). Read labels to ensure your bread is made from the whole grain. This should be listed as the first ingredient.
Stool Samples – A Healthy Bowel Movement
The appearance of your stool provides good information about whether or not your diet contains an adequate amount of fiber. A healthy stool should look like this:
One solid long piece, approximately 6 to 12 inches in length
Free of undigested food particles
Easy to eliminate (no pushing necessary).
The large intestine is teeming with life. Over 400 microorganisms – including bacteria, mold, yeast, and fungus – live in the large intestine, feeding off the remains of your food. The more you feed them, the faster they spread. The microbial strains existing in your colon are a direct result of what you eat. Eating the same types of foods repeatedly causes certain strains to spread. Foods such as baked goods (sugar), cheese (mold), bread (sugar and yeast), mushrooms (fungus), and alcohol (sugar and yeast) feed those microorganisms that can create a condition called dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the ratio of healthy to unhealthy microorganisms. Unfortunately, these little buggers can have a significant impact on the body. Many strains release gaseous by-products that can enter your bloodstream causing a variety of symptoms ranging from allergic reactions to eczema or worse.
Not all intestinal microorganisms are dangerous. In fact, our goal is for 80 percent of microflora to be of the beneficial varieties. People with flourishing intestinal colonies of beneficial bacteria are better equipped to fight the growth of disease-causing bacteria. These healthy microflora protect the immune system by reinforcing the protective barrier of the intestinal mucosa helping to prevent the entry of pathogenic microorganisms into the blood.
Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics and are defined as live microorganisms. Probiotic bacteria favourably alter the intestinal microbial balance, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promote good digestion, boost immune function, and increase resistance to infection.
Probiotics available as nutritional supplements and found in foods such as yogurt are primarily the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species. Plain, organic yogurt provides a good source of probiotics. Different brands of yogurt can vary greatly in their bacteria strain and potency. Some yogurts, particularly fruit-bottomed, do not contain any live bacteria or contain an adulterated form unrecognizable by the body. If you choose to supplement, depending on the brand, two to four capsules in divided doses gives added intestinal and immune protection.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS (aka IBD) sounds like a gloomy diagnosis. What exactly does it mean? The phrase denotes that something is causing irritation in the bowels. That ‘something’ is often ingested, like a food or drink. Combine that food with stress and…wait for the eruption. Common culprits include spicy foods, dairy products – especially cow’s milk, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, wheat and/or gluten, carbonated drinks, fruit with seeds (like raspberries or strawberries), tomatoes, or greasy foods (fried foods, chips). Your doctor may not have the time or patience to determine the suspect foods or ingredients, so your best bet is to keep a food journal.
Tips in Adding Fiber to Your Diet
Use only dark breads – whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, spelt, multigrain, etc.
Eat cereals made from the whole grain (for example, oatmeal)
Make unrefined pasta using whole wheat noodles, spelt noodles, brown rice noodles, kamut or quinoa noodles. The noodles are available in many shapes and may be purchased at bulk food stores or health food stores. Some grocery stores carry multigrain pasta in a box.
Sneak whole grain flours and flax seeds into baking (muffins, pizza dough, bread, etc.)
Avoid eating too much wheat bran. It's a scratchy form of fiber that can damage your bowels if used excessively over a long period of time.
For a delicious dessert, top plain organic yogurt with a half cup of organic granola.
Whole grain crackers topped with hummus or your favourite spread makes a fantastic appetizer or snack.
Lisa Tsakos, B.A., R.N.C., R.H.N.T., teaches Nutrition at Transformational Arts and is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is co-creator of the Nutri-System profile, a nutritional assessment tool. Lisa is president of Nu-Vitality Health and Wellness and runs a private practice.