Our digestive system is a series of tubing starting at our mouth, and ending at our back passage. The fuel we fill up with impacts what our bodies retain, and eliminates as waste. Accredited Practising Dietitian Karissa Woolfe writes…
The next time you see a 22 cubic metre truck, look at its body length (4.2m) and imagine two of them in a convoy. This is the length of your small and large bowel, the tubing conveniently wound up and tucked inside your abdomen.
Getting to the guts of the matter
The small intestine is where water and nutrients are absorbed, then the roughage left behind slowly transits through the large bowel, where hundreds of trillions of bacteria known as the ‘gut microbiome’ feast, before the solid waste gets eliminated.
Researchers link a healthy ‘gut microbiome’ with lower rates of bowel cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and better immune function, while a disrupted environment, from junk food, excess alcohol and sitting time, is associated with inflammation, obesity and bowel cancer.
Regular consumption of fibre (25-30 grams a day) from vegetables, fruit, legumes, cereal fibre and whole grains, are associated with improved digestive health, weight management, reduced risk of bowel cancer and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Many people experience gut issues that can be prevented or reduced with simple diet and lifestyle advice.
Backed up like cement mix
Constipation is defined as opening your bowels less than three times a week, and may be accompanied with straining or passing small, hard stools. As well as feeling uncomfortable, it’s a risk factor for bowel cancer.
Common causes: Delaying going to the toilet for many hours, too much sitting time, some medications, not drinking enough water, eating too little fibre, or too much of the wrong type.
Overcome this by: Breaking up your sitting time, accumulating 30 minutes of walking each day, regular sips of water (minimum 2.6 litres a day) and eating more insoluble fibre (whole grains, cereals, bran, celery, fruit & veg with skin on) to help speed up bowel motions.
Avoid a tyre blow out
When you don’t have enough roughage passing through your bowel, pressure builds up and can cause a blow-out in the tubing (diverticular disease). Debris can get stuck in these pockets, causing pain, inflammation and infection (diverticulitis).
Common causes: constipation, skipping meals, too little fibre.
Overcome this by: Following the advice above to prevent constipation, including sources of soluble fibre (oats, barley, baked beans, psyllium husks) to help your stools become bulkier, and speaking with an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Beware of the spare tyre
New research from the UK has shown that for each centimetre your waistline expands, so does your risk for cancer of the large bowel (colon or colorectal cancer). Men that gained 10 centimetres over 10 years were found to have a 60 per cent increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Common causes: Eating more food than your body needs, drinking excess kilojoule-dense beverages (alcohol, soft drink, cordial), and not enough physical activity to offset it.
Overcome this by: Choosing quality over quantity. Filling up on nutritious foods from the five food groups edges out room for the less nutritious ‘extras’ (take-away, pastries, hot chips, cake, biscuits, lollies and soft drinks). Eating fibre-rich foods at each meal helps you feel full. And making opportunities to move more.