The digestive system is one of the most important systems in our body. It is responsible for the breakdown and transport of nutrients from the foods we eat and it is also an important part of the immune system. Our digestive system is made up of a long system of interconnected organs which run from the mouth to the anus. The key to a healthy immune system is a healthy digestive system and for that reason it is very important we pay attention to the different factors that influence our digestive system.
One of the biggest factors in digestive health is the foods we eat. Having a well balanced diet can make a huge difference on the health of our digestive system. Fiber, especially insoluble fiber which is not absorbed by the body, helps to manage regularity by keeping the flow moving in our intestines. Soluble fiber breaks down into a gel and helps to absorb water and slow down digestion. Foods such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils are all excellent sources of fiber. Women should eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day from a variety of food sources, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day.
Sources fiber can be found in:
- Grains – Foods such as wheat, bran, and brown rice are all sources of insoluble fiber which is found on the exterior husk of the plant. Oatmeal, barely and ground flaxseed are great sources of soluble fiber.
- Vegetables – Cellulose is a compound composed of insoluble fiber which is found in certain vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, celery, and zucchini. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are great sources of soluble fiber.
- Fruits - The outer peel of fruits such as apples, pears, and tomatoes are great sources of insoluble fiber. Also the seeds of fruit such as blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries provide an excellent source of insoluble fiber. Fruit that contain soluble fiber include prunes, bananas, and blackberries.
- Plant Proteins – Legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are not only great sources of protein but also provide an abundance of insoluble fiber. Nuts such as almonds and peanut skin contribute to insoluble fiber consumption. Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin have a hard and fibrous outer layer. Black-eyed peas, chick peas, and kidney beans are composed mostly of soluble fiber.
In addition to fiber, probiotics help support a healthy digestive and immune system. Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria that aid in the digestion process by maintaining a balance of healthy bacteria that break down and transport the foods we eat.
Sources of probiotics can be found in:
- Yogurts containing live cultures.
- Miso and Tempeh which are forms of fermented soy.
- Aged Cheeses such as blue-cheese and cheddar that have not been cooked or processed.
- Sauerkraut which is fermented cabbage is a great source of probiotics. The cabbage receives the probiotics during the fermentation process.
It is also very important to drink an adequate amount of water daily for proper maintenance and health of our digestive system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American College of Sports Medicine, American Heart Association, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.