Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Digestive disease – A common ailment

Do you suffer from any type of digestive disease or discomfort?  If you do, you are not alone.  According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 60 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of digestive disease or condition.  Some of the more common include constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, heartburn and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

As far as nutrition, there is a lot you can do to prevent or manage digestive problems.  Since less than 50 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of daily dietary fiber, this is one place you can start.  Fiber helps to keep our gastrointestinal tract clean and regular.  It helps reduce the risk of colorectal cancers and helps prevent constipation.  In general, proper fiber intake is an important step in the fight against most digestive diseases. In addition, dietary fiber helps with satiety, which means it keeps us fuller longer.  In this sense, dietary fiber can help to maintain a healthy body weight – which then, of course promotes healthy digestive health.  Being underweight or overweight can exacerbate digestive problems.  In order to get the recommended amount of 25-30 grams of dietary fiber per day, include whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.

Besides fiber, there are other ways to foster a healthy gastrointestinal tract.  Below is a list of things you can do to become more proactive in your digestive health.

• Stay well hydrated.  Non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages are best.  Also, avoid beverages made with high fructose corn syrup like sodas and many fruit drinks.  Examples of healthy beverages include water, milk or milk alternatives, non-caffeinated teas and 100% juices.
• Include prebiotics in your daily diet.  Prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria, thus improving gastrointestinal health.  Examples include artichokes, soybeans and raw oats.  Kraft LiveActive cottage cheese is a new product containing prebiotics.
• Also, include probiotics daily.  Probiotics are food supplements containing beneficial bacteria or yeast that work synergistically with prebiotics.  Examples of foods containing probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and Kraft LiveActive natural cheese.
• Try to get protein from lean sources and choose whole grains over refined, high fat versions (i.e. cookies, pastries, fried chips), since high intakes of fats – most especially the unhealthy saturated and trans fats – can lead to digestive problems.  Include fish, tofu, white and skinless poultry, dried peas, beans, lentils, nuts and eggs.
• Educate yourself by reading websites like the following: http://www.smartdigestivehealth.com, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/digestivediseases.html and http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/eating-good-health
 

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