Here are some simple tips to prevent the digestive system from getting sluggish and constipated this summer.
One common problem in the summers cutting across all age-groups is constipation. Thanks to the heat, there are higher chances of getting dehydrated, and lack of enough water intake is almost a given in this weather.
Unlike earlier, when it was considered a problem of the elderly, constipation today is one of the most common gastrointestinal issues among all age-groups — including teenagers. Unfortunately, because of lack of knowledge and also because of our tendency to opt for quick fixes, most sufferers self-medicate with OTC laxatives — turning a small problem into big trouble in the long run. Constant reliance on OTC medicines leads to troubles like haemorrhoids, piles, toxic liver, kidneys, lungs and lymphatic system, and dull, patchy skin, in the long run.
To avoid constipation you need to follow some basic food rules:
Get enough fibre
Most people eat only five to 14 grams of fibre a day when the recommended intake is 25-35 grams. In fact, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends 40 grams of fibre a day.
You could get that from two figs with oat porridge and wheat bran, plus guava for breakfast; two or three rotis made with atta that has wheat bran in it, a katori of dal and 100 grams of almost any subzi for lunch; and an evening snack of fruit chaat.
If you don’t want to crunch numbers, just go for whole-wheat flour for chapatis, opt for brown rice, eat oats (or even millets such as barley and bajra) for breakfast, get five servings of fruits and vegetables and two of pulses each day, and you won’t go wrong.
Remember to increase your fibre intake slowly to avoid gas and bloating.
Get the right fibre
There are two main types of dietary fibre: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fibre (also known as roughage) increases the feeling of fullness, stool size and bulk, and helps reduce constipation and haemorrhoids. It is found in wheat bran, most wholegrain cereals and vegetables. On the other hand, soluble fibre forms a gelatin-like substance in the intestines and absorbs water, softening the stools. It is found in citrus fruit, pulses (dals, dried beans and peas), oats and barley. You need adequate quantities of both kinds of biotics.
Have more water
There is no substitute for the elixir. Fibre is most beneficial if it was accompanied by enough water — at least two to three litres a day. Besides, dehydration is often the hidden root cause in most cases of constipation — more so in summers.
Get enough magnesium
Magnesium plays an important role in muscle function. As our digestive system is essentially one long muscle, magnesium deficiency often leads to constipation. Magnesium also attracts water in the colon (and softens the stools) and helps relaxes the muscles in the intestines by establishing a smoother rhythm that prevents constipation.
Make it a point to have plate dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds and soya to get enough magnesium.
Balance the gut
The balance between the good and the bad bacteria in the gut often gets skewed due to pollution, antibiotics, stress or wrong eating. The good bacteria are essential to break down the food and excrete the waste. Both — probiotics (probiotic milk, fermented foods, yoghurt) and prebiotics — the foods that feed the probiotics (onions, raw banana, garlic, leeks) can help restore the balance and get our digestive tract working again.
The no-go list
The gut could do with all the help it can get. Do it a favour and stay away from the below mentioned.
Oil slicks in the gut and slows the digestion down. Eating a heavy meal before sleeping or eating high-fat meals within four hours of bedtime is a common cause for constipation, as the rich meal and sleep work together in slowing the digestion down.
Alcohol dehydrates stools and suppresses intestinal peristalsis all at once, so can contribute big time.
Processed foods have a lot of takers today because they are easier to eat and need little preparation — compare opening a packet of apple juice to actually washing, coring, peeling and slicing the fruit, not to mention the planning required having it fresh. However, they are devoid of any fibre and so are common causes of constipation.
There are quick fixes to aid.
If you haven't managed to maintain a healthy gut with the above-mentioned, panic not. Mother nature has these quick-fixes to let it loose.
Gooseberry or Amla is a lesser-known weapon to fight constipation. It is high in fibre and also helps stimulates the secretion of gastric juices.
Aloe vera contains anthraquinones or natural laxatives which help the stimulation of peristalsis (the muscle movement that moves food through the digestive tract).
If you’re having an especially bad bout, a safe remedy is a spoonful of isabgol (psyllium husk). Just make sure you drink plenty of water with it, as it absorbs this to form a bulky gel — not drinking enough water might just worsen things.
Ground up flaxseed helps, as does flaxseed oil.
If none of the above help, it could be something more sinister hiding in the body.
If increasing fibre and water in your diet doesn't help constipation, then there could be a hidden problem. It could be because of a poorly functioning thyroid gland or undiagnosed diabetes, or even be a side effect of some supplements like calcium and iron or blood pressure medications.
Lastly, always listen to the gut. It will tell you how to ease it up.