Can you “cleanse” your digestive system?
If you’re feeling bloated or constipated after excessing on fatty, sugary foods it might be time to treat your body to a gentler regime.
“Your body is quite efficient at dealing with overindulgence in the short term,” reassures Dr Nick Read, a gastroenterologist and medical adviser to the IBS Network charity.
“But if you’ve been experiencing heartburn and constipation, for instance, or your stomach feels bloated and you’re prone to wind, you might want to make some changes.
It’s not all bad
The good news is that you don’t need to do anything drastic to get it back to normal – but eating a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables and low amounts of fat will help, as will cutting back on alcohol . “No-one is advocating you starve yourself or live off cabbage soup. But there are some easy ways of being kinder to your gut and encouraging healthy function,” he says.
Cut down on fat
“We all need some fat – it’s a great source of energy and there are essential fatty acids the body needs for healthy function – but too much fat can make the gut sluggish,” says Dr Read.
“Fatty foods take longer to digest than other foods and tend to delay the digestive process, but after a while your small intestine adapts to an increased fat load, so that when you try to cut back after Christmas, for example, your body resists and craves it. If you persist though, this will pass off after a few days.
“Cutting back on fatty foods will also help reduce heartburn, where stomach acid refluxes into the gullet causing a burning sensation with occasionally a sour taste in the mouth,” he says.
“Try cutting back on fatty meat or switch to leaner cuts and eat less processed foods such as ready meals and takeaways, mince pies and chocolate which contain trans fats,” says Sonal Limbachia, a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
“Cooking ingredients from scratch and grilling rather frying or roasting will all reduce fat content,” she says.
“Juices and smoothies contain lots of vitamin B, folate, vitamin C and antioxidants and they really fill you up so you don’t want to eat so much,” says Dr Read.
Sonal agrees, but advises that smoothies have more fibre than juices and stresses that large portions of juices are not suitable if you have diabetes because they will have high sugar content.
“Add oat fibre or yoghurt to smoothies for added nutritional benefit and make vegetables the main ingredient to avoid having too much sugar,” she advises.
“Vegetable soups are high in fibre and vitamins, as well as low in fat and are meals in themselves with a low calorie content,” says Dr Read.
“Make your own soups – many processed soups have a high salt or sugar content. Add lentils and chickpeas to vegetables soups for protein and added fibre, and avoid creamy soups which are high in fat,” advises Sonal.
Cut back on alcohol
If you drink alcohol every day you could be at risk of developing fatty liver disease. This happens when alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat so your liver cells get stuffed full of it. If this happens, you may feel discomfort in your abdomen because your liver is swollen, feel sick and lose your appetite. The effects of excess alcohol on your liver can be confirmed by a blood test.
The good news is that your body will start shedding excess fat if you stop drinking for two weeks and don’t exceed the daily guidelines. Read more about cutting back on alcohol.
“Try to have at least two alcohol free days a week. You’ll also find you sleep better and wake with a clearer head too,” says Dr Read. “Plus you’ll save on calories.”
Drink enough fluids
“Make sure you are drinking around 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid a day to keep the bowels open regularly,” advises Sonal.
“Plain water is best, but diluted juices, herbal teas and low calorie squashes are all fine too. Be careful not to drink excessive amounts though, as drinking too much can cause health problems too.”
No quick fix detox
“Unfortunately there isn't any magic ingredient that can give your body a deep cleanse or detox or give you great skin,” says Sonal.
“The basis of many detox diets is often juices or syrups but people lose weight because they aren’t eating many calories, not because of any particular ingredient.
“These diets are not sustainable in the long term because of deficiency of essential nutrients and you would be far better to make small changes towards a healthy lifestyle rather than plunge into a drastic regime which you give up after a week or so,” says Sonal.
Try our new cleansing recipes for a short-term boost but for a health regime with longevity visit our Diet and Nutrition Centre and read our articles on healthy eating and exercising regularly.
IBS Network: wwwtheibsnetwork.org