Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Okay, so now you’re thinking, great what now? Well, first don’t rush out and spend your hard earned cash on some gimmicky product that promises overnight success. Getting your insides in shape is a process; there is no silver bullet! This is worth repeating, there is no quick fix or overnight solution (sorry). The first step is overhauling your food choices, eating more fiber, drinking plenty of water, and getting more physical activity on a daily basis.
Let’s start with fiber. Fiber has three different properties that matter to human health. The property most nutritionists talk about is solubility, the ability to disperse in water. Soluble and insoluble fibers are the labels most commonly used to describe fiber. However, two other properties of fiber are turning out to be important: fermentability (how easily the fiber ferments in the colon), and viscosity (the ability to gel with water) of the fiber, which may be more important than solubility. Insoluble fiber is what we usually think of when we think “fiber” or “roughage”. Wheat bran and most vegetables are examples of sources of insoluble fiber. It is tough, and doesn’t easily break down. Insoluble fiber tends to increase the “speed of transit” through our digestive systems, and increases regularity of bowel movements. A lot of soluble fiber is viscous, allowing it to absorb and retain water, forming a gel. This type of soluble fiber actually slows digestion down. Because of this, it has a tendency to stabilize blood glucose, and permit better absorption of nutrients. It tends to reduce blood cholesterol. It also increases satiety, so people aren’t inclined to eat as much. Sources of soluble fiber include flax, beans, peas, oatmeal, berries, apples, and some nuts and seeds. Some fiber will ferment in the colon, producing compounds that help support colon health, and possibly have other benefits. Most soluble fiber is highly fermentable. Pectins (found in apples and berries) and the fiber in oats are examples of fiber with a large fermentable component. Turns out that old saying is true “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”!
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water! When it comes to fiber and water, you can’t have one without the other. If you are planning to make the move and add more fiber to your daily diet, it’s imperative to increase your water consumption to at least eight glasses a day (about 64 ounces). If sufficient water is not available, fiber will not easily move through the system. It is important to remember that without water fiber often turns to cement, so drink up! Like fiber, water helps the metabolism work more efficiently. The combination of water and fiber will also make you feel more full, which helps your overall health.
Last (but not least) don’t forget exercise; exercise helps speed things up. Exercise is essential for regular bowel movements; one of the key risk factors for constipation is inactivity or a lack of exercise. Exercise helps constipation by decreasing the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, thus limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool into your body. Hard, dry stools are harder to pass. In addition, aerobic exercise accelerates your breathing and heart rate. This helps to stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles. Intestinal muscles that contract efficiently help move stools out quickly. My rules about exercise are to not have too many rules. In other words, find something that works for you and stick with it. If you hate going to the gym, then cut it out! Find something you enjoy; walking, gardening, dancing in your living room, volleyball, chasing your kids around the house (I think you get the picture) just do something, anything, to move your body.