After food is churned and mixed with acids and enzymes in the stomach, it enters the small intestine -- made up of the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum -- and then the large intestine, or colon, before being eliminated. The intestines are responsible for completing the digestive process and absorbing nutrients required by the body. Many conditions can affect the digestive tract, such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer, but the right foods can help keep intestines healthy.
Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements a week, and affects over 4 million Americans. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) reports that "although increased fluid intake does not necessarily help relieve constipation, many people report some relief from their constipation if they drink fluids such as water and juice and avoid dehydration." Water keeps your intestines functioning properly by helping things move along more smoothly through the digestive tract and making stools softer and easier to pass.
Americans eat 5 to 14 g of fiber a day, on average, but the American Dietetic Association recommends 25 to 35 g daily. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is mainly found in whole grains; it adds bulk and increases stool size, which reduces constipation as well as hemorrhoids. Soluble fibers are present in oats, barley, psyllium, legumes and citrus fruit. This type of fiber absorbs a lot of water, which prevents dry stools that are difficult to pass.
Probiotics are defined as "a live microbial food ingredient that is beneficial to health" in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's "Prebiotics and probiotics: Are they functional foods?" Probiotics promote gut flora health and offer promising benefits like improving bowel habits, alleviating lactose intolerance and decreasing the amount of potentially harmful mutagens and carcinogens in the intestines. The most common strains, added to fermented dairy products like yogurt, are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Although more research is still needed, a new adage may soon appear: A yogurt a day to keep the intestines healthy.
Prebiotics are defined as "a nondigestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon" in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They are naturally found in artichokes, berries and oatmeal, or added to food as inulin or fructooligosaccharides. Prebiotics are needed to keep the gut flora healthy. The MayoClinic.com reports that prebiotics may improve antibiotic-associated diarrhea as well as traveler's diarrhea, normalize bowel function and boost the immune system, although further studies are required to confirm these potential benefits.
"Since 2000, three meta-analyses showed that total meat intake is not related to risk, but that red meat intake is a significant risk factor. In addition, the association of colorectal cancer risk with processed red meat may be stronger than that with fresh red meat," according to a review published by Raphaëlle Santarelli in Nutrition and Cancer. Although it is still unclear whether that association is attributed to saturated fat, nitrites or another component of red meat and processed meat, it is best to adopt a prudent approach by limiting their consumption, as recommended by the American Cancer Society.
- CA: American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
- American Dietetic Association: Probiotics and Digestion
- MayoClinic.com: Prebiotics
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Constipation
- Nutrition and Cancer; Processed Meat and Colorectal Cancer: a Review of Epidemiologic and Experimental Evidence; Rapha & Lle L. Santarelli
- fruit and vegetables on a pile studio isolated image by dinostock from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.