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Healthy nutrition & eating with digestive problems

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Healthy nutrition - What affects digestion & what helps?

Do you often suffer from abdominal pain and other digestive problems after eating? This is most likely not a coincidence: in many cases, wrong or unhealthy diets can affect the digestive tract directly - and trigger annoying symptoms. This is extremely unpleasant for those affected, but there is a chance of recovery: Because diet can be influenced. But what should you look for in your diet to prevent gastrointestinal problems? We’ll explain what you can eat to avoid stomach aches and other stomach problems and how to unburden your digestion. 

Why you might experience abdominal pain after eating

As soon as you enjoyed this delicious pizza, the first harbinger of unpleasant abdominal pain announces itself - many people suffer from gastrointestinal complaints because of their diet. Why is that? The explanation is simple: Ingested food can cause difficulties in the stomach and intestine for two reasons. 

  • The digestive tract tries to get rid of foods it is sensitive to as quickly as possible. The gastric nerves, for example, react sensitively to spoiled or incompatible foods and the transport of food can be unusually accelerated - resulting in abdominal pain and cramps after eating, as well as nausea and diarrhoea. 
  • In contrast, food that is difficult to digest, such as fatty foods, can only be digested with great effort and therefore spends usually more time in the stomach and intestine. During the prolonged decomposition processes, among other things, large quantities of gases can be produced - bloating, abdominal pain and feeling of fullness make life difficult for those affected. 

The resulting stomach problems can occur either on their own or in connection with existing diseases/disorders of the digestive tract. There are diseases with an underlying organic diagnosis/malfunction and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID), in which no organic underlying cause could be diagnosed. Your diet can generally trigger gastrointestinal symptoms too.

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Gastrointestinal diseases

Distinct from functional GI disorders are those, in which an underlying organic disease or malfunction can be diagnosed, for example: 

  • Lactose, gluten or fructose intolerance 
  • Gastritis 
  • Stomach Ulcers 
  • Infections of the gastrointestinal tract
A man dressed in white t-shirt, seen only from hip to shoulder, suffering from stomach pain.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID)

In functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID) no organic causes can be found, which can be responsible for the symptoms of the patients. Nonetheless, these are disorders that can be very unpleasant and can severely affect everyday life, for example:  

  • Irritable stomach/functional dyspepsia (FD) - A series of complaints concerning the region of the upper abdomen. There are multiple underlying causes that are still to be completely clarified. Functional dyspepsia often occurs in combination with other digestive disorders such as IBS. The typical symptoms include the feeling of fullness, early satiety and upper abdominal pain. 

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)  - The complaints often concern the lower gastrointestinal tract. Frequent complaints include abdominal pain, bloating and distension, diarrhoea and/or constipation. The causes are suspected to be disturbed movements of the intestinal musculature and oversensitivity of the intestinal nerves. 

    The following symptoms can further characterize the above-mentioned disorders: 

  • Abdominal cramps Spasmodic or colic-like stomach pain without specified localization 

  • Nausea  - The need to vomit but without actually ejecting the stomach contents 

  • Stomach pain Pain usually located on the left side of the trunk, approximately under the diaphragm. 

  • Abdominal pain Pain located below the sternum 

  • Bloating  - The feeling  is similar to that of congestion of food, but without relation to prior food intake 

  • Abdominal Pressure Depending on how sensitive the stomach nerves are, it can feel like a strong feeling of fullness or it can be associated with severe pain 

Dietary habits may trigger symptoms of functional disorders and an adjustment of the diet may help to relieve symptoms like abdominal pain, to unburden the patients affected. 

Furthermore, a healthy, balanced diet can keep you healthy in general. 

What to eat in cases of abdominal pain

Various foods and dishes can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms and should, therefore, be avoided. In addition, you can try reaching for a light diet and more small meals than a few big ones and see how your gut responds. You should consult with your physician about any changes to your diet. 

Stomach friendly vegetables are e.g. carrots, pumpkin, broccoli or peas. Also, ripe fruits like an apple or a banana are usually well tolerated. Digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain can be triggered by high-fat and sugary foods, bloating foods (such as onions or cabbage) and stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine.  

Gentle methods such as cooking and steaming not only help to preserve as many nutrients as possible but also relieve the stomach and intestines. Also, take time to eat and chew slowly to take work off the stomach. 

In order to deal with recurrent gastrointestinal complaints properly, it also makes sense to additionally rely on the help of well-tolerated medicinal products. Thanks to its combination of nine medicinal plants, Iberogast® can soothe sensitive nerves, normalize movements of the gastrointestinal tract and reduce pain and inflammation.

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Why is healthy nutrition important for digestive wellbeing and what foods are good?

Our health is significantly influenced by the way we live. A health-conscious lifestyle, physical activity and a healthy diet have a positive effect on our health and help to prevent illness. A balanced diet is your starting-off point to regular digestion. Desserts, white flour, fatty sausages and fried snacks - people often eat everything but healthy food. For example, if our food is low in fibre, it can cause constipation. We usually notice the importance of good digestion only when the intestine starts complaining.

What constitutes a healthy gut diet?

The bacteria in our intestines are important for our health. There are foods which can promote the intestinal flora and foods which do not or might even be harmful. 

The following nutrients might support your intestinal flora: 

Dietary Fibre 

 Dietary fibre is divided into water-soluble and insoluble forms. The soluble form of dietary fibre is found primarily in legumes such as beans, peas or soya, in fruit such as apricots, blackberries and prunes, vegetables, oat bran and barley. The insoluble form of dietary fibre is found primarily in wholemeal products, vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes, fruits like apples and bananas, nuts and seeds. Insoluble dietary fibre does not dissolve in water. 

A healthy mixture of both is recommended, as they serve as “food“ to the intestinal bacteria and thus support them. 

Prebiotics 

Prebiotics are a type of fibre - non-digestible, carbohydrate food components. They serve the intestinal bacteria as food and thus help to maintain healthy intestinal flora. Good prebiotic food sources are for example raw chicory, artichoke, bananas and fibre-rich foods such as rye. 

Probiotics 

In contrast to prebiotics, probiotics are living microorganisms. They help process the food through your gut. In experimental studies, some probiotics showed potential in regulating the pain sensation of intestinal nerves of IBS patients. 

Researchers are still trying to figure out which ones are best for certain health issues, but first results are promising: “Lactobacillus”, which is found in yoghurt and other fermented foods, may help with diarrhoea – and “Bifidobacterium”, found in dairy products, may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some other conditions.

Foods you should be careful with

On the other hand, there are foods that do not necessarily harm the intestinal flora but do not support it either. In general, you should limit thee intake of food with the following nutrients: 

Foods with a possible effect on your gut 

These are convenience food, snacks, cured and smoked meats. The salts used in these processed foods can irritate the intestinal mucosa. 

FODMAPs 

FODMAPs are short-chain sugars that are poorly absorbed within the small intestine but can be rapidly fermented by the intestinal microbiome. Since these carbs pull more water into the bowel, people with IBS may experience more gas, bloating and diarrhoea after consuming them. If you suffer from an irritable bowel, you may talk about a short-term low FODMAP diet with your physician. 

Generally non-good reputated foods 

Bad fats 

These are saturated fatty acids, found for example in butter, frying fat, lard or coconut oil. There is a causal link between increased fat intake and heart problems. 

White flour  

Often found in our favourite desserts like cakes, sweets, croissants and white bread. These foods are often low on dietary fibre, which supports our gut bacteria. 

Convenience Food  

In general, processed food often contains hardened fats, hidden sugar and a lot of additives that can put a strain on the intestines and the immune system.

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Healthy nutrition? Feels good, tastes good!

Healthy and digestive nutrition does not exclude tasty dishes. As long as a balanced and well-combined diet is maintained, it is good for body and soul. If your meal is rich in fibre and cooked with ingredients high in minerals and vitamins you are already on your way to promoting your digestion and well-being! 

Overall, it is very important to be versatile. A healthy diet doesn’t mean only eating fruits and vegetables. Prefer vegetable, but always remember to change the ingredients every now and again. This ensures a balanced and healthy diet.  

In addition, when including carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice focus on whole grains. This can increase the amount of fibre in your food (see above).  

Also, try choosing fat consciously and use vegetable fats such as rapeseed oil. Attempt to avoid hidden fats and to consume salt and sugar only moderately. 

Here are a couple of ingredient suggestions for a healthy diet, that are well digestible for the stomach: 

  • Wheat risotto with steamed paprika, zucchini and rocket 
  • String-bean salad with lean roasted poultry 
  • Salmon with lamb's lettuce and steamed red beetroot  

You can do yourself and your digestion a lot of good by increasing your intake of the following foods as well: 

  • Pineapples  
  • Apples  
  • Artichokes 
  • Avocados  
  • Bananas  
  • Potatoes  
  • Acidified milk products  
  • Fennel

Take your time to make the most out of healthy nutrition

Stress reduction, as well as regular meals without time pressure and with sufficient liquid intake, can in general help you take control over some digestive problems and increase the well-being of the digestive system, in combination with the nutritional suggestions provided above. Just try to incorporate the following tips into your everyday life: 

  • Drink enough  
  • Eat a balanced meal  
  • Chew slowly and thoroughly  
  • Create fixed rhythms and routines  
  • Move sufficiently

A first step in nutritional support

Treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders like IBS is possible with products such as Iberogast®

Nevertheless, unhealthy dietary and other habits, combined with physical inactivity can trigger symptoms such as abdominal pain and untypical bowel habits. That is why simply changing these factors can often greatly improve the quality of life and productivity of patients.

It includes information about different food groups, their effect on your digestion and how they may influence your irritable bowel symptoms. It will help you by providing a sample week-long dietary plan, an overview of fibre content by food type as well as a food pyramid, which you can use to build your own weekly meal plans.

Woman suffering from irritable bowl syndrome in holding her forehead in pain, while sitting next to her computer.

Stressful time

Stress at work has become part of everyday life for many people. In such situations, a small change, like the passage of a gas bubble, can feel much worse when a person is stressed and exhausted. This can not only create psychological problems like burn-outs, but it can also affect the gastrointestinal tract.

Learn more

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Iberogast®

Disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract are usually not only extremely unpleasant and associated with numerous complaints, they often make a normal everyday life even harder. It’s good that there is Iberogast®: The combination of nine medicinal plants targets both the underlying causes and the annoying symptoms.

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