For one to lead a healthy life, the functioning of the digestive system is central, which calls for ideal dieting habits. There are various foods that can improve the health of the digestive system, just like there are others which cause gastrointestinal tract problems. There are also some food habits that lead to complications associated with the gastrointestinal tract, according to Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietician at Amazon Complimentary Therapy in Remera, Kigali.
Habits to embrace
Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says there are foods that when eaten can bring about digestion problems, which might result into bad breath. He says processed meals is one of them.
He, however, advises that a diet rich in plant-based foods is essential as it boosts proper digestion. Wheat, apples, yogurt and water are essential for improving digestion too, adds Uwiragiye.
“Foods that can improve the digestion process are of different types. Those rich in fiber, for example, are highly recommended. This is because they boost the digestion process as they increase absorption in the small intestines,” he says.
Uwiragiye says examples of foods with high content of fiber include vegetables, fruits, whole grains and cereals.
He says that staying away from alcoholic beverages, sugar, soft drinks and tobacco keeps bad breath at bay.
“The preparation of these foods also matters. This is because, if wrongly prepared, it affects the fiber composition in such vegetables,” says Kamanzi.
He says, in general, maintaining the hygiene of the utensils, places where food is prepared as well as that of the people preparing the food is important as it prevents infections of the stomach.
Kamanzi says it is also best to consume food with the right temperature, noting that it should be warm, but not too hot.
Uwiragiye says that normal flora is a type of bacteria that are harmless and good for the gastrointestinal tract.
“They also help in ingesting and digesting other bacteria. They are mostly found in the gut, and one can get them from yogurt,” he says.
What to avoid
Kamanzi explains that vegetables with water soluble vitamins are best prepared in fats without mixing with water to prevent the evaporation of vitamins that are essential in digestion and good health in general.
“Another way to prepare them is by not pouring the oil on the sauce pan first, but rather starting with spices depending on one’s preferences. The oil can be added on top of the vegetable later,” he says.
The logic behind this, Kamanzi says, is to prevent the change of the chemical formula for the oil.
“When oil is put on the pan first, its form changes, which can further lead to complications in digestion when consumed,” he says.
Kamanzi also cautions that much as fruits are recommended, it is a bad habit to mix different types of fruits to be taken at the same time. Taking one or two types of fruits a day, and doing the same the following day with different types is ideal.
“There are some fruits that have citric acid which will affect the stomach leading to problems of digestion,” he says.
Eric Musengimana, a nutritionist working with Rwanda Diabetic Association, says another unhealthy habit that could bring about digestion problems is drinking either water, juice or any soft drink while eating.
“When eating, food is in solid form, and when passing in the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach wall, there are some chemicals that are secreted. Those acids and enzymes become less effective when they have to work on liquids and solid food co-currently,” he says.
Musengimana explains that drinking while eating leads to confusion in the secretion of the chemicals that aid in digestion, thus problems in digestive process.
He also points out that going to sleep immediately after eating is not recommended as it can negatively affect the small and large intestines, as well as the stomach.
“One-hour-and-a-half after eating is the ideal time before going to bed. Food hygiene should also be a priority if one wants to have a healthy digestive system,” he says.
Uwiragiye says there are some foods that contain some bacteria such as escherichia coli, which when ingested, can lead to problems in the gastrointestinal tract and in other areas.
“The bacteria are also capable of causing food-borne diseases and ulcers, leading to diarrhea, vomiting and urinary tract infections,” he says.
Kamanzi, however, notes that another important habit which is more common is mixing cold and hot food while eating.
“This affects the gastrointestinal tract, thus poor digestion. It also leads to confusion in the secretion of enzymes and other chemicals like hydrochloric acid in the stomach which results in indigestion,” he says.