Nutrients affecting Digestive Health

digestive systemWe need a healthy digestive system to assimilate the food we eat; but little do we know that these nutrients are also needed to keep the digestive system healthy. From A to D, essential vitamins play key roles in maintaining digestive health. In most cases you can get these nutrients from the daily diet; but those with certain gastrointestinal diseases may need supplements, however always consult a doctor first. Read on to learn which vitamins are the most important for healthy digestion and how to incorporate them into your eating habits.

B Vitamins

These vitamins are found in proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products, whole grain cereals, pulses, fruits like bananas, green vegetables and eggs. B vitamins are water-soluble, thus you cannot store them to use later; they need to be a regular part of your diet.

Essential B vitamins for the digestive system include:

  • B1: helps the body change the carbohydrates in diet into energy.
  • B3: is important for many digestive tract functions, including the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol.
  • B6: is very important in helping digestive system process the protein in the diet.
  • Biotin:This B vitamin helps the digestive system produce cholesterol and process proteins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids.
  • B12: plays a role in the nervous system, the production of blood cells, and the body’s use of folic acid and carbohydrates.

Vitamin C

Because it is an antioxidant, many people associate vitamin C with the immune system and preventing colds, but it also aids in digestion by supporting healthy teeth and gums and helping the body absorb iron. Food sources include: Citrus fruits (oranges, lemon, mausmi), berries (e.g. amla), tomatoes, peppers, broccoli.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body in absorbing calcium and plays a key role in how the nerves, muscles, and immune system function. Also healthy levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk for colon cancer. There are three ways you can get vitamin D: Sun exposure, Vitamin D-rich foods, such as egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk and cereal and supplements.

If you are not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight and food, talk to your doctor about a supplement. Keep in mind that you may already be taking a supplement that contains vitamin D. e.g. many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is involved primarily in boosting vision, bone, and reproductive health, as well as helping the immune system. Sources of vitamin A include liver, whole milk and its products, cod liver oil, kidney, egg, fish, meat and some fortified food products; colourful fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange and dark green leafy ones like carrot, papaya, tomato, capsicum, mango, apricot, spinach, fenugreek, etc. Although vitamin A is not directly involved in digestion, some gastrointestinal diseases can leave you vulnerable to a vitamin A deficiency.

So follow the mantra: Eat healthy to keep your digestive system healthy.

Curtail pesticides in your diet

vegetables-790022_640Science and technology brought in pesticides, which are a boon to farmers. They were designed to control the damage caused by pests, and have contributed to reducing diseases in crops and increasing food production worldwide. But the availability and widespread use of pesticides also has the potential to pose unexpected risks, both directly and indirectly, to our health.

Recently many advocacy groups and NGOs conducted random testing on fruits and vegetables and found unacceptably high amounts of pesticide residue in them. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “high levels of pesticide residues can be toxic enough to cause long-term cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects, and severe disruption of the immune system.” Pesticides affect different people differently. Children may be more sensitive to some pesticides than adults. Compared to adults, they breathe in more air and eat more food relative to their body size, increasing their exposure. Also, their developing bodies may not break down some chemicals as effectively as adults.

While steps are being taken by the government to sensitize farmers and vendors about the side effects of using pesticides, health experts suggest that consumers should explore alternatives like organic food. Even though the mere presence of pesticide residue in food does not imply that they pose a great health risk, we should be careful of what and where we buy it from. We can certainly try following the below mentioned measures to minimise pesticides in the food we eat.

  1. Buy organic and locally grown fruit and vegetables: Buying organic, in-season produce from your local market is the best assurance of pesticide-free produce. If you are on a limited budget, look for organic choices for the produce your family eats the most. Surveys have also shown that fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets contain fewer pesticides even if they are not organic.
  2. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating: Commercial vegetable and fruit washes are available which are formulated to remove chemical residue from produce or you can also make your own fruit and vegetables wash.
    • Using water and potassium permanganate (locally called lal dawai): 100 ml of warm water mixed with 1mg of potassium permanganate effectively removes most of the chemicals as well as microbes.
    • According to the CSE, washing food with 2% of salt water (2g salt in 100 ml water) will remove most of the contact pesticide residues that normally appear on the surface of the vegetables and fruits.
    • Make a solution with 10 parts white vinegar and 90 parts water and soak vegetables and fruits in it. Be careful while washing fruits like berries, and those with a thin peel as the solution might damage their outer-skin.

Also use a soft brush to scrub the firm fruits and vegetables and then rinse with slightly warm water. Be more thorough with these fruits: grapes, apples, guava, plums, mangoes, peaches and pears and vegetables like tomatoes, brinjal and ladies finger as they might carry more residue in their crevices.

  1. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize the potential of increased exposure to a single pesticide because specific pesticides are used for specific food crops. Eating a diet with many different fruits, vegetables and grains is a healthy practice in itself.
  2. Discard the outer layer of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or cabbage.
  3. Peel fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Peeling is another efficient way to remove residue and comes highly recommended especially when there might be some residue in the crevices of the fruit.
  4. Trim fat and skin from meat, poultry, and fish to minimize pesticide residue that may have got accumulated in the fat.
  5. Use ozone purifiers: Another way to improve the safety of fresh produce is to wash vegetables and fruits using vegetable purifiers. Ozonisation apart from removing pesticides is also instrumental in decreasing the microbial count present on the fruits and vegetables.

As mentioned by many agricultural scientists and agriculturists spraying of pesticides is important for agricultural produce to be enough for the entire population. But we can surely prevent the mal-effects by following adequate cleaning procedures. In addition, you may consider growing your own garden, or participating in a community garden. This will allow you to control which pesticides, if any, are used on the food you eat.