By: Sue Delagrange, MS, RDN, LD.
Eating foods that keep your insides in good shape is a way to help prevent numerous diseases. Your digestive system is working nonstop to fuel every cell in your body as well as efficiently remove the waste. Neglecting your digestive system can have adverse effects that influence every part of your life.
Here are a few important lifestyle choices you can make to help ensure a healthy digestive tract:
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower the risk of eye disease, and have a positive effect on blood sugar.
As a bonus, because fruits and vegetables have indigestible fiber, it can calm symptoms of an irritable bowel and, by triggering regular bowel movements, can relieve or prevent constipation. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get an array of vitamins and nutrients.
Tips to eat more fruits and vegetables each day:
Keep fruit where you can see it. Place several ready-to-eat washed whole fruits in a bowl in the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter.
Explore your local produce aisle and look for something new to try. Variety and color are key to a healthy diet. Daily, try to get one serving from each of the following categories: dark green leafy, orange, red, and citrus fruits and vegetables.
Skip the potatoes. There are other vegetables that are packed with more nutrients.
Make it a meal. How about trying “Vegetarian Monday”!!
Choose whole grains and nuts.
Whole grains still have the dietary fiber, iron, antioxidants, and other healthy nutrients that are lost when grains are refined to make processed foods like white flour, white bread, crackers, and pastries. Our digestive tracts need fiber to keep the good gut bacteria alive and healthy. Flip over the packaging on your breads and starches and look at the ingredients. Look for “Whole Wheat” or “Whole Grain” as the first ingredient. Find ways to work whole grains into your diet like oatmeal, wild or brown rice, barley, and quinoa.
Limit added sugar.
Too much sugar can upset the balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract which can lead to inflammation. People who consume lots of added sugar each day – think soda, candy, and preservative-laden sauces and dressings – typically have diets low in fiber. Aim to keep total sugar consumption down to 25 grams or less a day, and limit added sugar to zero to one gram per serving.
Featured Recipe: Lentil Pasta Sauce
What are Lentils?
They are a type of legume that is native to Western Asia and North America. Many countries enjoy lentils as a dietary staple, as they offer an earthy, mild, nutty flavor that works well in various recipes.
Lentils are low in sodium and saturated fat and high in potassium, fiber, folate, and plant chemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant activity. Lentils also contain slow-digesting resistant starch that delays the absorption of carbohydrates with blood sugar-lowering effects, as well as being a source of probiotics that feeds gut flora to help prevent digestive diseases.
Because of their hearty texture and protein content, they are sometimes used as an alternative for meat. Here is one recipe you should try!
Lentil Pasta Sauce
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Nutrition Information: Calories: 470, Total Fat: 7 gm, Sodium: 126 mg, Total Fiber: 12 gm, Protein: 22 gm
1 (14oz) jar pasta sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups mixed vegetables (such as onion, zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry brown lentils
2 cups water
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-pound cooked pasta, such as spaghetti
½ cup parmesan cheese (Optional)
- In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add vegetables and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add lentils and water to vegetables and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of your pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes to 30 minutes, until lentils are just getting tender.
- Stir in jar of pasta sauce and Italian seasoning. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Sauce should be quite thick, but if it is too thick, add a spoonful or two of water.
- Serve with your favorite pasta (and parmesan cheese, if using) and enjoy!