World Digestive Health Day: A Healthy Gut
Every May 29th, the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO) initiates a yearlong, worldwide, public health campaign with focus on a particular digestive disease and/or disorder in order to increase general public awareness of prevention, prevalence, diagnosis, management and treatment of the disease/and or disorder. The theme for World Digestive Health Day 2023 is titled: Your Digestive Health: A Healthy Gut from the Start.
The aim of the World Digestive Health Day (WDHD) 2023 campaign is to discuss the normal functions of the digestive tract and ways to keep it healthy, with a focus on healthy eating from infancy through adulthood. The WGO goal is to promote a healthy gut for life going forward rather than focusing on diseases and looking for their causes. In diet, the focus will be on the need for adequate protein, promoting fibre, and limiting sugary food and drinks.
All month long, CDHF will be helping raising awareness of the importance of a healthy GI tract with simple information for adults and children that includes the below. Below we go through each of the main goals of the campaign, and the information you need to feel empowered to create a healthy gut! After all, CDHF always says a happy gut = a healthier, happier you!
1. The Normal Function of the GI Tract
When working well, the digestive system breaks down the food we eat into nutrients the body can absorb. In humans, proteins are broken down into amino acids, starches into simple sugars, and fats into fatty acids and other small molecules. The bloodstream distributes these nutrients to the rest of the body, and waste products are passed out as feces. Depending on what you’ve eaten, it can take anywhere from several hours to several days to fully digest food.
The main functions include:
- Digestion and absorption: Breaks down food so that nutrients and fluids can be taken up in the intestine and provide energy for the body
- Immune defense: 70-80% of the bodies immune system is in the gut
- Brain-gut axis: The gut is called the “second brain,” and its interactions with the nervous system are important
- House of the gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is your very own collection of microorganisms that live throughout your digestive tract. Since your digestive tract is sealed off from the rest of your body, whatever you eat doesn’t really become part of you until it gets past the walls of the gut and into the blood circulation. The microorganisms in the gut help act as gatekeepers at the gut wall, working in tandem with your immune system to keep out harmful substances.
2. How Diet Affects one’s Daily Life and it’s Importance to Health
A Healthy Gut for Children
Why is healthy eating important for children? Because nutrition is a critical aspect of children’s health and wellbeing. Good nutrition provides children with the energy and nutrients they need to:
- Grow and develop properly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Support their immune system
Building a Healthy and Balanced Diet for Children
A healthy and balanced diet is necessary to ensure children receive all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need to support their growth and development.
Parents and caregivers play a critical role in promoting healthy eating habits in children. They can help children develop a taste for healthy foods by offering a variety of nutrient-rich foods and limiting processed, high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-fat foods. It’s also important to encourage children to eat a variety of foods from all the different food groups to build a healthy diet.
What’s on Your Child’s Plate?
We suggest filling half the plate with colourful fruits and veggies, and splitting the other half between whole grains and healthy proteins4. Other key tips:
- The more variety the better when it comes to fruits and vegetables – colourful is key!
- Whole grains like whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, and quinoa won’t mess with your child’s blood sugar as much as other refined grains4.
- Offer healthy proteins like beans, nuts, fish and poultry over processed or red meats whenever possible.
- Fat is not always the enemy! Healthy oils from plants as well as unsaturated fats in foods like avocado, peanuts, and salmon are a critical part of every child’s diet.
- Dairy is necessary in moderation to make sure your child gets enough calcium and vitamin D – go for unsweetened, plain dairy products4.
- Make water the drink of choice for every meal4.
Adapting to Their Age
It’s important to note that a healthy and balanced diet is not a one size fits all approach. Dietary requirements change drastically as a child ages, for both sources of nutrition and portion sizes.
Your once bottle-obsessed infant has become a picky toddler? Introduce them to a wide variety of healthy food options during this low-appetite period, which is more important than making sure they finish every plate of food.
Your adolescent child on the other hand may seem like a bottomless pit. This is because from 13 to 18 years old, children undergo a massive development period of bone, muscle, organ, and even blood volume growth5. While we previously mentioned obesity as a risk factor for many illnesses, during this growth phase it’s important not to underfeed your child because you’re worried about their weight. Ensure they’re eating sufficient amounts of healthy foods from across the food groups to meet their increased energy demands, and to help them grow.
A Healthy Gut for Adults
Eating enough nutrients as part of a varied diet is important for the health and function of all cells. Eating for gut health includes getting enough of the below in your diet.
- Vegetables and Fruits
- Whole grains
- Lean meats
- Healthy fats (oils, nuts & seeds)
- Probiotic and prebiotic foods
- Herbs and spices
Fibre is a carbohydrate that is only found in plant-foods and that the body can’t digest. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Fibre is the fuel colon cells use to keep themselves healthy. Fibre also keeps the digestive tract flowing, keeping your bowel movements soft and regular.
Sources: Soluble can be found in barley, oats, nuts, and chia seeds. Insoluble can be found in whole grains, corn, green beans, and fruits with skin.
Vegetables and Fruits:
- Provides fiber and antioxidants
- Fruits: Banana, apple, grapefruit, grape, pineapple, blueberry
- Vegetables: Leafy greens (spinach, kale), broccoli, romaine lettuce
- How much? The more the better!
- Provide a great source of fiber → feeds gut bacteria → healthy gut
- Whole grains and starchy vegetables
- Oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, whole grain breads
- Sweet potatoes, parsnips
- How much? 3-6 servings/day (½ cup cooked)
- Chickpea, kidney bean, lentil, etc.
- Also provide protein
- How much? 1/2 cup 2-3+ times/week
- High saturated fat diet has been shown to alter to alter gut microbiome and predispose people to digestive disease
- Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated, omega-3 and omega-6) may be beneficial
- Olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish and fish oil
Lean Protein & Plant Protein vs. Fatty Protein
- Plant based protein also has fibre + other benefits of plant based protein
- Offsets impact of a high protein diet on gut bacteria
- Red meat may increase gut production of a compound responsible for increasing cholesterol levels
- High saturated fat diet may decrease gut biodiversity
Herbs and Spices
- Help in digestion: ginger
- Reduce inflammation: turmeric and ginger
- Help promote good gut bacteria: bay leaves, cloves, oregano, cinnamon
Hydrating with Water
- Drinking adequate amounts of liquid, particularly water, is important for healthy immune system
- Staying hydrated is also important to help regulate bowel movements, prevent constipation, and break down foods
- Try to drink a minimum of 1.5 litres of plain water per day.
- Limit sugary drinks
- The more fibre you consume, the more water you should drink. Start with a minimum of 2 litres per day and increase by at least 500 mls for each additional 5 grams of fibre
Foods to Limit
- Red & Processed meat: Carnitine found in red meat interacts with gut bacteria to produce harmful compounds
- Refined carbohydrates (grains): Weakens “beneficial” bacteria in gut, low in fibre
- Ultra-Processed foods: Like hotdogs, candy, etc. Can lead to creation of destructive gut bacteria
- Added sugars: Weakens “beneficial” bacteria in gut
- Saturated and trans fats foods: Can increase the number of “harmful” gut bacteria and decrease
- Sugary beverages: Weakens “beneficial” bacteria in gut
- Alcoholic beverages (Women: 1 drink/day, Men: 2 drinks/day): Can lead to inflammation of gut microbiome
3. Develop educational and training materials based on the latest recommendations for healthy eating
How to get the Nutrition you Need if you’re Lactose Intolerant
f you have lactose intolerance, obviously you’d rather avoid living with symptoms like belly cramps, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. But if you simply stop eating all dairy foods, there’s a good chance you won’t be getting enough some nutrients that are important for maintaining strong bones and good overall health. Learn what you may be missing out on, and how to get the nutrition you need if you’re lactose intolerant.
Is Lactose-free the same as Dairy-free?
Navigating the grocery aisles can be especially confusing if you’ve recently been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, or another condition that’s managed by avoiding certain ingredients and/or foods. For people who have recently discovered that they have this digestive issue, a common question is whether lactose-free and dairy-free mean the same thing.
The short answer is no, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Here’s what you need to know.
Nutrition Guide for Athletes
Sports nutrition and nutritional strategies have evolved over the years and often follow a “one size fits all” kind of approach. However, research suggests that a tailored approach to individual athlete’s needs, and specific sports is more optimal. Read all about sports nutrition in our guide for athletes.
Share CDHF’s resources this month with the hashtag #WDHD2023
- Tips for Healthy Eating from Canada’s Food Guide
- Healthy Eating Habits course from NutriProCan dietitians
- Gut Health Fundamentals course from NutriProCan dietitians
- Family Nutrition and more courses from NutriProCan dietitians
- Nyaradi, A., Li, J., Hickling, S., Foster, J., & Oddy, W. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(97), 97. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00097/full
- Reilly, J. J. (2005). Descriptive epidemiology and health consequences of childhood obesity. Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 19(3), 327-341. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1521690X05000345
- Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019). Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), 1933. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
- Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. (2023). The Nutrition Source – Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/kids-healthy-eating-plate/
- Corkins, M. R., Daniels, S. R., de Ferranti, S. D., Golden, N. H, Kim, J. H., et al. (2016). Nutrition in Children and Adolescents. Medical Clinics of North America, 100(6), 1217-1235. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025712516372960?via%3Dihub
- Government of Canada. (2022). Canada’s food guide – Healthy eating for parents and children. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/parents-and-children/
- Markowiak, P. & Slizewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622781/