Some supplements to consider for digestive health

You can never underestimate the importance of staying “regular” as the old expression goes. If you’re coping with chronic bouts of constipation, diarrhea or even more serious digestive problems, you may want to change your diet.

Health magazine and other sources have put together comprehensive lists of the worst foods for digestion. Some of them aren’t too surprising, as they’re also said to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. These include foods that are high in fat, especially those that are of the deep-fried variety. Jessica Anderson, R.D., from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center noted that foods containing an excess of the wrong kind of fat can contribute to heart burn and acid reflux. Spicy foods – specifically chili peppers – and alcohol can both have a similar effect when it comes to heartburn. The magazine also links caffeine to some stomach problems – including cramping and diarrhea.

Some research – particularly an almost decade-long Swedish study cited by Women’s Health magazine – showed that chocolate may have benefits for heart health, Health magazine points to a different 2005 study, which indicates that chocolate my not be the best thing for people with irritable bowel syndrome on ongoing constipation. Although, the source also points out that this may be related to the diary content of chocolate, which could be problematic for those who are lactose intolerant.

On the other hand, there are also foods that could improve digestive health. LifeScript encourages people who are having some tummy troubles to eat more yogurt for its probiotic content. The bacteria in yogurt, which the source describes as “good bugs” help the bacteria that’s already in your stomach move digestion along. However, the site suggests avoiding yogurt that’s high in sugar, and sticking to yogurt that contains “active” or “live” bacteria cultures. Whole grains, fruits and vegetable are also pointed out by multiple sources as beneficial for digestion.

But as far as supplements go, here are a few that appear on more than one experts’ list as the best for digestion.

Fiber
Fiber has been known for its ability to keep materials moving through the digestive track, and is said to help keep the bad kind of bacteria and other potentially harmful substances from staying in your system for too long according to the Digestive Food Guide. Meanwhile, The Mayo Clinic describes fiber as “essential” for keep digestive systems in tip-top shape. Not only can fiber go a long way toward preventing constipation, it also has been known to aid with weight management and reduces the odds of developing diabetes.

Vitamin B
An unabashedly well-rounded nutrient, different varieties of vitamin B are cited by Everyday Health as having some particular benefits for the digestive system. While B1, B2 and B6 are noted for their ability to help digestion, B3 may be the most significant for deconstructing food, according to the source. B3 – also called niacin – is pointed out as having abilities to help process alcohol, carbohydrates and fats.

Vitamin D and vitamin C
Everyday Health also explains that, while vitamin C and vitamin D may not have direct benefits to digestive health, they could help improve many indirectly related factors – such as dental health. After all, being able to thoroughly chew your food only makes it easier to digest, and strong teeth may be linked to consuming plenty of vitamin C and vitamin D. In addition, vitamin C makes it easier to absorb iron, while getting the recommend amount of vitamin D – which one billion people on earth don’t do, according to the source –  can reduce the odds of developing colon cancer.

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Rise of the superfruit

Before globalization, consumers relied on local farms and distributors for their groceries. But with the advent of planes, trains and automobiles, we could transport our foods from far-away lands, giving us access to exotic produce. Today, researchers have uncovered several “superfruits” among this near-infinite array, and many of them can now be found at your local grocer. Here’s a list of the top fivesuperfruits.

Pomegranate
Pomegranates are among the best sources of Vitamin K and selenium on the planet and contain high levels of antioxidants as well. According to the Pomegranate Council of Sonoma, California, it is also high in vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Its juice contains polyphenols believed to reduce inflammation as well as minerals including folate, copper and phosphorous.

Acai berries
Acai is the king of antioxidants, containing more of these immune health boosters than blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. The flavonoid antioxidants in acai berries are also thought to fight free radicals in the blood stream, and play an important roll in cell production.

Avocados
Avocados are packed with heart-healthy fats that are considered a great alternative to other fats. They can lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol, helping the body toregulate its fat and energy use. According to the California Avocado Commission, avocados are sodium-free and have only five grams of fat per serving. Telegraph adds that they contain potassium, B-vitamins and folic acid. Avocados help the body to digest carotenoids, which ward off free radicals and are found in spinach and carrots. They also contain vitamin D and small amounts of manganese, which help regulate the immune system.

Dragon fruit
As well as being one of the most beautiful fruits you’re likely to come across, dragon fruit is also among the healthiest. It tastes similar to a kiwi, but has a pink exterior and white interior filled with soft, edible seeds that are high in fiber. Researchers from Malaysia’sUniversity of Putrafound that dragon fruit contains a plethora of essential fatty acids, which can’t be produced in the body and must be acquired through diet.

Papaya
Papayas are high in vitamins A, C and E and are a great source of antioxidants, potassium and calcium. Because they are tropical fruits, papaya are also in season year-round. They contain vitamin B in the form of folic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-1 and riboflavin. It is considered beneficial for digestive health when facing stomach discomfort and may also lessen inflammation by means of several forms of antioxidants.

The economy of superfruits
According to Time Magazine, businesses are having a field day coming up with new combinations for the rising number of superfruits made available to them, with consumers now seeking healthier foods and smaller portions. It should be noted that the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture both reject the term “superfruit.”

“There’s an implication that if I eat one superfruit, it’s the equivalent of eating two fruits,” Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the antioxidants research laboratory and professor of nutrition at Tufts University, told Time. “Americans already do not eat enough drug. I have nothing against goji berries, I am sure they’re delicious and you should eat them often, but I am reluctant to say that’s all you need to do. Ordinary fruits like apples and bananas are good too.”

Nutritionists claim that, regardless of whether your fruit is “super,” you should consume two to five servings each day for optimal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. high schoolers don’t consume enough fruit at school, so if you’re a parent, you may want to ensure your kitchen is stocked with some apples and oranges.

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Belly and thigh fat differ, study finds

New research from the Sanford-Burnham Translational Research Institute shows that belly fat and thigh fat differ, resulting from separate genes and activities. This is one reason why women and men are shaped differently, and according to researchers, has widespread implications for weight management programs as well as the healthcare industry.

Excess belly fat is associated with a greater risk of heart health complications and may lead to higher blood pressure, but thighfat doesn’t factor nearly as heavily into these conditions. Scientists now believe that by using gene therapy to reroute fat production from one area to the other, or by altering the type of fat development in one or both regions, they could reduce the number of heart-related deaths each year.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found significant genetic differences between belly and thigh fat. Women have more homeobox genes, which are programmed to respond to developing embryos, determining the location of new cells and organs. Men have 125 genes that differentiate the fat in their bellies and thighs, whereas women have 218, most of which don’t appear in males. There are 59 fat-related genes that overlap between men and women.

“Even though many women hate having large hips and thighs, that pear shape actually reduces their risk of heart disease and diabetes,” said Steven Smith, MD, lead author of the study. “In fact, women who have heart attacks tend to have more belly fat than thigh fat.”

Visceral vs. subcutaneous fat
According to Harvard Medical School, fat cells aren’t just storage deposits for energy, but are important in the production of hormones and other molecules that interact with other bodily tissues. Visceral fat, more common in the abdomen, is considered the most dangerous than subcutaneous fat that’s found just under the skin. Researchers found in 2010 that while visceral fat can lead to more health-related complications than other forms, it is also easier to get rid of. It is the first to respond to exercise and dieting and can quickly be added or lost, which is one more reason to exercise regularly.

Eating well is the first step to cutting back on excess fat and returning to a healthy body. Current research claims that sleep loss can cause significant harm to a body’s ability to regulate its own weight, suggesting that getting enough sleep could help to manage weight loss as well.

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Make a resolution: Eat healthier!

There are several organizations dedicated to educating you on healthy eating practices, and in today's internet age, there's not much keeping you from accessing each and every one to see what fits best with your lifestyle and work schedule. Having evaded the Mayan apocalypse and made it to 2013, you deserve a better weight management routine that gives you the most results for your buck. Here's a list of simple ways to improve your health through diet, and maybe even cut costs in the process.

Go vegetarian (for a week)
Going vegetarian is not for everybody and requires serious lifestyle changes for some. However, vegetarianism doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing pursuit. You can go vegetarian for just a week and reap some of the same health benefits of those who do so for longer periods.

According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, vegetarians enjoy a lower incidence of fatal heart conditions and have higher vitamin and fiber levels when compared to the general population.

Parents may consider implementing "Meatless Mondays" or similar weekly fruit-and-veggie events to create a habit of produce consumption early on. Planning a similar routine may send children the message that vegetables and fruits are good for your health, and making it a family activity could provide hours of fun and educational eating throughout the year.

For cooking purposes, meats are considered proteins, and should be replaced with plant-based proteins like beans, soy or nuts.

Think like a vegan
You don't have to be a vegan to think like one. To think like a vegan, you need only do one thing – choose variety whenever possible.

Because vegans don't eat dairy, meat or fish, they often find it hard to acquire some of the same nutrient profiles as meat-eaters or pescatarians (vegetarians who also eat fish). Taking daily vitamins or other supplements could help fill some holes, but when push comes to shove, vegans should always seek to eat as many different things as possible. This is because every fruit and vegetable contains different compounds, some of which are exclusive to certain produce. By eating a varied diet, you can ensure you have more of the nutrients you won't be getting from meats.

New Year's indulgence tastes good, feels bad
New years can be a time of indulgence for some, but weight loss efforts can be improved simply through small alterations to diet and improvements in physical activity. Kathryn Valentine, R.D., recommends staying away from holiday cookies and party hors d'oeuvres, although patrons of these treats may find it better to ask about ingredients and play it by ear. For parties with large dessert platters, consider taking just one slice of your favorite pie.

Even with holiday parties and New Year's dinners, it's a good idea to stick to your regular eating schedule and not eat too early or late. In particular, eating late can offset your sleep cycle and cause you to feel more tired the next day, so always choose earlier when eating at night. Alcohol consumption can also affect sleep health and may lead to weight gain if taken in large amounts. Substituting alcohol for spritzer or sticking to light beer could be a healthier alternative.

Be mindful
The best thing you can do for your body is pay attention to its needs. If you have a twisted ankle, it may not be the best idea to go for a mile-long jog. On the other hand, if you're diabetic or have cardiovascular complications, it could also be a poor decision to swallow an entire energy drink in one sitting.

To tailor your New Year's resolution to your specific needs, you should consider current health concerns, even those that are more cosmetic and may relate to weight. Dieticians frequently recommend that patients stop eating when they feel 80 percent full or try to savor every bite. This can not only reduce weight gain, but help us gain more joy from our meals.

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Asparagus could cure your New Year’s hangover

For as long as beer has been around, people have been trying to pilot new methods of hangover prevention. Some have claimed that seafood or high protein snacks can curb the effects of a long night drinking, while others report that consuming coffee and exercising can reduce the resulting headaches and sound sensitivity. However, research published in the Journal of Food Science has found that asparagus, a cruciferous vegetable, can help speed up the metabolism of alcohol.

Researchers found that asparagus contains amino acids, minerals and vitamins that work in cohort to manage alcohol hangovers. While alcohol is thought to harm the liver, asparagus extract taken with water proved effective at protecting liver cells from toxins found in alcoholic beverages. Chronic alcohol use can cause oxidative stress in the liver, sometimes leading to serious health complications. 

No one is saying that the next time you drink a bloody marry, it should come with an asparagus straw. But the evidence does show that after alcohol consumption, asparagus could help to absorb excess alcohol left in your system.

Previous reports indicate similar findings
Researchers decided to look into asparagus as a hangover prevention tool when previous studies suggested it might be useful for absorbing alcohol. Prior findings showed that vitamin B supplements, drinking slowly, eating before drinking and getting extra hours of sleep could help with hangovers. However, alcohol has the nasty effect of causing micro arousals during sleep, characterized by tiny tosses and turns that can disrupt deep sleep cycle and cause fatigue the next day.

How do I know I have a hangover?
Hangovers can cause several obnoxious symptoms and some that can actually harm your health. Nausea, depression and accelerated heart rates rank among the top symptoms, with many experiencing irritability, moodiness, sound and light sensitivity, fatigue or excessive thirst.

Researchers took cues from herbal medicine, which has called for asparagus to treat anything from stomach pain to depression and fatigue. Their study focused primarily on asparagus' effects on cell metabolism, eventually determining that asparagus is successful at sucking up excess alcohol in the blood stream and stomach.

When compared to the shoots, asparagus leaves contain much higher levels of the key amino acids and minerals involved in alcohol absorption. Therefore eating asparagus heads alone may prove more effective as a hangover cure. In the future, researchers may look for other vegetables with similar chemical profiles to find even further solutions to one of man's most annoying problems.

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Holiday overeating can alter biological clocks

Overeating and changes in the sleep schedule can significantly affect the body's "food clock" during the holidays, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have found. According to scientists, bingeing may lead to heart health complications including high blood pressure or increased cholesterol levels, harming weight management efforts as well. To make up for holiday indulgence, researchers recommend that consumers try to regulate their food clocks. But what is a food clock, and why doesn't it regulate itself?

Desynchronization of food clock could spark disease
Biological clocks consist of interacting gene pairs that switch on or off in response to human activities, making up 24-hour cycles. There are numerous biological clocks, from our circadian rhythms to the clock that determines what time of day we're most likely to die. In mammals, the circadian rhythm – which determines the sleeping and waking cycle – is controlled by the "suprachiasmatic nucleus," a small spot in the brain. Researchers know far less about the food clock, although they know that it gathers data from multiple regions of the brain and doesn't exist in a single location. This makes it particularly hard to study.

When we change our sleep schedules during the holidays, all of our body's clocks are disrupted. Researchers believe that when any of these clocks are out of sync, it can cause negative health effects or lower immune health, making a disease more likely.

The food clock regulates how genes perform consumption-related duties. Even before we start eating, our bodies begin preparing us for the meals ahead. Our genes send out signals for certain chemicals to be released and others to be withheld. When our eating patterns change – as during the holidays – our food clock can reset.

The future of the food clock
Researchers found that when giving mice food during regular sleeping hours, they would readjust their sleeping schedules to make room for later meal times. But in the absence of gene regulating PKCy proteins in the body, mice slept straight through their meals. Scientists determined that the PKCy gene could help manage sleeping and eating cycles and further research may lead to improvements in food and sleep science.

"Understanding the molecular mechanism of how eating at the 'wrong' time of the day desynchronizes the clocks in our body can facilitate the development of better treatments for disorders associated with night-eating syndrome, shift work and jet lag," Louis Ptacek, MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurology at UCSF, told Science20.

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Chip products expanding their horizons

The simple potato chip, like baseball, is among America's favorite pass times. But if you're looking for weight loss, chips are rarely the way to go. However, new chip products made from other produce have been hitting the $560 billion global snack food market, making "chips" no longer a potato- or corn-only experience. According to the LA Times, some of these alternative chips may even be good for you in moderation.

Wide range
Companies like Alive & Radiant Foods in Berkeley have come out with a massive variety of products that claim to be healthy alternatives to traditional potato chips, but what's the difference between these and other chip products, besides the lack of potatoes?

"Calorically, our veggie chips do have fat and sugar," Penny Horowytz, the company's founder, told the news source. "Fats from whole foods, such as soaked cashew nuts or sesame seeds, are in their natural state. The body is able to digest them more easily." The company's products include those made from dehydrated organic kale, arugula, sweet onion and collared greens, to name a few.

Tasty and unexpected
Taste is of utmost importance to every snack company. With the minor exception of products that provide weight management aid, if the consumer doesn't like the taste, he or she is unlikely to buy. That's why companies creating vegetable snacks are still likely to add large amounts of salt to their products, which could harm cardiovascular health if people decide to spend their time binging.

Many of these products are also prepared differently than their predecessors, using new popping technologies that cook them without exposing them to oil or other agents that could negatively affect the consumer's health.

Sweet (and healthy) alternatives
According to Time, Americans spend over $7 billion every year on potato chips alone (not including other chip varieties), but many don't know that chips also come in varieties made from fruit. Apples, for instance, make delicious chips. When you bake them, they release sugars that caramelize on the surface, making it into a sweet snack.

Taro, a white root vegetable, has 30 percent less fat and more fiber than its close cousin, the potato. This vegetable also contains high levels of vitamin E. Other root vegetables that make their way into chips include sweet potatoes, which contain more vitamin A than traditional chips.

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Nutrients and herbs to boost weight management

Many people find it hard to keep their weight down during the winter because we tend to spend much of our time indoors during these months and not moving much except to walk to the car or bus. However, there are several nutrients and herbs that are known to aid in weight loss, and supplementing your diet could be a good way to curb weight gain this winter season as you wait out the cold.

Ginger
Ginger is commonly added to teas and other meals for stomach pains or to help get rid of mucus in the throat, but what effects does ginger actually have on the body? Labeled a warming spice, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and may aid in digestive health, according to Food Consumer. Researchers have found that ginger may have thermogenic (heat-producing) properties and could help suppress appetite as well. 

Peppers
Bell peppers are loaded with vitamin C, which many scientists claim can aid in immune health. The San Francisco Chronicle adds that yellow bell peppers contain high levels of niacin and small amounts of folate, both B vitamins that are thought to help the body replicate DNA.

Cayenne peppers contain capsaicin – the compound that gives them most of their heat – which may help to lower calorie intake and shrink fat tissue. Food Consumer notes that the nutrient may also lower blood fat levels and fat buildup by causing protein changes in the body.

Cinnamon
Cinnamon may boost metabolism and help regulate blood sugar. In controlled studies, scientists found that cinnamon could significantly lower blood sugar levels, triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in people who were overweight, increasing glucose metabolism by as much as 20 times for some participants.

Ginseng
Several studies have shown that ginseng in the right amounts could help with weight management and may even improve brain health. According to Food Consumer, ginseng boosts metabolism and energy levels as well as improves insulin sensitivity, leading to better processing of sugars and less weight gain as a result. Vanderbilt University notes that ginseng has been implicated as a potential treatment for stress as well. 

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Vitamins that are good for your gut

Having trouble with digestion? Vitamin supplements may help you boost digestive health, as they are absorbed through digestion and help the stomach and intestines function. Here are some vitamins that could help you turn that stomach-churned frown upside-down.

B vitamins
B vitamins play an essential role in metabolism. Thiamine, or B1, turns carbohydrates into energy, and is vital to digestion. Thiamine also helps regulate appetite by keeping the muscular cells in your stomach and intestines strong. Riboflavin, or B2, is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and helps metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Niacin, or B3, breaks down alcohol, carbohydrates and fats, turning them into calories that raise energy levels. Niacin is involved in about half the chemical reactions in your body, so it's an important vitamin to keep an eye on. Pyridoxine, or B6, processes carbohydrates like other B vitamins, but also metabolizes proteins and amino acids. The absorption of these nutrients helps the intestines to process them further.

Biotin, the final B vitamin involved in digestion, improves the digestive track's ability to produce cholesterol to break down the nutrients from food. Biotin also helps the body get rid of waste products.

Other vitamins
B vitamins aren't the only ones that help you digest your food. Vitamin C, in addition to promoting immune system health, helps in the digestion of iron. Both vitamin C and vitamin D help to make teeth stronger, but vitamin C also improves gum health.

There are many foods high in B vitamins that are readily available at a store near you. Chicken, salmon and turkey are excellent sources of niacin. Niacin can also be found in legumes, peanuts, whole wheat pasta and many cereals.

The B vitamin folate, or folic acid, is also involved in digestion and may help regulate acidity in the stomach. Folate can be found in leafy greens like turnip greens and spinach, as well as many fresh fruits and vegetables in small amounts. Grain products like pastas and breads are almost all fortified with folate.

Riboflavin is found in heavy amounts in milk products and also in vegetables. Spinach, asparagus and other dark, leafy vegetables have riboflavin, as well as chicken, eggs, fish and certain fortified cereals. Biotin is also readily available in many foods, including fish, pork and avocado. Most fruits and vegetables also contain biotin.

There are many vitamins involved in digestion, and the best option for keeping a healthy digestive tract is to ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs to perform business-as-usual. Multivitamins are a great way to supplement your diet, and to ensure that you're not missing out on anything that could help your stomach make use of food efficiently.

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Simple and natural ways to relieve gas

Few people enjoy talking about their digestive health. That's because unless you're a superhuman, chances are you experience diarrhea or gas occasionally, which is not exactly something that people like to talk about. However, with the right eating habits it is possible to naturally relieve the symptoms of gas, which can seriously take over your life if it becomes a large enough problem.

According to Discovery Health, most intestinal gas comes from swallowed air, and most people produce six to 64 ounces of it each day. Furthermore, the average individual passes gas between 14 and 23 times on a daily basis. So if you have a problem with flatulence, you're not alone.

Fox News recently published an article by natural remedy researcher Chris Kilham, who stated that gas is a natural by-product of the digestive process. There are many ways that you can reduce the frequency of gas, if you're experiencing a flatulence issue.

Change how you eat

To start with, Kilham recommended chewing your food more thoroughly, since this reduces it into smaller particles that the body can break down more easily. He also suggested trying probiotic supplements to improve digestive health. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can help balance out the bad kind that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract.

Discovery Health suggested that you avoid "stuffing" yourself. The more food in the gut, the more gas can build up. Eating small, light meals slowly may help fend off flatulence.

There are also foods that have been shown to potentially reduce gas. For example, Caraway seeds and their oils may get rid of gas, which is why you may want to eat crackers or breads that contain these seeds. Also, foods rich in fiber have been shown to potentially boost digestive health.

Furthermore, Discovery Health recommended consuming tea herbs such as aniseed, basil leaves, chamomile, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and peppermint.

Kilham also suggested peppermint tea to Fox News readers.

"If you tend to get gas after eating, one simple remedy is to drink a cup of strong peppermint tea after meals. This is often sufficient to reduce much gas production, and save those you love from discomfort. Choose organic whenever possible," Kilham wrote for the news source.

Get moving

Finally, Discovery Health recommended exercise to help naturally reduce gas. According to the news source, flatulence is sometimes due to a faulty digestive process rather than a poor diet, and physical activity may encourage the smooth passage of foods down the digestive tract.
 

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