Gut problems can occur at any age but for Baby Boomers and older members of society, they can be a bigger problem. This is partly due to digestion becoming more sensitive and slower as people get older.
Recent research by Activia showed that 85 per cent of Australians experience digestive discomfort and that as many as 46 per cent of Australians remove or reduce certain food groups from their diet in an attempt to stop bloating. Of course, it’s not just an issue in Australia, with people all around the world showing symptoms.
In fact, one in three men make excuses to remove themselves from a meeting because of digestive discomfort, while one in three women bail on friends and family because of the same reason. Everything from constant bloating and discomfort to painful bowel movements and constipation can point to serious gut problems and should be discussed with a GP or health professional.
Nutritionist Michele Chevalley recently spoke to Starts at 60 about gut health and said many over 60s notice their digestive system changing with age.
“This may be due to natural ageing and the consequences of less fibre, enzyme activity, hydration and life’s daily stresses,” Chevalley explained. “Bloating and slower transit time are not uncommon in people over 60 and it just means we have to be a bit more vigilant with our food choices, exercises and consumption of water and herbal teas.”
In most cases, gut health can be improved with good diet, hydration, moderate exercise and even balanced stress levels.
“Good gut health and wellbeing are partners,” Chevalley noted.
When it comes to food, opting for whole food that is naturally low in sugar and full of fibre and antioxidants is the best place to start. Equally, meals need to be balanced with quality proteins, while good fats and smart carbs can improve energy, digestion and sleep.
In addition, there are foods that should be avoided. Added sugar should be cut where possible, mainly because bad gut bacteria that cause problems live and feed off of it. This doesn’t mean cutting natural sugar found in fruit or dairy, because these sugars are naturally tolerated by the body and are needed by most people.
“Excess sugar is often the reason for bloating, gas, irrational bowel movements and simply an uncomfortable tummy,” Chevalley said.
Whole food groups such as dairy or gluten don’t automatically have to be cut from a diet, unless a person has a specific health problem associated with them.
“When we see people with consistent bloating we reduce ‘added sugar’, query food allergies or sensitivities and try to simplify their meals with clean proteins, fats and antioxidant rich carbs like good vegetable sources,” Chevalley explained.
Foods bad for gut health such as packaged sweets, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and canned cereals can be replaced with probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and kefir.
And, just as diet is important when it comes to gut health, exercise is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Whether it’s a daily walk, stretching or even yoga, gentle exercise can help the digestive system. For those who like a challenge, high-intensity training, cycling and weights can improve gut health.
“Exercising in moderation will help our digestive help,” Chevalley said. “Gut health is so key to our wellbeing. When it is out of whack, we are uncomfortable, and it is energy zapping.
“Do not dismiss that digestion can be energy zapping process and immune system taxing system in our body, it is important to value how we nourish it.”