It is National Gut Week here in the UK (21-27 August). Did you know that:

  • Bowel cancer kills more people in the UK than any other cancer apart from lung cancer?
  • as many as 1 in 100 people in the UK may have coeliac disease – but in most it is undiagnosed?
  • over 3,000,000 people in the UK are constipated every month?
  • as many as 1 in 3 suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome – and that this sometimes hides coeliac disease?

So, with your stomach in mind, here are some ways to look after your digestive system:

1. Eat a balanced diet. Yes, this does mean eat some fruit and vegetables. A balanced diet should include:

* starchy foods such as rice, gluten free cereals and potatoes
* fruit and vegetables,
* proteins, such as meat and fish, nuts, beans and pulses
* milk and dairy foods (but not if you’re lactose intolerant, obviously)
* small amounts of fat and sugar.

See NHS Direct for more.

2. Grill, bake, poach or steam your food rather than frying it. This will keep the nutritional value high, and keep the fat content lower. As an example, Delia offers instructions on how to how to poach and steam fish.

3. Aim to get your 5 a day. Remember, these need to be different kinds of fruit and vegetables – five glasses of orange juice doesn’t cut it. One way of thinking of this is to aim for lots of different colours on your plate. Visit www.5aday.nhs.uk for more information.

4. Go wholegrain whenever possible – wholegrain pasta, rice and bread is likely to have more nutrients than the more processed, white variety. There are high fibre versions of some gluten free breads, and brown rice is easily available, as is some buckwheat pasta.

5. Cut back on alcohol. The government’s recommended limits on this are surprisingly low – half a bottle of wine counts as a binge. Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining, as well as reduce the effectiveness of the small intestine. Not something a sufferer from coeliac disease needs to exacerbate.

6. And drink more water. This ought to help you avoid constipation, as well as wrinkles (think about it … raisins are dried grapes).

7. Eat properly. Ideally, at mealtimes only, sitting at a table, and without rushing your meal. The Independent has been running a campaign to bring back family meals, at least on Sunday – which does have something to be said for it …

8. Sleep well. I know, easier said than done, but if you’re struggling to sleep for any reason, have a look at the Sleep Foundation, which has a lot of information and ideas.

9. De-stress. Everybody relaxes in different ways – find something that works for you, and do it.

10. Do take up some exercise. This will not only help you lose weight, but should speed up your metabolism and generally help your body work better all round – including your digestion.

11. And do use the toilet! (OK – this is a bonus thought). Don’t ‘hold on’ – if you need to go, go. The longer the waste is in your body, the more water will be removed and the drier/harder it will get. This is the slippery slope to constipation.