How much thought do you give to your bowel health? Chances are, it’s not as much as you should. Bowel conditions affect significant numbers of the population each day, while bowel cancer is one of the UK’s most common cancers.
As April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, why not give some thought to your bowel and how you can give it some TLC. A good diet is a great starting point, so make an effort to start eating better for your bowel. You can begin by getting clued up on bowel care with a few handy pointers:
Bowel Cancer in the UK
As the fourth most common cancer in the UK, bowel cancer isn’t something to ignore. Cancer Research UK says that there are 41,700 new cases of bowel cancer each year in the UK, and it is a cancer that is more common in men (1 in 14) than in women (1 in 19).
While statistics may seem high, it’s expected that bowel cancer will fall by 11% by 2035. Cancer Research UK also estimate that 54% of bowel cancers are preventable, by avoiding smoking and drinking, limiting red meat intake and maintaining a healthy weight.
Some of the common symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- A prolonged change in your bowel habits, such as needing the toilet more often, or looser stools.
- Abdominal pain or a lump
- Blood in your stools that don’t accompany other symptoms of piles or tears from straining.
- Weight loss
- Persistent bloating or discomfort, particularly after eating.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, be sure to book an appointment with your GP to help rule out possible causes.
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
IBS is another common bowel condition affecting people across the UK. It can cause a variety of symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea that can be chronic or infrequent and can cause misery for sufferers.
Other types of bowel conditions
While bowel cancer and IBS are commonly discussed in the media, there are other bowel conditions that you might be aware off that affect thousands of people in the UK. Crohn’s disease and colitis can present similar symptoms to IBS but can become serious without the right treatment. Another condition that could be mistaken for IBS is coeliac disease, which has become more familiar to people in recent years with the rise in gluten and wheat-free diets.
Improving bowel care through diet
While different bowel conditions vary in terms of causes, symptoms and severity – a good diet can help to keep symptoms at bay and help you maintain a healthy bowel. Take a look at seven foods that can help you improve your bowel health.
Grains are a fantastic source of fibre, which can help to regulate your digestive system and ensure healthy bowel movements. Grains such as brown rice, porridge oats, quinoa and rye are all good grains to boost your fibre intake and are ideal for using in your breakfast or in salads.
2. Beans and pulses
Beans and pulses are another type of food that are rich in fibre. They are packed with nutrients that can help maintain a healthy bowel. You can try different types of beans and pulses such as kidney beans, pinto beans and lentils which make a great addition to salads, curries, pasta and rice dishes to help you increase the amount of fibre in your diet. Even baked beans are high in fibre – just make sure you opt for healthy varieties that are low in sugar and salt.
Artichokes are surprisingly high in fibre, and are a vegetable that not many people think to use when cooking. Containing more fibre than most other vegetables, there are several reasons why artichokes are good for you, including improving water retention. If you suffer from digestive problems then artichokes could help improve some of your symptoms.
Fruit is another natural source of fibre that can play an important part in your bowel care. Raspberries, blackberries and avocados in particular are good for aiding your digestion, while pears are also a good bowel-healthy food that you can snack on during the day. Get more fruit in your diet by making smoothies or take fruit to work with you to stop you snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day.
5. Wholewheat foods
While you’ll want to be wary of consuming too many carbohydrates, switching to wholewheat versions can actually have several benefits for your health. Try eating wholewheat bread, pasta, cous cous and cereals to make sure you’re getting the full fibre content that will keep your bowel healthy as well as help you release energy over a long period of time.
6. Probiotic yoghurt
The effects of probiotic yoghurt on your digestive system are widely celebrated, helping to keep your gut healthy and keeping things balanced. Probiotics are the good bacteria that aid your digestive system, and drinkable yoghurts are an easy way to get your intake.
Water is one of the most important things you can consume to keep your bowel healthy, so you should aim to drink your recommended intake of 2 litres a day. Water helps to regulate your digestion while also keeping your body hydrated. When you’re dehydrated you might notice changes in your digestion that should be cleared up when you up your water intake.
What to avoid for effective bowel care
Caffeine can affect your digestion in a negative way, and while you might think your coffee is a good idea for helping you go in the mornings, its dehydrating effects mean that it could actually be worse for your bowel. Try drinking caffeine-free drinks to help lower your intake, and make sure you always keep water to hand.
Alcohol can dehydrate you, which can be bad news for your bowels. When drinking alcohol, it’s important to maintain a steady intake of water to stop your body losing the fluid it needs. Reducing your alcohol intake is one of the ways you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer, so think about cutting down to keep your bowel healthy.
Greasy foods and red meat
While you might enjoy a burger and chips now and then, the saturated fat content means that they aren’t the best for your bowels. These types of foods are more difficult to digest, while they can also cause your stomach to cramp or feel upset after eating them. Lean meats and some home cooking can help reduce the amount of greasy foods you consume.
Looking after your bowel health is important, and starting with the right diet is one way to ensure good bowel care. If you’re at all concerned about your digestion or your bowels, make sure you book an appointment with your GP. Spread the word for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and help put an end to one of Britain’s most common cancers.