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Good Gut, Bad Gut

By Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES June 2, 2021Nutrition Education Services Center Blog

Your digestive system is a workhorse in your body. You may not think about the actions and energy that are required to move food through your body, digest food, and absorb nutrients, but it’s a huge job! The digestive process is a series of steps. Digestions starts in your mouth and includes seven other organs which, if laid out, would cover approximately 30 feet for adults. Is there anything you can do to support your digestive system during cancer treatment? Let’s find out.

  1. Ask your treatment team for help with managing gut issues. Some cancers or treatment can cause digestive side effects, such as diarrhea, pain, reflux, nausea, malabsorption, and constipation. Start the conversation when you first notice issues. Many people are unable to manage these issues on their own.
  2. Eat small meals every 3-4 hours and balance your fiber and fluid to support gut health. Small amounts of food spaced throughout the day are much easier for your body to digest instead of two big meals daily. Fiber and fluid help move food through your digestive system, but you can get too much of a good thing! Discover what types and amounts of fibers and fluids work best for you.
  3. Choose food first as the best source of nutrients, not dietary supplements. One serving of a food gives you much more than a single nutrient or digestive support supplement. For example, there are tasty food sources of prebiotics and probiotics that also carry many other nutrients that support your immune system. Think whole grains, asparagus, greens, berries, bananas, yogurt, dried beans, onions, tofu, kefir, and sauerkraut. Choose foods to provide digestive support, instead of a pill.
  4. Take notes. If you have gut issues, keep a record of the foods you eat and the side effects you experience. It may be anywhere from 20 hours to several days for what you eat today to exit from your colon. Writing down what you eat and drink today can help you identify the triggers for tomorrow’s gut issues. Share your food intake log with your healthcare team too. You can use our free Food Intake and Side-Effects Log or download the free LLS Health ManagerTM
  5. Limit ultra-processed foods such as fast food, candy, desserts, chips, pastries, sugary drinks and fried potatoes. Instead go for minimally processed foods that retain their nutritional value and look much like they would on the farm, orchard, or field. The less the food is processed, the fewer ingredients and additives you will find in the food, and the less work your digestive tract will have to perform to absorb the nutrients.
  6. Cook your foods for easier digestion. When you have digestive issues, it may be best to cook your vegetables instead of eating raw vegetables, such as a salad, or snack on applesauce instead of an apple. Cooked food still retains the nutrients but with less work required from your digestive system.

When it comes to gut health, there is not a one-size-fits-all menu to support digestion. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist to find strategies to work for your gut!


Guidelines for Increasing Dietary Fiber

Supporting Your Immune System

How Your Digestive System Works- TED Talk by Emma Bryce (video)

Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Author Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Nutrition Educator Margaret Martin is a Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist in the State of Tennessee as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Margaret graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and received her Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science & Public Health from the University of Tennessee. With more than 10 years of experience in Clinical Nutrition, Margaret has also worked in the insurance industry with WellPoint Inc. and Blue Cross Blue Shield providing telephonic nutrition consultations, service assistance, and web-based nutrition education. In her free time Margaret volunteers with the American Lung Association’s annual “Lung Force Walk" in Middle Tennessee. She belongs to the Oncology Nutrition & Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More posts by Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

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