14 strategies for a happy (and flat) tummy

Do diet: Follow these simple steps to improve your digestive health and get rid of discomfort from gas, bloating and other common tummy troubles. Bonus: You'll look better naked, too!
14 strategies for a happy (and flat) tummy


Power up digestion

Most people have heard something about probiotics, but do you really know what they do for your health? The next time you’re at the grocery store, you may notice that many items list probiotics on the label—not just yogurt, but also cheese, milk, juices and cakes. Simple marketing ploy? Not so, say researchers who’ve discovered numerous health benefits result from eating these good bacteria on a daily basis.

“Some probiotics improve the health of your digestive tract and eliminate digestive problems. Others reduce the duration of colds and flu or strengthen weakened immunity of the elderly,” says Dr. Denis Roy, holder of a Canada Research Chair in the dairy and probiotic industries, whose role is to research and monitor the effects attributed to probiotics for medical and nutritional purposes. What’s more, a recent study out of University College Cork in Ireland suggests that the anti-inflammatory, disease-fighting benefits of probiotics may extend to the entire body.

The most commonly researched probiotics are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Unlike some other probiotics, they survive digestion and can live in the intestine. That’s where 70 to 85 percent of immune cells are produced, and where probiotics work to strengthen the body’s immune defences. And in the large intestine, they increase digestive comfort.

So how can you tell if a product containing these healthy bacteria will really work? “The probiotics that have been shown to offer the greatest health benefits always have a name and number,” says Roy. “If this is not the case, it doesn’t mean that these bacteria are not helpful; rather, it means their beneficial effects have not been studied.”

He also points out that quantity is important. “For any probiotic product to be effective, it must contain at least one billion probiotic bacteria per 100 grams,” he says. These bacteria are also naturally present in fermented dairy products (yogurt, kefir), miso, tempeh (fermented soy) and some vegetables.

Bowl of yogurt with raspberries, blueberries, blackberriesVeer

Listen to your gut!

Scientists now know that your digestive system speaks to the brain in the same way the brain talks to the rest of the body. In fact, 90 percent of info flowing through the body's main nerve (a.k.a. the vagus nerve) is from the intestine to the brain, not vice versa. Even more surprising, 95 percent of the body's seratonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and sleep, comes from your colon.

To learn more about the mind-gut link, click here.

Listen to your gut!Masterfile

Pack in some lean protein

The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you burn through the day. How does eating protein help? For one, it helps your body maintain muscle mass as you age. But it also stabilizes blood sugar and helps you feel more full, so you're less likely to crave sweets that could wreak havoc on digestion — and your waistline. Aim for 12 to 16 g at breakfast and 25 to 30 g at lunch and dinner. Meat may seem like an obvious choice, but there are many other healthy protein-rich foods to pick from.

Greek yogurt contains twice as much protein as traditional yogurt, and even the non-fat version tastes rich and creamy.

Beans A veggie burger made with quinoa (see recipe on later slide) or mashed kidney or navy beans makes a delicious dinner entrée. Tip: Always rinse canned beans to wash away the sodium solution they're packed in.

Eggs Two eggs contain 12 g of protein and nutrition experts love them — especially when they deliver omega-3 fatty acids. Tip: Hard boil a few on Sunday and keep them in the fridge to snack on.

Fish Aim for 2 to 3 servings of fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout or herring every week. These fish are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to relieve intestinal inflammation and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

Egg squeezed by bungee cordIstockphoto

Schedule snack time

Nibbling non-stop through the day is a definite no-no for a healthy digestive system. Constant snacking causes the body to continuously secrete digestive juices, making it literally work overtime. On the other hand, eating every three to four hours gives the body a chance to rest, explains Dr. Mickael Bouin, a gastroenterologist at the hospital of the Université de Montréal. When you feel peckish, he advises reaching for fruit. It's easiest to digest!

Make it a habit:
Prep as much as possible at home. Studies show eating one meal away from home a week translates into a two-pound weight gain every year.

Woman snacking on pineappleMasterfile

Go for whole grains

Ancient grains like quinoa and black barley are high in fibre, which keeps you feeling full longer and may torch belly fat faster. Bonus: Fibre helps you stay regular and avoid constipation.

Quinoa-Veggie Burger

Prep time: 20 min.
Total: 40 min.

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 227-g pkg cremini mushrooms, coarsely grated (1 cup)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
3/4 cup coarsely grated carrot
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic glove, minced
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions, omitting salt, about 14 min. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Heat a large, wide non-stick frying pan over medium. Add oil, then mushrooms, zucchini, carrot, shallot and garlic. Cook until soft, about 5 min. Add to quinoa. Stir in egg, cornstarch, salt and cayenne.

3. Heat the same non-stick frying pan over medium. Firmly press quinoa mixture into a 1/2 cup measure. Turn and release into pan. Gently press to shape into a patty about 4 in. wide. Repeat, cooking 2 patties at a time. Cook until golden and warmed through, about 4 min per side.

4. Top with tahini sauce and roasted plum tomatoes.

Serves 4

Per serving: 159 calories, 5 g protein, 27 g carbs, 4 g fat, 3 g fibre, 180 g sodium.
Excellent source of vitamin A.

Quinoa-Veggie BurgersAngus Fergusson

Think less is more

Excessive drinking of liquor, wine and beer increases acid secretion in the stomach and can exacerbate ulcers and gastric reflux. For the sake of your digestive system, limit drinking to nine glasses a week.

Glass of champagneMasterfile

Ditch the fizzy soda

Ever feel a burning sensation in your chest after downing a can of pop? Well, you can thank the bubbles for that discomfort. All carbonated drinks (even sparkling water!) can cause acid reflux, because they contain gases that can force the esophageal sphincter (a valve that separates the stomach from the throat) to remain open. When this happens, stomach acids rise into the esophagus to create that burning sensation. Remember, acid reflux feels even worse when lying down, so it's especially important to avoid any carbonated beverages before bedtime.

Glass with cola sloshingPhoto, iStock.

Go gluten-free

If you frequently feel abdominal discomfort after eating bread or pasta, your body may lack the enzymes needed to properly digest gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. Test for gluten intolerance by cutting wheat-based products from your diet for a week or two. If you experience fewer intestinal complaints, consider asking your doctor or naturopath to test you for food intolerances. Replace gluten-rich products with gluten-free alternatives like quinoa and brown rice bread, chips and noodles, and low-gluten cereals like oatmeal and cornmeal.

Sack of grain with wooden spoonDave King/Stockfood

Burn off belly fat

Fat likes to accumulate around the belly, so you need to follow a two-step approach to get rid of it: heart-pumping cardio followed by strength training. "You can't count on strengthening moves alone to do the trick," says Quebec health and fitness expert Josée Lavigueur. To blast away fat, you have to do cardiovascular exercise, which burns calories and revs your metabolism. "The best choices are walking, running, biking and swimming," she says. But you also have to strengthen your core. And the secret to a stronger midsection is simple:

Try plank position
"It's one of the most efficient abdominal exercises you can do," says certified personal trainer Lyzabeth Lopez. Rise up on your hands and toes with your arms shoulder-width apart, back straight and neck in line with your spine. Squeeze abs and keep your body straight from head to toe. Hold 30 to 60 seconds. For an extra challenge, lift an arm or leg, or hold the pose for up to two minutes.

Bonus: A good workout also revitalizes the gastrointestinal tract with oxygen-rich blood and promotes enzyme production to process food more efficiently.

Woman in plank positionPhoto, Roberto Caruso.

What are prebiotics?

Also known as resistant starch, prebiotic fibre is a type of non-digestible carb that the body uses to feed probiotics and help these good bacteria grow and remain in the gut. Good sources include cultured yogurt, garlic, onions, asparagus, honey, artichokes, bananas, whole grains and chicory root.

Garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes, bananas, whole grainsIstockphoto

Spice it up!

Use digestion-enhancing herbs to add flavour to your cooking without adding calories. Try these three proven BFFs for your gut.

1. Ginger: Popular in Chinese medicine, this root is commonly used to treat mild stomach upset and help digestion.

2. Peppermint: This herb calms stomach muscles and helps ease indigestion. It also has an antibacterial effect that may help soothe pain and bloating associated with irritable bowel syndrome.

3. Camomile: This plant is a popular herbal treatment for stomach upset. It's believe to be more effective when combined with peppermint.


Book a holiday

Dr. Kevan Jacobson, a gastroenterologist at the University of British Columbia, wishes he could prescribe time off. "We underestimate the power of relaxation. Limiting stress is as important for the mind as the gut," he says.

Relaxing in a hammockMasterfile

Say no to saturated fats

Heartburn, bloating, constipation and lack of energy are often due to high levels of saturated fat. Opt instead for a diet rich in cooked vegetables, whole grains and dairy products. Enhance the taste of veggies with a light sprinkling of flat-belly flavour boosters like turmeric, chilies, garlic powder or red pepper flakes.

Broccoli on a plateIstockphoto

Trade earl grey for green

Every cup of green tea is packed with catechins, powerful antioxidants that may boost metabolism. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the consumption of catechins in green tea may enhance exercise-induced abdominal weight loss. Not a tea drinker? Try green tea supplements, which may have the same slimming benefits.

Clear glass mug of tea with tea bagIstockphoto


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