Naini Setalvad discusses the importance of good bowel movement, crucial to maintaining overall health.
To this ‘end,’ she suggests the right foods
Whenever anybody comes to my centre, the first thing I ask them is if their digestive system is working well: “Is there any flatulence or constipation?” I know for a fact that if you’re not able to assimilate, digest, and excrete the food from your system, ill health is certain.
At the age of 17, I got an abscess in my rectum, which had to be surgically removed. All of this was due to constipation. In hindsight, I realised this was due to the unhealthy food that I was eating, which led to my weighing 160 kilos. Constipation, bloating, and flatulence were my constant companions.
What really shocked me was that even after I lost my weight at the age of 35, I suffered from a severe case of fissures. And I thought my food was the healthiest possible! That’s when I went more intensely into how the digestive system functions.
I strongly believe that your overall health is dependent on your stools. How your digestive tract works will give clues to the condition of your body and mind. Your diet as well as not being able to let go of the past will affect your stool schedule.
The quality of stool
You definitely need to keep track of the quality of your stools. They often take the colour of the food you eat. If you have eaten lots of greens, you might have green stools; likewise, eating lots of beetroots may give you red stools. Normally, it is medium to light brown in colour, and you should be passing it without any strain. It should feel smooth and soft and normally be of one long shape, falling gently without a splash. An S-shaped stool means it is healthy and good as it has come from the lower intestine, whereas a cluster of pieces is not a healthy stool. In terms of smell, a slight smell is natural. If your stool has particularly bad odours, do not ignore it. Stinky stools can be associated with many diseases like malabsorptive disorders, celiac disease, or even cystic fibrosis.
Black stools with bright red spots in it can indicate bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Hard stools can cause constipation leading to fissures, piles, and haemorrhoids. Often, there is increased bowel frequency or diarrhoea. Prolonged diarrhoea leads to weakness and lack of nutrition in your body. An increase in mucus in the stools can be associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer. Overall, a uniform texture of your stool will mean your gastrointestinal tract is healthy.
Achieving the perfect poop
Most people are very embarrassed to talk about flatulence. Just imagine, if there was no way for all that gas to get out, it would accumulate in our body, and we would become as round as balls! When there is a feeling of bloating and your stomach is extended, you may not even be aware that you are passing gas. Gas can spread across the body and can reflect as pain in the head, back, arms, and legs, besides the stomach. So, whenever you pass gas, remember: it is the good bacteria in the gut doing their job properly.
When I get clients, I tell them that the quality of your food and the amount of water you drink affects how long it takes for the food to be assimilated, digested, and eliminated from the body. Thus, to achieve poop perfection, you need to consume fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and small quantities of whole grains seasoned with herbs and spices from the Indian spice box along with good quality fat, fermented foods, and lots of water. And remember to chew your food to a pulp.
Cumin, ginger, ajwain (carom) seeds, turmeric, and asafoetida, when added to your meals, can do wonders to prevent bloating and constipation. A point to note: to increase the bioavailability of any spice and to aid elimination, you must consume it with a good quality fat. Cow’s ghee is one which is strongly recommended. Ghee made from the milk of A2 cows, which are your desi humpbacked cows, is even better!
When a client is constipated, I put them on the C.R.A.P. diet: adding fresh Cherries, dried Raisins, Apricots, and Prunes to their diet. Even one of them can aid in excretion. On the other hand, if one has diarrhoea, I suggest the P.B.R.A.T. diet: adding Pomegranate, Bread, Rice, Apple, and Toast which will firm up your stools.
It’s no wonder that people take to fermented foods. No meal of mine is complete without a cup of curd or a glass of buttermilk, and pickles are always on my plate. These foods are teeming with good intestinal bacteria which ensure the smooth moving of my gastrointestinal system. The probiotics in fermented foods help in effortless bowel movement. In the same way, an idli or a dosa is food which makes my stomach very happy.
Please avoid white sugar, white flour, fried, refined, processed foods, aerated as well as sugar-filled drinks, and alcohol as these are all detrimental to your gut’s microbiome.
Sleep timings and exercise levels also play a vital role in deciding your stool health. Melatonin dictates your sleep cycle, and its work is to cleanse your liver, which is one of your strongest detoxifying organs. Melatonin secretion is highest between 10 pm to midnight and then, it gradually decreases. The maximum assimilation and digestion happen between 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. So, if you sleep late and wake up late, this messes up your digestion.
If you are on any antibiotics or pharmaceutical drugs, they can also have an adverse effect on your gastrointestinal tract. Your emotional state can also disrupt your stool cycle. When you hold on to past grudges, hurts, and don’t let go, your body too will hold on to the waste and not let it go. You need to tell yourself that I am letting go of the past with ease, joy, and love so that the fresh, new, and vital will enter. You will see what a difference all of this will make to your digestive system.
Doodhi/Lauki (bottle gourd) Raita
250 gm curd, plain
150 gm lauki (bottle gourd)
1 tsp mustard, pounded
Salt to taste
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
Peel and grate the bottle gourd.
Beat the curd and mix it with the gourd.
Add salt, mustard, green chilli, and coriander.
Chill and serve.
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