Everyone has experienced occasional digestive problems such as gas, heartburn, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. Still, when these issues start to occur frequently, they can cause significant disruptions in your life. Fortunately, there are many lifestyle and diet changes that you can make, which will positively impact your gut health. In our guide, we cover six fantastic methods you can use to promote healthy digestion.
Western diets are typically high in saturated fats, refined carbs, and food additives, which have all been linked to an increased risk of developing digestive issues and disorders.
Common food additives such as salt, glucose, and other chemicals have been found to contribute to higher levels of gut inflammation; this can lead to developing a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Trans fats can be found in most processed foods and are well known for how they negatively affect the heart. They have also been linked to an increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammatory bowel disease.
Processed foods such as ice cream and low-calorie drinks often contain sweeteners, which have also been shown to cause digestive distress. During one study on sweeteners, researchers found that eating large quantities of artificial sweeteners like xylitol or erythritol led to diarrhea and bloating in most of the participants. Other studies have also shown that artificial sweeteners can increase the amount of harmful bacteria in your gut which could also lead to poor digestive health. Imbalances in your gut have been suggested to contribute in developing irritable bowel syndrome or irritable bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Eating a gut healing diet based on limiting the intake of processed food and increasing the intake of whole foods that are high in nutrients has been shown to protect against developing digestive diseases. For more information on how to create the best gut healing diet for you, check out Dr. Ruscio’s blog.
It is well known that fiber is extremely beneficial for maintaining good digestion; soluble fiber adds bulk to your stool by absorbing water, and insoluble fiber helps your digestive tract to move everything along. You can find soluble fiber in foods such as oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes, while whole grains, vegetables, and wheat bran are fantastic sources of insoluble fiber.
Having a high fiber diet has been found to reduce the risk of developing digestive conditions like reflux, ulcers, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is also known as diverticular disease, a condition where small bulges or pockets develop in the lining of the large intestine.
Prebiotics are another type of fiber that can be found in many vegetables, grains, and fruits, which feed the good bacteria in your gut and reduces the risks of developing inflammatory bowel conditions.
Adequate intake of healthy fats is essential for good gut health and digestion. Healthy fats help you feel satisfied and full after a meal but are also vital for proper nutrient absorption. Studies into healthy fats have shown that having high levels of omega-3 in your diet can decrease the risk of developing inflammatory bowel conditions, including ulcerative colitis, as well as contributing to a healthy brain. There are plenty of foods high in beneficial omega-3 like chia seeds, flaxseeds, nuts, and fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon.
A common cause of constipation is a low intake of fluids; this is due to many people not realizing who much they should drink in a day. Experts recommend that you should consume between 50-66 ounces of non-caffeinated fluids each day to prevent constipation. However, if you live in a warmer climate or exercise strenuously, you may need to drink more in order to stay hydrated.
Water is not the only way to ensure you are consuming enough fluids in your diet; herbal teas and other non-caffeinated drinks such as seltzer water are also popular favorites for many people. Several fruits and vegetables, such are zucchini, cucumber, celery, melons, strawberries, peaches, and grapefruit, are high in water and are another excellent source of fluids for your diet.
If you have a lot of stress in your life from work or other activities, you may have noticed how much havoc stress can wreak on your digestive system. Over time, the damage to your digestive system can lead to many digestive disorders; one of the most well-known conditions caused by the damage stress inflicts on your digestion is stomach ulcers. Other digestive conditions that can be brought on by stress can include constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The hormones released when you are stressed directly affect your digestion; this is due to the fight or flight mode in our brains which causes our bodies to think we don’t have time to digest or rest. During times of stress, your body diverts energy and blood away from the digestive system slowing down the process of digestion, which can lead to damage to your gut.
Managing your stress through meditation, relaxation training, or other stress management techniques has been shown to improve many symptoms in those suffering from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. Some studies have also found that acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, and yoga can lead to a healthier gut and improved digestive distress symptoms.
In our busy lives, it’s easy to wolf down food without thinking so you can get on with what you need to do that day, but this can lead to gas, bloating, and indigestion. Mindful eating is when you pay attention to the whole process of eating and to your food. Many studies have shown that practicing mindful eating can reduce the symptoms of digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
The steps for eating mindfully are simple:
- Eat slowly
- Turn off the TV and put away your phone
- Pay attention to how your food looks and smells
- Consciously select each bite of food
- Consider the texture, temperature, taste as you chew
- Chew thoroughly before you swallow
- Listen to your body and stop when you’re full
Ensure you are chewing your food thoroughly when you eat in order to break down the food into smaller pieces; this allows the enzymes in your digestive system to break down the food more efficiently. Poor chewing can be the source of decreased nutrient absorption, and it also causes your stomach to work harder when turning your food into the liquid that enters your small intestine.
Saliva is an essential part of your digestive process as it begins breaking down the fats and carbs in your meal as you chew; the longer you chew your food, the more saliva is made, which can break down carbs and fats in your food before they reach your stomach. Once your food reaches the stomach, the saliva becomes vital for solid foods to pass through your intestines with ease. Ensuring you chew thoroughly by breaking down the food into smaller chunks and having plenty of saliva mix with the food to aid in the digestive process has been shown to prevent symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.
If you don’t pay attention to the cues your body gives to tell you when you’re hungry or full, it becomes easy to overeat and experience bloating, gas, and indigestion. Many people believe that it can take as long as 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is full, which is why eating slowly and mindfully is a crucial step to avoid overeating and causing other digestive problems.