We’ve all experienced digestive symptoms such as heartburn, upset stomach, gas, constipation, nausea or diarrhoea.
When these symptoms occur, they can cause major disruptions to your life, but a few simple diet and lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your gut health.
Eat Real Food
The typical Western diet is high in refined carbs, saturated fat and additives.
Diets high in processed foods have been linked to a higher risk of digestive disorders. Eating a diet low in food additives, trans fats and artificial sweeteners may improve your digestion and protect against digestive diseases.
- Food additives, including glucose, salt and other chemicals, may contribute to increased gut inflammation, leading to a condition called ‘leaky gut’
- Trans fats are found in many processed foods and have been associated with increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease
- Low calorie processed foods often contain artificial sweeteners. A study found that eating 50 grams of the artificial sweetener Xylitol led to bloating and diarrhoea in 70% of people
- Artificial sweeteners may increase your number of harmful gut bacteria
- Gut bacteria imbalances have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and bowel diseases like Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease
Eating a diet based on whole foods and limiting the intake of processed foods may be best for optimal digestion
Get Plenty of Fibre
A high-fibre diet promotes regular bowel movements and may protect against many digestive disorders. Three common types of fibre are soluble and insoluble fibre, as well as prebiotics.
- Insoluble fibre acts like an internal brush, helping your digestive tract keep everything moving along
- Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, legumes, nuts and seeds, while vegetables, whole grains and wheat bran are also good sources
- Prebiotics are another type of fibre that feed healthy gut bacteria. They help reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel conditions and are found in many fruits, vegetables and grains
A high-fibre diet has been linked to a reduced risk of digestive conditions, including ulcers, reflux, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and IBS.
Include healthy fats
Good digestion may require eating enough fat. Fat helps you feel satisfied after a meal and is often needed for proper nutrient absorption. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and improve the absorption of some fat-soluble nutrients.
Foods high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Chia seeds
Insufficient fluid intake is a common cause of constipation.
Increase your water intake by drinking non-caffeinated beverages and eating fruits and vegetables that have a high water content.
- Experts recommend drinking 1.5–2 litres of non-caffeinated fluids per day to prevent constipation, but you may need more if you exercise heavily or live live in a warm climate
- You can help meet your fluid intake with herbal teas and other non-caffeinated beverages such as seltzer water
- Another way to help meet your fluid intake needs is to include fruits and vegetables that are high in water, such as cucumber, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, grapefruit and peaches
Manage Your Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system, negatively impacting your digestion and has been linked to IBS, ulcers, constipation and diarrhoea.
When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it thinks you don’t have time to rest and digest, resulting in blood and energy being diverted away from your digestive system.
- Your gut and brain are intricately connected — what affects your brain may also impact your digestion
- Stress management, meditation and relaxation training have all been shown to improve symptoms in people with IBS
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture and yoga have improved digestive symptoms
It’s easy to eat too much, too quickly, especially with our busy lifestyles.
Mindful eating is paying attention to the process of eating and studies show that mindfulness may reduce digestive symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis and IBS.
• Eat slowly
• Focus on your food by turning off your TV and putting away your phone
• Notice how your food looks on your plate and how it smells
• Select each bite of food consciously
• Pay attention to the texture, temperature and taste of your food
Chew Your Food
Digestion starts in your mouth. Your teeth break down food into smaller pieces, allowing enzymes in your digestive tract to better break these pieces down.
- Chewing your food means your stomach has to do less work
- Chewing produces saliva, helping start the digestive process in your mouth by breaking down some of the carbs and fats
- Your saliva acts as a fluid, mixing with the food to help smoothly pass it into your intestine
- Chewing thoroughly ensures that you have plenty of saliva for digestion to help prevent indigestion and heartburn
- Chewing has even been shown to reduce stress, which may also improve digestion
Ditch Bad Habits
Most people know smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating late at night aren’t great for your overall health, they could also be responsible for common digestive issues.
- Smoking nearly doubles the risk of developing acid reflux
- Furthermore, studies have shown that quitting smoking improves these symptoms
- This bad habit has also been associated with stomach ulcers, increased surgeries in people with ulcerative colitis and gastrointestinal cancers
- If you have digestive issues and smoke cigarettes, keep in mind that quitting may be beneficial
- Alcohol can increase acid production in your stomach, leading to heartburn, acid reflux and stomach ulcers
- Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
- Alcohol has also been associated with inflammatory bowel diseases, leaky gut and harmful changes in gut bacteria
- Reducing your consumption of alcohol may help your digestion
- late night snacking can lead to heartburn and indigestion
- When you lie down, your stomach contents may rise up and cause heartburn. Lying down after eating is strongly associated with an increase in reflux symptoms
- If you experience digestive issues at bedtime, try waiting three to four hours after eating before going to bed, to give the food time to move from your stomach to your small intestine
Support your gut with certain types of nutrients to help support your digestive tract
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that may improve digestive health when taken as supplements. These healthy bacteria assist in digestion by breaking down indigestible fibers that can otherwise cause gas and bloating.
Studies have shown that probiotics may improve symptoms of bloating, gas and pain in people with IBS and may improve symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea.
- Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as:
- Yogurts with live and active cultures
A good probiotic supplement, such as Symprove will contain a mix of strains to help your gut. Each serving of Symprove contains more than 10 billion live, active bacteria, to help restore the balance of your gut.
- Glutamine has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in people who are critically ill
- You can increase your glutamine levels by eating foods such as turkey, soybeans, eggs and almonds
- Glutamine can also be taken in supplement form, but talk to your healthcare practitioner first to ensure that it’s an appropriate treatment strategy for you
- Zinc is critical for a healthy gut — a deficiency can lead to various gastrointestinal disorders
- Supplementing with zinc has been shown to be beneficial in treating diarrhea, colitis, leaky gut and other digestive issues
- The recommended daily intake (RDI) for zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men
Foods high in zinc include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Simple diet and lifestyle changes may help improve your digestion
- Whole-foods high in fiber, healthy fat and nutrients are the first step toward good digestion
- Practice mindful eating, stress reduction and exercise to help
- Ditch the bad habits that affect digestion. Those New Year resolutions such as stop smoking, drinking or late night snacking will only help!
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