Proper digestion is key to proper health. Needless to say, in today’s modern world, digestion problems have become so commonplace that it is not a wonder why bloating and heartburn are two of the most common problems associated with digestion. Other side effects of poor digestion include high levels of stress, constipation, diarrhea, extreme gassiness as well as nausea.
Left unchecked, it is easy for these side effects to develop into serious medical conditions such as Leaky Gut Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There are many factors that contribute to these conditions, ranging from poor diets, food allergies, a sedentary lifestyle and even infections. The good news is that, just as there are several causative agents, so are there simple solutions that you can use to greatly improve your digestion. Below are five simple and practical steps to get you started:
1. Make Sure Your Diet has Enough Fiber and is Low in Fats:
A high-fiber diet is one of the easiest ways to enhance your digestion. The simple reason for this is that such a diet helps to keep food moving along the gut. Since fiber cannot be digested and absorbed in the gut, it passes through and prevents the likelihood of getting constipated.
Constipation, which is characterized by infrequent or difficulty in passing stool, is often a precursor for several conditions that damage the digestive system. These include haemorrhoids and IBS. By taking foods that are rich in fiber, you should be able to avert constipation. Additionally, such foods are also low in calories, which make them an excellent option for weight loss management. This plays a critical role because obesity contributes to poor digestion in more ways than one.
Note that when choosing foods, it is advisable to go for both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber, just as the name suggests, pulls in water and is helpful in preventing diarrhea. Great sources of soluble fiber include nuts, seeds, legumes and oats. Insoluble fiber on the other hand, cannot be digested by the body at all. Consequently, it helps to bulk up stool and ease its excretion which goes a long way in preventing constipation. Your go-to sources for insoluble fiber include vegetables, whole grains and wheat bran.
When it comes to fats, fatty foods generally tend to slow down digestion because they take longer to be broken down in the gut. This predisposes you to constipation. Even then, this does not mean that you completely get rid of fats from your diet. Instead, choose to combine low-fat foods with a high-fiber diet to ensure that you are getting health benefits of the two. When choosing meat as a source of proteins, avoid going for fatty cuts and instead opt for lean cuts. You want to avoid eating chicken skin as it is laden with fats that may cause digestive problems.
2. Add Probiotics to Your Diet and Make Sure you Stay Hydrated:
One of the most popular ways to improve your digestive health is to introduce probiotics. These are the healthy natural bacteria that abound in the gut. Unlike bad bacteria, probiotics keep the body strong and healthy by offering protection from antibiotics use, stressful events and poor diet choices.
When the bacterial populations of the healthy bacteria in the gut are replenished, then the body is able to improve the absorption of nutrients and enhance the action of the immune system. Great sources of probiotics which you should take on a daily basis include low-fat yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.
In addition to including probiotics in your diet, remember to stay hydrated all day. Taking water is an important aspect of proper digestion because it prevents the gut from holding in water which often leads to constipation. When combined with a diet that is rich in fiber, this allows for soft bulky stool that is easy to excrete.
An increase in your daily water intake, especially if you are not used to the habit, can be very tricky. This is why it is advisable to find ways to improve the taste of ‘plain’ water. Consider adding cucumber slices or lemon wedges to give it that extra zing. You may also opt for herbal teas to keep you hydrated. Go for peppermint, fennel or ginger herbal teas to stay hydrated.
NOTE: Water is recommended between meals and not with meals as this serves to dilute the digestive juices, therefore interfering with the whole process.
3. Change Your Feeding Habits:
Many people do not realize it, but feeding habits have a great impact on the function of the digestive system. Just by altering a few habits, you could be able to reverse damage to the digestive system. Below are some simple alterations that you can make to your feeding habits:
- Practice mindfulness by shutting out the noise and focusing on the food – how it tastes, smells and its texture after the first bite. You want to turn off the TV and go offline to avoid mindless scrolling as you eat. Whenever possible, try and eat in a relaxed setting.
- Avoid emotional eating which predisposes you to eating unhealthy foods. In fact, research shows that when you are stressed out, the connection between the brain and the gut has a great effect on the process of digestion.
- Ensure that you chew food thoroughly before swallowing. Chewing marks the first step of digestion, yet it is grossly overlooked by many people. Proper chewing breaks down the food into small pieces and this helps with digestive processes in the gut. The smaller the food particles, the better the process of digestion. In addition to this, the release of saliva triggers the production of digestive juices in the stomach.
4. Take Real Food and Avoid Processed Foods:
Processed foods have been shown to cause heightened inflammation in the gut, and there are several reasons for this. First, such foods are loaded with calories and are often nutrient-deficient. This not only strains the digestive system, it also makes it easy to add weight which as is well known, reduces optimal digestion. Replace these foods with real nutrient-dense foods that nourish the gut. Below are simple ways to get this done:
- First and foremost, do away with artificial sweeteners. These are empty calories that destroy the population of healthy bacteria in the gut, effectively reducing the efficiency of healthy digestion.
- Get rid of gluten in your diet because this is one of the most common food allergens and gut irritants, even for those who are not affected by celiac disease.
- Opt for raw foods or minimally processed ones instead of refined foods to keep the digestive system in check.
5. Manage Stress Levels and Learn to Listen to Your Body:
It is common knowledge that stress wrecks havoc on different systems in the body, and the digestive system is no exception to this. Stress places a great strain on the organs of the digestive system, and this is why it is important to keep stress at bay. The good news is that there are many ways to reduce stress.
Whether you would like to walk in the natural outdoors to get relief from all of life’s pressures, or like to enjoy gardening when you are overwhelmed, the choice is yours on what works. Other stress-relieving techniques you can use include meditation, breathing exercises, yoga as well as journaling.
Closely tied to the importance of managing stress levels, is the need to listen to your body. Disregard the fad diets and work on understanding your body so that you know how to eat right in a way that is beneficial for your body. In the end, understanding your body will put you in charge of your health, in effect helping you make decisions that are best for your body based on your needs. The takeaway from all this is that it is possible to maintain a healthy digestive system with simple and practical steps. In case of any questions, consult your doctor for professional advice.