5 tips for better digestive health
When it comes to the human body, everything is connected, and an issue in one area can have a domino effect. Your digestive system and how well it is working is no different.
Digestive issues — from simple heartburn and bloating, to more significant problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut — are commonly linked with diet. But it is more than just the food we eat that causes these issues. Overall lifestyle and well-being can also play a role in the digestion of food and gut health. What goes into your body is one factor; how your body uses it is another.
To make sure you are doing the best by your gut, here is a list of five easy ways to help improve and maintain your digestive health.
This point will hardly come as a surprise, as you have probably been hearing it your whole life!
In order to keep your digestive tract in tip-top shape, you should eat a varied diet. This means filling out your meals with an array of foods, including high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and plenty of prebiotic- and probiotic-containing foods.
Of course, eating all the right things is only half of the process. Processed foods that contain trans fats, food additives, and artificial sweeteners have all been associated with many common digestive disorders (Harvard Medical School, 2018). So, while that drive-thru dinner may be convenient, and that iced donut may give you a quick sugar buzz, the negatives outweigh the positives.
2. Let fat be your friend
To some, it may seem counterintuitive to consider fat when planning for a healthier lifestyle, but fat plays a significant role when it comes to gut health. The challenge is to ensure you are getting the right type and amount of fat. There are two main categories of fat that should be considered when creating a digestion-friendly diet: saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are characterized by those that are solid at room temperature (e.g., bacon grease and lard). This is the type of fat found in dairy products and meats, as well as tropical oils like coconut and palm. Saturated fat can slow down digestion and cause discomfort, so reducing your intake by choosing lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy products, and oils like canola and olive can help circumvent problems (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Unsaturated fats are those that come from avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. They are split into two further categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats are commonly linked with the “Mediterranean diet,” which is thought to be the secret to the low rate of heart disease in the Mediterranean region of Europe. However, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked with decreasing your risk of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases that could hinder your digestive performance (National Institutes of Health, 2015). You can find omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, and salmon, and ALA in seeds and nuts.
3. Get enough fluids
In an ideal world, you should drink at least 11.5–15.5 cups of non-caffeinated fluids a day. Constipation is commonly attributed to low fluid intake (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
Coffee and energy drinks do not contribute to this daily goal. But do not feel that you have to restrict yourself to drinking just water (although it is a great place to start). You can boost your intake with herbal teas and sparkling water, or by eating fruits and vegetables that are high in water, like melons, strawberries, or cucumber. That way, you are meeting your water goal while also contributing to your “five-a-day” servings of fruits and vegetables!
4. Take care of your body and mind
For food to pass through your body with ease, it sometimes needs a little bit of help. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to do this. Cycling, jogging, or even a brisk walk can really help move food along its winding pathway. Even as little as 30 minutes a day can significantly improve your gut transit time (National Institutes of Health, 2005).
Good stress management is also vital for a happy gut. When it comes to your body, stress is the ultimate attention-grabber. Stressful periods monopolize your blood and energy, meaning that your body neglects your digestive tract, and as a result, stress is linked to many gastrointestinal issues (Harvard Medical School, 2019).
In a similar way, feelings of anxiety and depression can also factor into your digestive well-being. Your mood and mental health can easily contribute to issues like IBS, and bowel movement issues like constipation and diarrhea (Jon Hopkins Medicine).
By making sure that you incorporate relaxing activities like yoga or meditation into your schedule, you can help to at least curb the effects of stress.
5. Cut out or scale back your bad habits
Smoking, alcohol consumption, and late-night eating are all known to have adverse effects on digestive health. One of the most common issues connected with those habits is the development of acid reflux (Mayo Clinic). Quitting, or at least reducing these habits has the potential to greatly improve your digestive function and mental well-being.
There are multiple factors that can inhibit your digestive health and unfortunately, there is no quick fix. However, simple steps in the right direction, whether it be an adjustment in your diet or a new exercise routine, can easily put you on the path to healthier living.