Digestive Health: Diet and lifestyle changes, such as eating whole foods and avoiding late-night meals, can have a positive impact on your gut health.
Everyone experiences occasional digestive symptoms such as upset stomach, gas, heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.
Digestive Health, However, when these symptoms occur frequently, they can cause major disruptions to your life.
1. Eat whole foods
Digestive Health, Whole foods are minimally processed, rich in nutrients, and linked to a wide range of health benefits.
On the other hand, the highly-processed foods found in a typical Western diet are often high in refined carbs, saturated fat, and food additives. Processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of developing digestive disorders.
Food additives, including glucose, salt and other chemicals, have been suggested to contribute to increased gut inflammation.
Digestive Health, Inflammation may impair the barrier function of your intestines, leading to increased gut permeabilility. In turn, increased gut permeability may contribute to a range of health conditions.
Some processed foods may contain harmful Trans fats. In the past, most of the Trans fats found in processed foods came from partially-hydrogenated oils.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned partially-hydrogenated oils in 2018, small amounts of trans fats may still be found in processed foods.
Digestive Health, It’s important to read the labels on processed foods to be sure they’re free of trans fats. These fats are well-known for their negative effects on heart health but have also been associated with an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.
What’s more, processed foods like low-calorie drinks and ice creams often contain low-calorie or no-calorie sugar substitutes. Some of these sweeteners may cause digestive problems.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol are sugar substitutes that can cause bloating and diarrhea. One study found that eating 50 grams of xylitol led to bloating and diarrhea in 70% of people, while 75 grams of erythritol caused the same symptoms in 60% of people.
Digestive Health, Studies also suggest that artificial sweeteners may increase your number of harmful gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria imbalances have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Fortunately, scientific evidence suggests that diets high in nutrients protect against digestive diseases.
Digestive Health, Therefore, eating a diet based on whole foods and limiting the intake of processed foods may be best for optimal digestion.
2. Get plenty of fiber
Digestive Health, It’s common knowledge that fiber is beneficial for good digestion.
Soluble fiber absorbs water and helps add bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber acts like a giant toothbrush, helping your digestive tract keep everything moving along.
Soluble fiber is found in oats, barley, and legumes, while whole grains, nuts, and seeds are good sources of insoluble fiber. Fruits and vegetables can be rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, so eating a variety of these foods will ensure you’re getting plenty of each type.
Digestive Health, The daily reference intake (DRI) for fiber is 25 grams for females aged 19 to 50. For males aged 19 to 50, the DRI for fiber is 38 grams. However, most people in the United States consume only half of the daily recommended amount.
A high-fiber diet has been linked to a reduced risk of digestive conditions, including constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, and colorectal cancer.
Digestive Health, Prebiotics are another type of fiber that feed your healthy gut bacteria. Diets high in this fiber have been shown to improve barrier function and reduce inflammation in the gut.
Digestive Health, Prebiotics are found in many fruits, vegetables and grains.
3. Add healthy fats to your diet
Digestive Health, Good digestion may require eating enough fat. Fat helps you feel satisfied after a meal and is needed for proper absorption of certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis, though more research is needed.
Foods high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts), as well as fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.
4. Stay hydrated
Digestive Health, Low fluid intake is a common cause of constipation.
Your total fluid intake comes from plain water, other beverages, and foods you eat. Experts recommend drinking plenty of water each day to make sure you are getting as much fluid as you need without extra sugar and calories.
Digestive Health, You may need more water than usual if you’re in a warm climate or exercise strenuously, and when you’re feeling sick.
In addition to water, you can also meet your fluid intake with herbal teas and other non-caffeinated beverages such as seltzer water.
Digestive Health, Another way to help meet your fluid intake needs is to include fruits and vegetables that are high in water, such as cucumber, peppers, broccoli, strawberries, apples, and oranges.
5. Manage your stress
Digestive Health, Stress can have a negative impact on your digestive system.
It has been associated with stomach ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and IBS.
Stress hormones directly affect your digestion. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it thinks you don’t have time to rest and digest. During periods of stress, blood and energy are diverted away from your digestive system.
Digestive Health, Additionally, 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.
Other studies have found that cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture and yoga have improved digestive symptoms.
Digestive Health, Therefore, incorporating stress management techniques, such as deep belly breathing, meditation or yoga, may improve not only your mindset but also your digestion.
6. Eat mindfully
Digestive Health, It’s easy to eat too much too quickly if you’re not paying attention, which can lead to bloating, gas and indigestion.
Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to all aspects of your food and the process of eating.
Studies have shown that mindfulness may reduce digestive symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis and IBS.
To eat mindfully:
Digestive Health, 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.