We rely on our digestive systems to break down the food we eat and to absorb the nutrients we need for healthy functioning. If you do not take care of your digestive system, it cannot in turn take care of you. Poor absorption of nutrients means our vital organs and systems will not function efficiently. If overall health is your goal, then the best place to start is your gut.
There are ten recommended tips to consider helping improve and maintain your digestive system. Taking the necessary steps to support digestive health will not only make digestion more efficient, but your overall health will benefit in numerous ways.
Fiber is your friend
A high fiber diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Fiber helps food move through your system more efficiently and prevents constipation. In addition to keeping things running smoothly, fiber is beneficial for treating and preventing diseases like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), diverticulitis and hemorrhoids. Additionally, fiber helps you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Two types of fiber
Consuming both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, is important because they have different roles. Insoluble fiber or roughage cannot be digested so it adds bulk to your stool. Good sources include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. Soluble fiber draws water in which can prevent stools which are too watery. Soluble fiber can be found in oat bran, seeds, nuts, and legumes. Because of the different roles both types of fiber play, it is important to keep them balanced in your diet.
Limit the fat
Fatty foods typically slow digestive processes down and this makes constipation more likely. It is not wise to remove all fat from your diet, because we do need some to remain healthy. When fats are added to meals, digestion is not only slowed but the beneficial ingredients are lost. By the time we are able to break down the fats, the valuable carbohydrates, or proteins, will have started to ferment. The best advice is to pair high fat foods with fiber rich foods which will make it easier for your digestive system to process them.
Protein from meats is an essential need for our bodies. Fatty cuts of meat however, are not good for digestion and make the process more difficult. When you are buying meat, choose lean cuts such as pork loin or skinless poultry. While a juicy steak is always good, red meats contain more fat and are harder to digest. The inability to fully digest red meats can lead to increased risk for colon cancer.
Probiotics consist of the same friendly bacteria that already live in your gut. These are necessary for the efficient processing of foods, so it is ideal to keep their numbers high. Poor diet, stress and antibiotics can cause the numbers of gut flora to diminish. This puts us at risk for exposure to bad bacterial strains that can cause disease. According to Dr. David Kahana, board-certified in pediatrics and gastroenterology by the American Board of Pediatrics, we not only need probiotics to defend against pathogens but also to aid in the absorption of nutrients. Additionally, they can help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system, and treat gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS.
Schedule your meals
You want your digestive system to stick to a routine because this helps processing of foods. Eat your meals and snacks on a schedule to keep your gut on track. Plan to have your meals at the same time each day and then plan your snacks for equal intervals in between. The ideal timing will allow 3 to 4 hours for your stomach to fully digest each meal. It is also important to make your last meal of the day at least 3 hours before you go to sleep to make sure it is digested before you shut down.
Hydration is essential
Fiber needs water and pulls it into the colon to create bulkier, softer stools. This process is necessary to make sure stool passes easily and regularly. Dehydration can cause constipation which is not only unpleasant, but unhealthy. Lack of water in the stomach causes the stomach acid to lose its acidity, which impairs the digestive process. Make sure you are drinking water regularly throughout the day.
Quit the bad habits
Smoking, excessive caffeine, and alcohol are bad for your body, in general. Regarding the digestive system, these factors can interfere with digestive processes, potentially causing stomach ulcers and heartburn. Smoking has been known to cause bile to move from your intestines to your stomach. This back flow can be dangerous if acid moves towards your esophagus, and heartburn is sure to result.
Exercise keeps food moving through your system, making chances of constipation remote. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight which is beneficial for digestive health as well as overall health. Schedule exercise for yourself each day or a few times a week and stick to it. Even if it is difficult to get used to, keep going and your body will reward you.