Sure, you maintain a healthy diet. But do you maintain good digestive health?
It’s all the same you say – well, not really.
“This explanation from the American Gastroenterological Association sums up the definition for us –
“Good digestive health is the ability to process nutrients through properly functioning digestive organs, including the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas, esophagus and gallbladder. Most people who are in good digestive health are of appropriate weight and do not regularly experience symptoms such as heartburn, gas, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or abdominal pain. A nutritious diet is needed to maintain a healthy digestive system and may prevent and treat* certain digestive systems.”
To help us better understand digestive health, it is important to understand the digestive system as a whole:
Definition of Digestive System according to medicinenet.com – The system of organs responsible for getting food into and out of the body and for making use of food to keep the body healthy. The digestive system includes the salivary glands, mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, colon and rectum. The digestive system’s organs are joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. Inside this tube is lining called the mucosa. In the mouth, stomach and small intestine, the mucosa contains tiny glands that produce juices to help digest food. Two solid organs, the liver and the pancreas (both of which are embryologically derived from the digestive tract), produce digestive juices that reach the intestine through small tubes known as ducts. In addition, parts of other organ systems (for instance, nerves and blood) play a major role in the digestive system.
Furthermore, as noted by everydayhealth.com, your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into the nutrients your body needs. If you neglect your digestive health, your body could run into problems digesting foods and absorbing those nutrients.
Your digestive health, it is further stated, is directly impacted by the foods you eat and the lifestyle you live. By taking steps to improve* your digestive health, your digestive system will function more efficiently, improving* your overall health and sense of well-being.
1. First and foremost – Stay hydrated… in other words, drink plenty of water!
Accordingly, digestion starts with saliva, the basis of which is water. Digestion relies on enzymes that are found in saliva to help break down food and liquid and to dissolve minerals and other nutrients. Proper digestion makes minerals and nutrients more accessible to the body. Water is also necessary to help you digest soluble fiber. With the help of water, this fiber dissolves easily and benefits your bowel health by making well-formed, soft stools that are easy to pass.
2. Speaking of Fiber –
Eat a high fiber diet. Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian in Marblehead, Mass. tells Everyday Health (dot com) that consuming a diet that is high in fiber and rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits can improve* your digestive health. “A high-fiber diet helps to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated.” Adams says, adding that a high fiber diet can also help you prevent or treat* various digestive conditions such as diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, it can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
3. Don’t Forget the Insoluble and Soluble Fiber – it is further noted that it is important to consume both types of fiber, which each help your digestive system in different ways. “Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, can’t be digested by the body and therefore helps add bulk to the stools,” says Adams. “Soluble fiber draws in water and can help prevent stools that are too watery.”
4. Eliminate* Major Inflammatory Foods – This includes wheat, cow’s dairy and refined sugar.
Eliminating these major inflammatory foods helps to decrease* the inflammation in the digestive tract according to footmatters.tv. It helps to put out the fire and allow the tissues, mucous membranes, digestive tract lining of the digestive tract to be able to heal.
Read Also: 3 Best Foods That Fight Inflammation
It is otherwise noted here that you should be incorporating natural Probiotics into your diet. Fermented foods have natural probiotics that help to build a healthy digestive tract microflora. There are fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchee. There are fermented dairy products such as kefir and yogurt, but it is recommended to obtain these from sheep or goat dairy as it has already been mentioned – cow’s dairy is off limits –
Also – Prebiotics – these are the foods for the healthy bacteria and help the healthy bacteria to diversify and repopulate within the digestive tract.
According to Dr. Adams – “they help keep the body healthy by combating the effects of a poor diet, antibiotics and stress.”
Additionally, probiotics can enhance* nutrient absorption, help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system and possibly help to treat* irritable bowel syndrome. Adams is said to recommend that people eat good sources of probiotics such as those mentioned above.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests choosing whole grains more often. They say that the new labeling of “whole grains” on packages can help you pick these good grains more often. Look for the word “whole” on the package and in the ingredient list (on the nutrition label), making sure that the whole grains appear among the first items listed. Then also check the amount of fiber the product contains. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving for the best benefit.
5. Eat On Schedule! – One report states that according to Everyday Health (dot com) “consuming your meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help keep your digestive system in top shape.”
Furthermore, when you don’t eat at consistent times each day, it can cause your stomach to overwork resulting in bloating and indigestion, but eating on a schedule “will allow proper digestion of your food, which will result in you having a good comfortable feeling in your stomach. This according to Healthy Eating (dot com).
Stopcoloncancernow.com suggests that the key is to eat every 3 to 4 hours in order to allow your stomach to properly digest its contents. By setting specific times for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and sitting down to eat them at the same time each day, your body knows exactly when it’s time to eat, which will help prevent overeating and thereby improve* digestive health.
6. Quit Smoking and Avoid Excessive Caffeine and Alcohol
We already know this is all bad for us… why not just quit? – Liquor, coffee, and cigarettes can interfere with the functioning of your digestive system, and lead to problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn according to Everyday Health (dot com).
7. Be Sure to Exercise Regularly – Dr. Adams says that “regular exercise helps keep foods moving through your digestive system, reducing* constipation.” Not to mention that exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is obviously good for your digestive health.
According to Harvard Health aerobic exercise (exercise that increases* your breathing and heart rate) and deep breathing exercises [like yoga] are very beneficial for healthy digestion, because they stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles, helping to move food through your intestines more rhythmically.
They recommend to avoid heavy exercise after a large meal stating that digestion requires a large amount of blood flow to your stomach and intestines. If you exercise immediately after eating, digestion will be put on hold while blood is redirected to support the increased work of the heart muscles. With the reduction* in blood supply to the gut, the gut muscles contract less vigorously, digestive enzymes are secreted in smaller amounts and the transit of food waste shifts into slow motion. This can lead to heartburn, bloating and constipation.
8. Manage Your Stress – Dr. Adams says that too much stress and anxiety can cause your digestive system to go into overdrive.
As noted by Harvard Health – Stress can cause a similar shift in blood flow away from the gut (as with exercise) as muscles tense and heart rate accelerates, demanding more oxygen delivery to the active muscles. Daily exercise is a well-known stress buster through a variety of mechanisms, including boosting the release of endorphins – the ‘happy’ hormones. The same neurotransmitters and receptors that dictate mood in the brain exist in great abundance in the gut and influence digestion.
9. Don’t Rush Eating – Digestion begins in the mouth, as noted by Harvard Health – Chew food until it is near liquid consistency. Chewing food generates saliva with enzymes that begin the breakdown of food. Chewing also signals the organs such as the stomach and pancreas to secrete their digestive juices. These digestive enzymes flow more freely in a calm environment. Also, air swallowed during hurried eating can produce belching or bloating.
10. Choose Lean Meats and Other Foods That Are High In Fat. “In general, fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, making your more prone to constipation,” says Adams. But since it is important to get some fat in your diet, Adams says that pairing fatty foods with high fiber foods can make them easier on your digestive system.
As for choosing lean meats – Protein is an essential part of a healthful diet, but fatty cuts of meat can lead to uncomfortable digestion. When you eat meat, select lean cuts, such as pork loins and skinless poultry.