Everyone experiences occasional digestive symptoms such as upset stomach, gas, heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. However, when these symptoms occur frequently, they can cause major disruptions to your life. Fortunately, diet and lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your gut health.
Here are 11 evidence-based ways to improve your digestion naturally.
1. Eat Real Food
Diets high in processed foods have been linked to a higher risk of digestive disorders. Eating a diet low in food additives, trans fats and artificial sweeteners may improve your digestion and protect against digestive diseases.
2. Get Plenty of Fiber
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.
A high-fiber diet promotes regular bowel movements and may protect against many digestive disorders. Three common types of fiber are soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as prebiotics.
3. Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet
Good digestion may require eating enough fat. Fat helps you feel satisfied after a meal and is often needed for proper nutrient absorption. Adequate fat intake improves the absorption of some fat-soluble nutrients. What’s more, omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, which may prevent inflammatory bowel diseases.
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4. Stay Hydrated
Insufficient fluid intake is a common cause of constipation. Increase your water intake by drinking non-caffeinated beverages and eating fruits and vegetables that have a high water content.
5. Manage Your Stress
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. Stress negatively impacts your digestion and has been linked to IBS, ulcers, constipation and diarrhea. Reducing stress can improve digestive symptoms.
6. Eat Mindfully
It’s easy to eat too much too quickly if you’re not paying attention, which can lead to bloating, gas and indigestion. Eating slowly and mindfully and paying attention to every aspect of your food, such as texture, temperature and taste, may help prevent common digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating and gas.
7. Chew Your Food
Digestion starts in your mouth. Your teeth break down the food into smaller pieces so that the enzymes in your digestive tract are better able to break it down. When you chew your food thoroughly, your stomach has to do less work to turn the solid food into the liquid mixture that enters your small intestine.
8. Get Moving
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve your digestion. Exercise may improve your digestion and reduce symptoms of constipation. It can also help reduce inflammation, which may be beneficial in preventing inflammatory bowel conditions.
9. Slow Down and Listen to Your Body
Not paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues and eating when you’re emotional or anxious can negatively impact digestion. Taking time to relax and pay attention to your body’s cues may help reduce digestive symptoms after a meal.
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10. Ditch Bad Habits
Smoking nearly doubles the risk of developing acid reflux. This bad habit has also been associated with stomach ulcers, increased surgeries in people with ulcerative colitis and gastrointestinal cancers. Alcohol can increase acid production in your stomach and may lead to heartburn, acid reflux and stomach ulcers. Bad habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating late at night can cause digestive issues. To improve digestion, try to avoid these damaging habits.
11. Incorporate Gut-Supporting Nutrients
Certain nutrients may help support your digestive tract.
- Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that may improve digestive health when taken as supplements. These healthy bacteria assist in digestion by breaking down indigestible fibers that can otherwise cause gas and bloating.
- Glutamine is an amino acid that supports gut health. It has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in people who are critically ill. You can increase your glutamine levels by eating foods such as turkey, soybeans, eggs and almonds.
- Zinc is a mineral that is critical for a healthy gut, and a deficiency can lead to various gastrointestinal disorders Foods high in zinc include shellfish, beef and sunflower seeds
Simple diet and lifestyle changes may help improve your digestion if you experience occasional, frequent or chronic digestive symptoms. Eating a whole-foods diet high in fiber, healthy fat and nutrients is the first step toward good digestion.
Practices such as mindful eating, stress reduction and exercise can also be beneficial.