9 tips for better digestion
For many people, digestion is a mystery – even though it is an essential part of maintaining good health. It doesn’t have to be complicated; there are some easy tips that you can incorporate into your daily routine to ensure better digestion. From understanding the importance of hydration and meal portion size to what foods help improve gut health, we will cover nine simple ways you can support your body’s natural digestive processes and achieve optimal digestion. Keep reading to learn how you can make significant improvements in your digestive system today!
Tip # 1: Eat slowly, and chew well.
While choking is something we would like to avoid while eating, there’s another reason to eat slowly and chew your food, and it’s related to digestion. The smaller the food particles, the faster your stomach and gut can digest it.
Scientists say your stomach is only one part of the digestive equation. As our stomach fills with food or water, it activates stretch receptors, nerves that monitor the state of your muscle. Your brain is then signaled through the vagus nerve, which controls your digestion and immune system functions, letting your body know nourishment is on its way13. Hormones are then released once partially digested food enters the small intestine.
Eating too fast or not chewing well? Then the food you eat won’t break down into chyme, a liquid mix of partially digested food, hydrochloric acid, and enzymes needed to avoid uncomfortable digestive situations such as indigestion and other gut-related issues15.
Tip #2: Small meals make a big impact.
We’re bringing up stress again. Especially since stress seems to magnify almost everything that could go wrong with our bodies, we think it deserves mention, but this time we’re talking about stress’ effects on our brain and gut. Here’s a related fact. Did you know that you have a second brain? Well, not literally, but figuratively. According to scientists, inside the walls of your gut lie an enteric nervous system (ENS) that acts much like a “little brain” with a not-so-little impact2. More than 100 million nerve cells inside your intestinal lining from your esophagus and beyond send signals to your gut on how it should function2. While your ENS has nothing to do with cognitive abilities, scientists and doctors have found that it does communicate directly with your nervous system, can instigate shifts in your mood and overall well-being2. Your gastrointestinal system communicates with the central nervous system, which in turn can affect our dispositions. Because of this connection to our mood, it is important to maintain a healthy balance within your gastrointestinal system.
Here’s another gut check: Your immune system and gut bacteria are besties. 70% of your immune system is found in the gut3. When your immune cells communicate with the microbiome, the bacteria and fungi respond accordingly, and our diets can heavily impact this response. If your dietary journey primarily consists of processed foods, fat, and sugar, your gut might not convey the best message to your immune system3. However, if your diet is high in fiber, prebiotic, and probiotic-rich foods, your intestinal tract will relay a healthier tale.
For a healthy gut, start here.
There’s a great debate about how many small meals you should eat daily. Some nutritionists may say six, while others say three. It’s not that your body can’t handle larger meals. Small meals help to manage your body’s yearning for cravings when a lack of glucose exists. Your gut plays a huge part in the release of glucose. This simple sugar is released throughout your body after digestion. If your glucose levels are always appropriate, your body recognizes that it’s fine, reducing your chances of being tempted by processed or sugary foods (junk food). Junk food in the gut translates to an increase in bad bacteria and can have lasting effects on your immune system and your body as a whole.
Tip # 3: Hydrate.
Water makes up 50 to 70 percent of your body. It’s no wonder you need it daily9. Dehydration occurs when your body puts out more fluid than it takes in, and your body doesn’t have the water needed to help it function.10 Here are a few signs that you may need more water10:
• Extreme thirst
• Less than frequent urination
Almost every part of your body requires water. Water helps break down the food you eat so that it’s ready for digestion, giving your gut a chance to get the maximum nutrition it needs9. Scientists suggest that in a typical environment, the daily fluid intake should be 15.5 cups per day for men and 11.5 cups per day for women11.
How much water should you drink per day? Well, it depends. You’ve probably heard the recommendation that eight cups daily are all you need to hydrate your body properly. 8 cups are a good place to start, but it all depends on a few factors10:
• Exercise – Working up a sweat can deplete the water necessary to refresh your body. You should drink water before, during, and after a workout.
• Environment – Warmer weather can also cause you to sweat. Sweat reduces your body’s fluid levels.
• Overall health – Hydration is necessary when you have a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you feel ill or before taking other hydration alternatives.
• Pregnancy and breastfeeding – Staying hydrated helps to keep your breast milk flowing. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or
Want to spice up your fluid intake? You don’t have to rely on water to hydrate. Fruits and vegetables also contain water that goes toward your hydration tally. Carbonated drinks, teas, juices, and milk are included too. Drinking water is excellent, but drinking too much can cause health problems. Too much water can cause your kidneys to remove the excess fluid that it needs, diluting your blood content10.
Tip #4: Processed foods and your gut aren’t on speaking terms.
Processed foods are today’s culture. They’re classified as any food changed from its natural state by adding ingredients intended to fortify or preserve. Consuming processed food every so often (for most individuals) won’t send your gut spiraling. But as a rule of thumb, less is best, and that is because of processed food’s role in harmful bacteria growth within the gut. Researchers investigated the effect of ultra-processed food (food additives, artificial sweeteners, and more) on animals. They found that the higher the levels of processed food, the greater the mutation of the microbiota6. Here’s the surprising part. Scientists also discovered that these changes could transfer to later generations, keeping the DNA intact but altering how the body reads it6.
Tip # 5: Singing the junk food blues?
This news will make you smile. For every processed food is a tasty, nutritious option waiting to satisfy your palate. Looking for ideas? Try these unprocessed snack options and recipe suggestions instead:
• Raw vegetables with hummus
• Fresh fruit with almond butter
• Tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole
• Hummus mixed with avocado
• Homemade fruit popsicles
• Celery with zesty red pepper dip recipe
• Pickled Vegetable Salad with Sesame Seeds recipe
• Oven-roasted asparagus with orange-tarragon aioli recipe
• Roasted brussels sprouts with apple and cranberries recipe
Tip # 6: Fruits, veggies, and whole grains, oh my!
We hear so much talk about the importance of fiber these days, and rightfully so. It’s the catalyst for optimal gut health. Fiber is a carbohydrate that gives good bacteria the fuel it needs to thrive. When good bacteria thrive, it can improve factors in your health, including lowering blood sugar levels and weight loss4. Here’s a not-so-obvious fact, we can’t digest fiber. It passes through the stomach and small intestine and is fermented in the colon before leaving the body8.
But this doesn’t mean you should write fiber off. There are two types of fibers that you should include in your everyday diet: Prebiotic and probiotic fibers. Eating prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods or supplements is terrific for your gut. Their names sound almost identical, but they have two very different jobs.
Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in your gut4. Probiotics are living microorganisms (live bacteria) that help good bacteria multiply, balancing your gut’s microbe levels and digestion4. Fruits and vegetables are a great way to work fiber into your everyday dietary routine, but unfortunately, all produce is not equal regarding gut health.
Tip # 7: High fructose fruit can fly under the sugar radar.
Fruit may be better for you than a double-scoop ice cream sundae, but that doesn’t mean it’s void of high amounts of sugar. What’s the big deal? Certain fruits have higher fructose than others. If you suffer from bloating or are gassy, avoiding high levels of fructose can help you avoid further intestinal irritation.
When it comes to fruits, your best bet is to add more color. Yellow bananas, citrus fruits, and red grapes are examples of this. Each color you consume increases your chance of absorbing different nutrients, which does wonders for the good bacteria in your gut. Stone fruits or “drupes” are the best example of fiber-rich fruit. Its thin, rough covering surrounds a seed. Think cherries and peaches. They’re winners in terms of gut health12. But fruit isn’t the only type of fiber-rich food that exists. If you’re looking for more fiber options, check these out:
Whole grains contain tons of fiber, making this ingredient a “go-to” for intestines. Fatty amino acids, produced from the fermentation of food in the gut, encourage healthy cells; as we now know, these cells are directly associated with your immune health12.
Leafy greens have become the mascot for fiber, and they should be. They’re fantastic! But just like fruit, you should consume veggies of all shades. Spinach, green, red peppers, and other leafy greens can also help the good bacteria in your gut bloom12. They feature high levels of fiber and vitamins. Your microbiome will love them, and so will your body.
Tip # 8: Caffeine and alcohol: A digestion no-no.
Every taste of your favorite caffeinated drink or alcoholic beverage can feel like nirvana. It may even put you in a better mood. There’s one thing for sure. It may not be a mutual feeling for your gut. Caffeine encourages muscles to contract along your digestive tract to send food to your intestines, which can cause diarrhea or trigger dehydration3. This movement is called gut motility3.
Alcohol, on the other hand, aggravates your gastrointestinal tract. This aggregation causes a disruption of the good bacteria within your gut, called Dysbiosis4. Drinking alcoholic beverages can also promote bacterial overgrowth, making it a prime environment for the bad guys, called endotoxins, to be released4. Why are they bad guys? They encourage the growth of proteins and immune cells that irritate the gut4. A second theory is digestive and intestinal functions are to blame4.
Tip # 9: Get your body and gut moving.
Our gastrointestinal systems are home to tons of gut microbiota (bacteria and fungi) that are great for our intestines, helping us absorb every bit of nutrients from our food. Microbiota may sound very scientific and boring, but the things that it does are pretty cool. It operates much like an organ inside of another. When your body goes through changes, so does your microbiota. Researchers think that the activity from microbiota itself can affect the metabolic action of the gut and your overall body, enhancing the number of different bacteria when exercising more1. A six-week exercise program resulted in lean and obese individuals experiencing an alteration of the gut microbiota2. However, when the exercise stopped, so did the “exercise-induced” microbiota. Exercise doesn’t have to be super complex. You can walk, jog a local trail, go cycling, or take a Pilates class. It doesn’t take much. Moving your body can help you stimulate the bacteria in your gut, keeping your overall health in top shape.
With these nine tips for better digestion, you’ll be on your way to fostering a healthier relationship with your gut. While it’s easy to slip out of routines or forget about some of the more general tips for a healthy gut, it’s worth remembering that the road to better digestion starts with understanding your own body and following through on lifestyle choices. So don’t wait – get started on achieving optimal digestion today!
1 Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive health effects – National Library of Medicine
2 Exercise Alters Gut Microbiota Composition and function in lean and obese humans – National Library of Medicine
3 Energy drinks, caffeine, and your digestion – Michigan Medicine (University of Michigan)
4 Alcohol and gut-derived inflammation – National Library of Medicine
5 Dietary Fiber: Essential for a healthy diet – Mayo Clinic
6 Gut microbiota: An important link between western diet and chronic diseases – National Library of Medicine
7 Sugar Shutdown: Healthy Unprocessed Snacks – Novant Health
8 Snacks and side – Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
9 Does drinking water during or after a meal affect or disturb digestion – Mayo Clinic
10 Water: How much should you drink every day? – Mayo Clinic
11 Dehydration – Mayo Clinic
12 Stone Fruits: Growth and Nitrogen and Organic Acid Metabolism in the Fruits and Seeds—A Review – National Library of Medicine
13 Vagus Nerve – Cleveland Clinic
14 Slow down – and try mindful eating – Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School)
15 Slide show: See how your digestive system works – Mayo Clinic