Having occasional digestive problems is a common issue for most people. The reasons and causes behind these issues can vary from person to person, but the symptoms that arise from this are uncomfortable and best avoided when possible.
Supporting your digestive system is not as daunting of a task as it might sound. By making a few small but mindful changes to your lifestyle and diet, from drinking more water and using ceramic water filters to moving your body in a healthy and fun way, you will begin to notice positive and sustainable changes to your body.
Eat Real Foods
A typical western diet, high in refined carbs, saturated fats and various food additives, has all been linked to increased digestive disorders, such as gut inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease and general digestive issues.
Studies have shown that replacing processed foods and artificial sweeteners with foods high in nutrients, natural sugar, and healthy fats has directly protected against digestive diseases. In addition, the Mediterranean diet is known to help manage issues such as IBS, emphasising and promoting healthy fats, whole grains and plenty of vegetables.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve and support digestion. Exercise and gravity help to move your food along your system. Therefore, by incorporating a walk after a meal, or any form of gentle movement that you prefer, you are aiding your body in moving the food quicker through your digestive tract.
Studies have shown that people suffering from chronic constipation were met with significantly improved symptoms once they included just 30 minutes of exercise daily. Additionally, a slow walk around your neighbourhood can ease bloating and reduce any feeling of fullness or discomfort.
Incorporate More Fibre
It is relatively common knowledge that fibre is essential to any diet. It has a long list of associated benefits, from lowering cholesterol to reducing the risk of heart disease. Additionally, it can significantly improve your gut health by regulating bowel movements.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average adult should consume 30g of fibre per day. Soluble fibre, found in oats, legumes, nuts, and seeds, absorbs water and adds bulk to your bowel movements. In addition, insoluble fibre from vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran keeps your digestive tract clean and moves things along.
Keep a Food Diary
More often than not, digestion issues are caused by trigger foods. These can differ from person to person, but it is often tricky to track what these foods are to avoid them. Keeping a food diary is an effective way of identifying these culprits.
Takes notes after every meal, snack and drink you consume for a period of time. Highlight any issues or discomforts you may encounter to start forming a linked pattern. Once you have begun recognising repeated issues, cut out these problem foods to see if any improvement occurs. Before making significant changes, consult your doctor or nutritionist to understand your health better.
Reduce & Manage Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your body, particularly your digestive system. It strongly connects to issues like stomach ulcers, IBS, constipation and diarrhoea due to stress hormones targeting your digestion directly.
When your body is in its ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, it assumes you have no time for rest and digestion. Therefore, during bouts of stress, blood and energy are diverted away from this part of your body. Additionally, your gut and brain are intricately connected; often, what affects one will significantly affect the other.
Stress management, meditation, acupuncture and cognitive behavioural therapy have all been found to reduce stress and improve the physical symptoms associated with these feelings.
If eating while distracted, it is common to eat too quickly and too much, which can lead to bloating, gas, and indigestion. Practising mindful eating is paying attention to all aspects of your food and how you eat it.
To do this, you should focus on eating slowly, without distractions like your tv or phone, pay attention to the food itself and chew properly before swallowing. Properly chewed food can be absorbed far easier by your body, maximising the nutritional value and minimising the possibility of poor digestion.
Include Gut-Supporting Nutrients
As mentioned before, whole foods provide a great source of gut-supporting nutrients your body will thrive on. But incorporating certain supplements into your diet will further benefit your overall health.
Probiotics are bacteria known for improving your digestive health. They assist in breaking down fibres that your body struggles to digest, preventing gas and bloating. Fermented food, like kimchi, yoghurts and sauerkraut, are fantastic sources of probiotics.
Glutamine is an amino acid that has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, in people who are ill. It can be found naturally in turkey, soybeans, eggs and almonds, but supplements are available too. However, consult your health practitioner before embarking on this treatment.
Lastly, zinc is crucial for a healthy gut, and having a deficiency of any kind can lead to various disorders. Taking zinc supplements has been shown to help treat diarrhoea, colitis, leaky gut and various other tract issues. The recommended daily intake is 8mg for women and 11mg for men. Zinc can be found naturally in shellfish, beef and sunflower seeds.