Tips for Healthier Digestion
By Thiyashi Koththigoda
Digestion is something we all do in order to get the energy we need. This breaking down of food to draw nutrients from it is something your body is an automatic and daily process that you may not even pay too much attention to. While your body does a great job of digestion by itself, there are things you can do to help it along. From knowing what foods to eat to change your chewing habits, here are some tips for better digestion.
Healthier digestion starts by evaluating what exactly it is you’re choosing to eat. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that an unhealthy diet can disrupt digestion. Especially if it’s a diet high in trans or saturated fats.
Trans fat has been linked to a higher risk of digestive issues like ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, a condition where inflammation occurs in the colon. Including excessive amounts of refined carbs through processed foods can also be detrimental. A high intake of food additives like glucose and salt won’t do any favours for your digestion either. These additives can cause an increase in gut inflammation, also known as leaky gut.
Foods with artificial sweeteners should also be avoided. Commonly used sweeteners such as xylitol and erythritol can cause bloating and diarrhea in many people. Artificial sweeteners can also hike up the number of harmful bacteria living in your gut. An imbalance in these gut bacteria can cause IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. Cutting down on processed, sugary, and fatty foods can greatly improve digestion.
Having established what not to eat for better digestion, let’s take a look at what you should eat. Everyone knows that fibre is the key here. It’s crucial to eat foods rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre absorbs water into the stool and adds bulkiness and softness to it. This allows the stool to move easily within the digestive tract. You can get all the soluble fibre you need from foods like legumes and nuts and seeds.
On the other hand, soluble fibre dissolves in water, creating a gel. This gel further lubricates the lining of the stomach, aiding the stool in its passage soluble fibre is readily found in vegetables and whole grains. A healthy intake of fibre can reduce the risk of several digestive issues like IBS, acid reflux as well as hemorrhoids. While also supporting digestion, both types of fibre are known to support insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes. You can get all the fibre required by simply eating the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
Although trans-fat is not beneficial, there are some ‘healthy’ fats that you should be eating for optimal digestion. Polyunsaturated fats are essential for both feelings satiated and effective nutrient absorption. Omega 3 fatty acids are particularly important to decrease the risk of digestive issues like IBS. Eating fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are great for getting the needed fatty acids. Nutritionists also recommend pairing these fats with lean cuts of meat, like skinless poultry. They also provide the needed protein that can help with satiety.
Being hydrated is obviously important for overall health, but it plays a particularly key role in aiding digestion. The water helps food break down and encourages the absorption of nutrients. Along with fibre, the water helps the stool become bulkier. This allows it to pass easily in the digestive tract. Water also helps the lining of the digestive tract stay lubricated.
Being smooth and moist makes the food travel along with easier. In addition to drinking water, you can stay hydrated by eating vegetables and fruit with high-water content. There are many options like cucumber, watermelon, or tomatoes. You can also opt for other non-caffeinated and non-sweetened beverages like green tea to boost hydration. Although it may seem reasonable to drink water with meals, it's better to do so only between meals. Drinking water while eating can dilute stomach acids. This makes the digestive enzymes less effective at digesting the food you eat.
Healthy digestion can also be determined by the gut bacteria living in your stomach. This healthy gut bacteria is called ‘probiotics’. The probiotics not only help in breaking down the food, but they also help prevent chronic inflammation in the gut while fighting off any infections. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt. Incorporating such foods into your diet can help increase the good bacteria in your gut to help aid digestion. In addition to probiotics, you can also incorporate prebiotic foods. These are certain foods that feed the probiotic bacteria and encourage their growth. Such foods include onions, apples, leeks, and bananas. Bumping up the probiotic and prebiotic foods in your diet can help digestion run more smoothly.
Chewing is not something we often pay attention to. But there are certain changes you can make that can promote healthier digestion. The process of digestion actually starts in the mouth. Your teeth and saliva break down the food mechanically and prepare it for the stomach. When properly broken down by chewing, less effort is needed by the stomach acid to digest.
The smaller the food particles, the better. The saliva produced when chewing also acts as a signal to the stomach to produce acid. Rushed chewing and swallowing may not allow for the signal to fully go through. Therefore, it’s important to take your time and thoroughly chew your food. You may find that you burp a lot if you chew too fast, as excess air is swallowed.
Chewing more mindfully is the solution here. When eating meals, get rid of any distractions like TV. Thoroughly and slowly chew every bite, taking the time to feel the flavours and texture of the food. Take breaks if you feel yourself eating too fast. Slowly incorporating this practice of mindful eating can help digestion right at the beginning of the process.
By bringing in these changes to your diet and habits gradually, you can give your digestive system the extra help it needs. Although being targeted at digestion, these tips are also stepping stones towards an overall healthier physical wellbeing.