21 Steps to Improve Digestion

21 Steps to Improve Digestion

Our digestive system is hard at work while we eat, work and sleep. However, we often only notice our digestion when something is wrong. Common issues include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Constipation

Luckily, many of these digestive problems can be prevented or relieved with the right lifestyle and food choices. Follow these simple steps on a daily basis to improve digestion.

Your Daily Routine

  • Wake up early: Rising early provides plenty of time for a bowel movement in the morning. If needed, try some simple stretches to get the digestive system moving.
  • Eat to a regular schedule: Try to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at similar times. Many people who suffer from digestive problems find it easier to eat five smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals.
  • Exercise daily: This speeds up the movement of food through the digestive system, promotes regular bowel movements, and strengthens the muscles around the abdomen. Exercise doesn't need to be strenuous; a simple after-dinner walk can help to get the digestive system moving.
  • Visit the loo often: It's important to go to the loo when you feel the urge. Holding back can cause blockages and firmer stools that are harder to pass. Pay attention to your stools. If you notice any changes consult with your GP.
  • Avoid late night meals: The digestive system slows down in the evening as it readies for sleep. If you eat late in the evening, your digestive system may still be digesting food when you go to bed, which can disrupt sleep. Try to avoid eating 2 to 4 hours before bed.

Quick fact: The top exercises to improve digestion are aerobic, such as running, walking and ball sports.

Dietary Dos and Don'ts

  • Add fibre: Fibre helps to keep food moving through the digestive tract, adds bulk to stools, and reduces constipation. Soluble fibres (such as oats, pasta and psyllium) are particularly beneficial for relieving IBS flare-ups.
  • Eat foods rich in Vitamin C: Broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and citrus fruits, are all great sources of the antioxidant vitamin C. The digestive process causes bi-products called free-radicals, which are harmful to the body. Antioxidants help to destroy these free radicals and protect the body against damage.
  • Opt for lean meats: Meat is a rich source of protein and can play a valuable role in the diet. However, try to stay away from fatty meats and instead choose lean cuts of pork and skinless poultry.
  • Consume probiotics: These are ‘good' bacteria that live in the small and large intestines where they help to digest food and keep the immune system strong. Probiotics are commonly used to relieve digestive complaints such as IBS. Probiotic supplements and yoghurts are the best sources of these friendly bacteria.
  • Limit high-fat foods: Fatty foods are harder to digest and slow down the digestive system; increasing its workload. They also increase the risk of constipation. Don't avoid fatty foods completely as they are essential parts of the diet, just eat them in moderation.
  • Reduce caffeine intake: Caffeine dehydrates the body, which increases the digestive workload. The chemicals in caffeine can also trigger acid reflux. After the initial energy-boost, caffeine zaps energy levels leaving the body feeling sluggish and tired.

Quick fact: While many fruits and vegetables are beneficial for digestion, bananas are one of the best choices as they don't irritate the stomach. ...

Meal Time Tips

  • Hydrate: Water is one of the most essential elements of a healthy digestive system. It helps to dissolve fats, increases the production of gastric juices in the stomach, and transports food through the digestive tract. Drink a glass of water 30 minutes before each meal.
  • Watch your portion sizes: Large portions are the leading cause of indigestion. Try using a smaller plate, 50% of which should be fruits and vegetables, 25% carbohydrates and 25% protein.
  • Be seated: Sitting at a table sets the stomach is in a relaxed position, which encourages the digestion of food. After eating, try to relax for twenty minutes as strenuous movements cause air to become trapped in the digestive system and results in bloating.
  • Chew your food: A leading cause of indigestion is unchewed food. The chewing process releases digestive enzymes and speeds up the digestion of carbohydrates. Eating slowly also helps you to feel full and reduces overeating.
  • Avoid eating fruit with meals: Fruit is super easy for the body to digest. However, when fruit is consumed with carbohydrates and proteins, the digestive process slows which causes the fruit to ferment and acidify. This can lead to bloating, gas and cramps. Eat fruits together, or as snacks between meals.

Quick fact: Use your hand to remember portion sizes; your palm determines protein portion, your fist determines the veggie portion, your cupped hand determines the carb portion, and your thumb determines your fat portion.

Lifestyle Balance

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Studies show that people with higher BMI's (body mass index) are more likely to suffer from digestive complaints such as acid reflux and heartburn.
  • Manage stress: The body can withstand short-periods of stress, but prolonged exposure causes the digestive system to go into overdrive. Try relaxation therapies such as yoga or meditation to relieve stress-related digestive problems.
  • Avoid smoking: Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals that can cause serious and irreversible damage to the digestive tract. Smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of Chrone's Disease, heartburn and ulcers.
  • Massage the stomach: If you are suffering from a stomach ache or constipation, you may find a stomach massage helps to stimulate the digestive system. Use essential oils to gently release tension around the belly.
  • Sleep: A lack of sleep can negatively affect the body in many ways, including the digestive system. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night and sleep on your left side, as this promotes better digestion.

Quick fact: Digestive breathing (deep breathing) helps to calm the body and digestive tract, and relieve feelings of stress. This has been shown to support healthy digestion.