Improving Your Digestion

Ways to Improve DigestionEveryone 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
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The typical Western diet — high in refined carbs, saturated fat and food additives — has been linked to an increased risk of developing digestive disorders .

Food additives, including glucose, salt and other chemicals, have been suggested to contribute to increased gut inflammation, leading to a condition called leaky gut.

Trans fats are found in many processed foods. They’re well-known for their negative effects on heart health but have also been associated with an increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.

What’s more, processed foods like low-calorie drinks and ice creams often contain artificial sweeteners, which may cause digestive problems.

One study found that eating 50 grams of the artificial sweetener xylitol led to bloating and diarrhea in 70% of people, while 75 grams of the sweetener erythritol caused the same symptoms in 60% of people.

Studies also suggest that artificial sweeteners may increase your number of harmful gut bacteria.

Gut bacteria imbalances have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Fortunately, scientific evidence suggests that diets high in nutrients protect against digestive diseases.

Therefore, eating a diet based on whole foods and limiting the intake of processed foods may be best for optimal digestion.

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.

Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, legumes, nuts and seeds, while vegetables, whole grains and wheat bran are good sources of insoluble fiber.

A high-fiber diet has been linked to a reduced risk of digestive conditions, including ulcers, reflux, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and IBS.

Prebiotics are another type of fiber that feeds your healthy gut bacteria. Diets high in this fiber have been shown to reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel conditions.

Prebiotics are found in many fruits, vegetables and grains.

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.

Additionally, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may decrease your risk of developing inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis.

Foods high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts), as well as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.

4. Stay Hydrated

Low fluid intake is a common cause of constipation.

Experts recommend drinking 50–66 ounces (1.5–2 liters) of non-caffeinated fluids per day to prevent constipation. However, you may need more if you live in a warm climate or exercise strenuously.

In addition to water, you can also meet your fluid intake with herbal teas and other non-caffeinated beverages such as seltzer water.

Another way to help meet your fluid intake needs is to include fruits and vegetables that are high in water, such as cucumber, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, grapefruit and peaches.

Stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system.

It has been associated with stomach ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and IBS.

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.

Additionally, your gut and brain are intricately connected — what affects your brain may also impact your digestion.

Stress management, meditation and relaxation training have all been shown to improve symptoms in people with IBS.

Other studies have found that cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture and yoga have improved digestive symptoms.

Therefore, incorporating stress management techniques, such as deep belly breathing, meditation or yoga, may improve not only your mindset but also your digestion.

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.

Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to all aspects of your food and the process of eating.

Studies have shown that mindfulness may reduce digestive symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis and IBS .

To eat mindfully:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Focus on your food by turning off your TV and putting away your phone.
  • Notice how your food looks on your plate and how it smells.
  • Select each bite of food consciously.
  • Pay attention to the texture, temperature and taste of your food.
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.

Poor chewing has been linked to decreased nutrient absorption.

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.

Chewing produces saliva, and the longer you chew, the more saliva is made. Saliva helps start the digestive process in your mouth by breaking down some of the carbs and fats in your meal.

In your stomach, saliva acts as a fluid, which is mixed with the solid food so that it smoothly passes into your intestines.

Chewing your food thoroughly ensures that you have plenty of saliva for digestion. This may help prevent symptoms such as indigestion and heartburn.

What’s more, the act of chewing has even been shown to reduce stress, which may also improve digestion.

8. Get Moving

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve your digestion.

Exercise and gravity help food travel through your digestive system. Therefore, taking a walk after a meal may assist your body in moving things along.

One study in healthy people showed that moderate exercise, such as cycling and jogging, increased gut transit time by nearly 30%.

In another study in people with chronic constipation, a daily exercise regimen including 30 minutes of walking significantly improved symptoms.

Additionally, studies suggest that exercise may reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases due to anti-inflammatory effects, such as decreasing inflammatory compounds in your body.

9. Slow Down and Listen to Your Body

When you’re not paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues, it’s easy to overeat and experience gas, bloating and indigestion.

It’s a commonly held belief that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is full.

While there’s not a lot of hard science to back up this claim, it does take time for hormones released by your stomach in response to food to reach your brain.

Therefore, taking the time to eat slowly and pay attention to how full you’re getting is one way to prevent common digestive problems.

Additionally, emotional eating negatively impacts your digestion. In one study, people who ate when they were anxious experienced higher levels of indigestion and bloating.

Taking the time to relax before a meal may improve your digestive symptoms.

10. Ditch Bad Habits

You know that bad habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating late at night aren’t great for your overall health.

And, in fact, they may also be responsible for some common digestive issues.

Smoking

Smoking nearly doubles the risk of developing acid reflux.

Furthermore, studies have shown that quitting smoking improves these symptoms.

This bad habit has also been associated with stomach ulcers, increased surgeries in people with ulcerative colitis and gastrointestinal cancers.

If you have digestive issues and smoke cigarettes, keep in mind that quitting may be beneficial.

Alcohol

Alcohol can increase acid production in your stomach and may lead to heartburn, acid reflux and stomach ulcers.

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Alcohol has also been associated with inflammatory bowel diseases, leaky gut and harmful changes in gut bacteria.

Reducing your consumption of alcohol may help your digestion.

Late-Night Eating

Eating late at night and then lying down to sleep can lead to heartburn and indigestion.

Your body needs time to digest, and gravity helps keep the food you eat moving in the right direction.

Additionally, when you lie down, the contents of your stomach may rise up and cause heartburn. Lying down after eating is strongly associated with an increase in reflux symptoms.

If you experience digestive issues at bedtime, try waiting three to four hours after eating before going to bed, to give the food time to move from your stomach to your small intestine.

11. Incorporate Gut-Supporting Nutrients

Certain nutrients may help support your digestive tract.

Probiotics

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.

Studies have shown that probiotics may improve symptoms of bloating, gas and pain in people with IBS.

What’s more, they may improve symptoms of constipation and diarrhea.

Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, as well as yogurts that have live and active cultures.

They’re also available in capsule form. A good general probiotic supplement will contain a mix of strains including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Glutamine

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.

Glutamine can also be taken in supplement form, but talk to your healthcare practitioner first to ensure that it’s an appropriate treatment strategy for you.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is critical for a healthy gut, and a deficiency can lead to various gastrointestinal disorders.

Supplementing with zinc has been shown to be beneficial in treating diarrhea, colitis, leaky gut and other digestive issues.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men.

Foods high in zinc include shellfish, beef and sunflower seeds.

Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease may be a leading cause of death, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as your fate. Although you lack the power to change some risk factors — such as family history, sex or age — there are some key heart disease prevention steps you can take to reduce your risk.

You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today. Here are seven heart disease prevention tips to get you started.

1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen.

Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than are those who don’t smoke or take birth control pills, because both can increase the risk of blood clots.

When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smokeless tobacco, low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke also can be risky. Even so-called social smoking — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — can be dangerous and increase the risk of heart disease.

The good news, though, is that your risk of heart disease begins to lower soon after quitting. Your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. Your risk of coronary heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

2. Exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week

Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.

Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

In general, you should do moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. That can help you reach the Department of Health and Human Services recommendations of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. For even more health benefits, aim for 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. In addition, aim to do strength training exercises two or more days a week.

However, even shorter amounts of exercise than these recommendations can offer heart benefits, so if you can’t meet those guidelines, don’t give up. You can even get the same health benefits if you break up your workout time into three 10-minute sessions most days of the week.

And remember that activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total. You don’t have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your workouts.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Aim to eat beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish as part of a healthy diet.

Avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet.

Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — try to limit or avoid saturated fat and trans fat. Aim to keep saturated fat to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories. And try to keep trans fat out of your diet altogether.

Major sources of saturated fat include:

  • Red meat
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Coconut and palm oils

Sources of trans fat include:

  • Deep-fried fast foods
  • Bakery products
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Margarines
  • Crackers, chips and cookies

If the nutrition label has the term “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated,” it means that product contains trans fat.

But you don’t have to cut all fats out of your diet. Healthy fats from plant-based sources — such as avocado, nuts, olives and olive oil — help your heart by lowering the bad type of cholesterol.

Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating many fruits and vegetables not only can help prevent heart disease, but also may help improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve diabetes.

Eating two or more servings a week of certain fish, such as salmon and tuna, may decrease your risk of heart disease.

Following a heart-healthy diet also means keeping an eye on how much alcohol you drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL), or 1.5 fluid ounces (44mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits.

At that moderate level, alcohol may have a protective effect on your heart. Too much alcohol can become a health hazard.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease.

One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are generally associated with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:

  • Men are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
  • Women are generally overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar (glucose), and reduce your risk of diabetes. Losing even more weight can help lower your blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.

5. Get enough quality sleep

Sleep deprivation can do more than leave you yawning throughout the day; it can harm your health. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep. But, if you’re constantly reaching for the snooze button and it’s a struggle to get out of bed, you need more sleep each night.

Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, so it’s easier to sleep.

If you feel like you’ve been getting enough sleep, but you’re still tired throughout the day, ask your doctor if you need to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea.

In obstructive sleep apnea, your throat muscles relax and block your airway intermittently during sleep. This may cause you to stop breathing temporarily. Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring loudly; gasping for air during sleep; waking up several times during the night; waking up with a headache, sore throat or dry mouth; and memory or learning problems.

Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may include losing weight if you’re overweight or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device that keeps your airway open while you sleep. CPAP treatment appears to lower the risk of heart disease from sleep apnea.

6. Manage stress

Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health.

7. Get regular health screenings

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.

  • Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings usually start in childhood. You should have a blood pressure test performed at least once every two years to screen for high blood pressure as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, starting at age 18.

    If you’re age 40 or older, or you’re between the ages of 18 and 39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

  • Cholesterol levels. Adults should generally have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 18. Earlier testing may be recommended if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease.
  • Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test or hemoglobin A1C test to check for diabetes.

    Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you don’t have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.

If you have a condition such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes. Make sure to take your medications as your doctor prescribes and follow a healthy lifestyle plan.

New Year, New You Weight Loss Tip: Try intermittent fasting

There’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve… but they’re rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.

But a growing body of research suggests that the timing of the fast is key, and can make IF a more realistic, sustainable, and effective approach for weight loss, as well as for diabetes prevention.

Intermittent Fasting makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
 
Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.

New Year, New You Weight Loss Tip: Get more sleep

It’s true: Being short on sleep can really affect your weight. While you weren’t sleeping, your body cooked up a perfect recipe for weight gain.When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise (too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full.If this cascade of events happens a few times each year, no problem. Trouble is, more than a third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Yet experts agree that getting enough shut-eye is as important to health, well-being, and your weight as are diet and exercise.

Your Sleepy Brain

Skimping on sleep sets your brain up to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control.

So it’s a little like being drunk. You don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions.

Research tells the story. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night snacking increased, and they were more likely to choose high-carb snacks. In another study done at the University of Chicago, sleep-deprived participants chose snacks with twice as much fat as those who slept at least 8 hours.

A second study found that sleeping too little prompts people to eat bigger portions of all foods, increasing weight gain. And in a review of 18 studies, researchers found that a lack of sleep led to increased cravings for energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.

Add it all together, and a sleepy brain appears to crave junk food while also lacking the impulse control to say no.

Sleep and Metabolism

Sleep is like nutrition for the brain. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours each night. Get less than that, and your body will react in ways that lead even the most determined dieter straight to Ben & Jerry’s.

Too little sleep triggers a cortisol spike. This stress hormone signals your body to conserve energy to fuel your waking hours.

Translation: You’re more apt to hang on to fat.

Researchers found that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, the amount of weight they lost from fat dropped by 55%, even though their calories stayed equal. They felt hungrier and less satisfied after meals, and their energy was zapped.

Sleep deprivation makes you “metabolically groggy,” University of Chicago researchers say. Within just 4 days of insufficient ZZZs, your body’s ability to process insulin — a hormone needed to change sugar, starches, and other food into energy — goes awry. Insulin sensitivity, the researchers found, dropped by more than 30%.

Here’s why that’s bad: When your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, your body has trouble processing fats from your bloodstream, so it ends up storing them as fat.So it’s not so much that if you sleep, you’ll lose weight, but that too little sleep hampers your metabolism and contributes to weight gain.

Tricks and Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

In today’s world, snoozing can be difficult, particularly when all your screens (computers, TVs, cell phones, tablets) lure you into staying up just a little longer.

The basics are pretty simple:

  • Shut down your computer, cell phone, and TV at least an hour before you hit the sack.
  • Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Think relaxation and release, rather than work or entertainment.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. It’s not the time to tackle big issues. Instead, take a warm bath, meditate, or read.
  • Stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same times every day, even on weekends.
  • Watch what and when you eat. Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which may cause heartburn and make it hard to fall asleep. And steer clear of soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate after 2 p.m. Caffeine can stay in your system for 5 to 6 hours.
  • Turn out the lights. Darkness cues your body to release the natural sleep hormone melatonin, while light suppresses it.
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New Year, New You Weight Loss Tip: Workout with a friend

There is no better motivation than a friend who shares the same goals. I, for one, love going on runs with my friends and walks with my mom and sister. So many people us excuses that they are too busy to see their friends or exercise. This is a great tip to not only exercise but catch up along the way. Try this tip sometime this week.

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New Year, New You Fit Tip: Stop before you start

Make a list of bad habits you are willing to stop in order to live a healthier lifestyle. These decisions just might save your life.

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New Year, New You Weight Loss Tip: Eat More Protein

Adding protein to your diet will keep you full for longer. If we feel our bodies with healthy proteins like lean meats, eggs, and Greek yogurt, we are more likely to eat less during the day and more likely to accomplish our weight loss goals.

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New Year, New You Fit Tip: Celebrate the small wins

Celebrate all of your wins – big and small! You can celebrate by treating yourself to a day out for a massage, watch your favorite TV show, or draw yourself a nice, relaxing bubble bath. Just make sure your “treat” doesn’t sabotage your success like rewards of sweets and foods.

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New Year, New You Weight Loss Tip: Get Rid of Unhealthy Foods

If you are trying to lose weight, you have no use for cookies, chips, or unhealthy foods.

These types of foods will only make it more difficult for you to reach your weight loss goals. There are some healthier options for your sweet and salty cravings.

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New Year, New You Fit Tip: Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is a great step towards achieving your weight loss efforts. HOW you choose to hydrate can have a big impact on your health and your waist.

Drinking water helps keep you satisfied between meals and avoid overeating. You can also avoid hundreds of extra calories each day by choosing water instead of sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages.