25 Tips for a Healthy Digestive System
How to Improve your Digestive Health
Most people have experienced gastrointestinal upset at some point throughout their lives and are acutely aware of just how miserable digestive troubles — from bloating and gas to indigestion and more — can be. But gastrointestinal upset isn’t the only challenge associated with poor digestive system health; your digestive system plays a crucial role in your overall health and well-being.
Digestive system health is impacted by the foods and beverages you consume, but also by the balance of bacteria in your gut, emotions, and more. And your digestive system is linked to your whole-body health. For instance, allergies or sensitivities to certain foods lead to not only digestive upset but also to other inflammatory conditions such as hives, swelling, and, in severe cases, even anaphylaxis.
Clearly, there are many compelling reasons to focus on maintaining a healthy digestive system, and we’ve put together a list of 25 informative tips to help you achieve a healthy digestive system.
1. Move daily. “A recent study published in Diabetes Care showed that a short 15-minute walk after each meal helped to control sugar spikes after eating. These short post-meal walks were more effective than taking a longer, 45-minute walk once daily.” – Sheila Patel, M.D., 6 Ayurvedic Practices to Improve Your Digestion, The Chopra Center
2. Consume ample fiber. “Fiber can help your GI tract stay ‘regular,’ improve cardiovascular health and regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber also reduces cholesterol levels in the blood, enhances proper bowel function, prevents constipation and diverticulosis, and provides a feeling of fullness without adding calories. It is found in plant sources, so be sure to eat a diet containing a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
“Health and nutrition experts recommend eating 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. Fiber is found only in plant food, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It’s the part of the plant that is not digested in the human body. It’s important to eat foods containing both soluble fiber, such as oat bran and beans, and insoluble fiber, such as whole-wheat products. Both forms are necessary for a healthful diet.
- Soluble fiber mixes with water to create a gel-like consistency; this slows digestion to help the body absorb more nutrients and remove substances like cholesterol. Soluble fiber may play a protective role in heart disease and diabetes. Research has shown that eating foods with soluble fiber can help control the blood levels of both cholesterol and glucose. Oats and oat bran, nuts, legumes, peas, and some fruits and vegetables such as dried plums, apples and carrots all provide soluble fiber.
- Insoluble fiber does not mix with water but adds bulk to stool and helps move food through the digestive system. Insoluable fiber helps prevent conditions of the gastrointestinal tract such as constipation, diverticulosis (a condition effecting 10% of people over the age of 40 where sections of the colon protrude through weak spots forming what look like pouches) and hemorrhoids. Insoluble fiber may also play a role in preventing some types of cancer. Whole grains (especially wheat bran), skins of fruits, dried plums and many vegetables (cauliflower and potatoes) provide insoluble fiber.” – 10 Steps to Build and Maintain Digestive Health, California Dried Plums
3. Cut back on processed foods, choosing those with the fewest ingredients. “Consume more fiber from fruit and veggies and cut back on processed foods, animal protein, and simple sugars, all of which feed harmful bacteria and contribute to obesity and disease, says Carolyn Snyder, RD, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. Choose foods that have the fewest ingredients listed on their labels, and chow down on those that contain probiotics (including milk, sauerkraut, and yogurt) and prebiotics, which are certain nondigestible ingredients (found in high-fiber fruit like bananas; whole grains, such as barley and rye; and vegetables like onions and tomatoes) that act as fertilizer for the probiotics in our guts.” – Dana White, What Your Gut Says About Your Health, Fitness Magazine; Twitter: @FitnessMagazine
4. Limit processed meats, as well as beef, pork, and lamb. “Choose poultry or fish more frequently than red meat, and limit processed meats. Smaller portions of meat, consumed less often (a 12-ounce porterhouse is really three servings, not one), are also beneficial. Most people do not need to consume more than six to eight ounces of meat every day. Try replacing meat with dried beans for more fiber. One half cup of beans provides the same amount of protein as in 1 ounce of meat.” – Keeping Your Digestive Tract Healthy, Cleveland Clinic; Twitter: @ClevelandClinic
5. Pay attention to your energy level after eating. “If you need a post-dinner nap then you may be suffering from a sluggish digestive system. When your system is under strain your body needs to direct its energy to digesting and assimilating the food, leaving you feeling tired.
“If you are overeating your body will also struggle to fuel both you and your digestive system and you’ll feel sleepy. Try smaller meals with healthy snacks in between to give your system a break.
“Taking a short walk after your meal has been shown to improve digestion – plus the fresh air should help give you a burst of energy. You could also try taking a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before each meal, which is beneficial for some in helping digestive issues.” – Jayne Leonard, 10 Warning Signs Of Poor Digestion That You Are Probably Ignoring, Natural Living Ideas; Twitter: @NatLivingIdeas
6. Avoid eating when stressed. “Eating when stressed is a common cause of bloating, which many of our clients think is normal because it happens day in, day out. But it’s not, and you can reduce it if you calm your system before eating. Taking a few deep breaths replaces the arousal-based nervous system associated with stress with the calming parasympathetic nervous system. When this is activated, digestion can work properly again.” – Helen Foster, How to take care of your digestive system: an expert guide, Telegraph.co.uk; Twitter: @Telegraph
7. Keep your gut bacteria in balance. “Factors such as stress, lack of sleep, antibiotics, illness, aging and poor diet choices can often lead to an imbalance of your digestive tract bacteria. Certain probiotics, mostly found in dairy products and some fortified cereals, can help to maintain the balance of ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive tract. Try a daily helping of yogurt with probiotics, such as Activia.” – Keri Glassman, Digestive health: 10 Tips for getting your digestive system back on track, SheKnows; Twitter: @SheKnows
8. Drink plenty of water — even when you’re not thirsty. “Dehydration is known to wreak havoc on our digestive system. We need to drink at least 3 litres of water a day to keep our system well hydrated. Our intestines use water to push the digested waste through the system and convert it into a form that can be easily eliminated. Continuous low water intake leads to constipation and the build-up of toxins in the body, and this in turn increases your risk of developing more complicated digestive issues. So make sure you consciously take the time to drink the amount of water you need every day, at regular intervals. Don’t wait to be thirsty.” – Dr.Mandar Doiphode, 5 Powerful Tips to Improve Your Digestion, Smart Cooky; Twitter: @SmartCooky
9. Choose ancient (over refined) whole grains. “Even if you’re not sensitive or allergic to gluten, opting for gluten-free, ancient whole grains in place of refined grains that contain gluten. Since highly processed sources of gluten can be a potential problem for digestion, go for gluten-free, ancient whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, and teff instead. These are some of the healthiest grains you can eat and contain no potential allergens like glutinous grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye do.” – Heather McClees, Improve Your Digestive Health in Just One Week With These Eating Tips!, One Green Planet; Twitter: @OneGreenPlanet
10. Opt for soothing foods. “‘Try foods called ‘carminatives’ that prevent or relieve gas, and are used to help the digestive process,’ says Jennifer Salib Huber, a registered dietitian and naturopathic doctor in Dartmouth, N.S. ‘Cumin, for example, helps with the digestion of black beans, which is why they’re often found in recipes together. Other carminatives include caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom.’
“Ginger is a traditional nausea remedy, and new studies are backing up the claims. Research shows that it can help quell nausea due to pregnancy, chemotherapy and operations. A 2008 study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology found that when healthy volunteers took ginger capsules along with a bowl of soup, their stomachs emptied more quickly. This may be useful for treating gastro-paresis, or delayed stomach emptying, a side effect of diabetes.” – The Foods to Eat for a Healthy Gut, Best Health Magazine; Twitter: @besthealthmag
11. Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit. “Smoking seems to be bad for every part of the body, and our digestive system is no different. Smoking has an astringent effect on the body, narrowing blood vessels and increasing the likelihood of inflammation; in the gut, this sort of effect can be very harmful, leading to heartburn, ulcers, and other intestinal complications.” – 20 Tips To Improve Digestive Health, Organic Facts
12. Start each morning with a glass of lukewarm water with fresh-squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. “This gives your digestive system a gentle jump start and prepares it for the food that you will start your day off with. Starting your morning with smoother digestion goes a long way towards a better functioning system overall.” – Stephanie Langford, Simple Ways to Improve your Digestion and Gut Health, Keeper of the Home; Twitter: @KeeperHome
13. Eat slowly and until you’re satisfied, but not full. “Eating slowly allows enough time for the digestive system to communicate satiety to the brain. Overeating slows digestion and encourages bad habits.” – Lisa Tsakos, 8 Steps to Improving Digestion, Naturally Savvy; Twitter: @naturallysavvy
14. Avoid excessive sugar, even non-refined sugar. “Even in healthy diets, there can be a considerable amount of sugar. While it may not be refined, if you are particularly health conscious, eating excess fruit, fruit juices, honey and any other natural sweetener (with the exception of stevia or xylitol, which don’t actually contain any sugar), can actually create digestive problems by weakening your pancreas.
“When you eat sweet foods, the sugar contained therein finds its way into your bloodstream (and quite quickly at that). Your body maintains a very delicate balance of sugar levels in the blood; and a sudden influx from eating highly sweetened foods—especially if the sugar therein is refined—causes your blood sugar levels to spike. In order to get things back under control, your pancreas begins to secrete insulin, which then safely transports the excess sugar out of your bloodstream. This is a normal, healthy process; but like anything in excess, it leads to digestive problems.” – Justin Faerman, How to Heal Your Digestive Problems Naturally, Conscious Lifestyle Magazine; Twitter: @ConsciousLMag
15. Get enough calcium and Vitamin D. “Get enough calcium and vitamin D. You can prevent digestive problems by making sure you consume an adequate amount of calcium-rich foods and beverages, such as milk, tofu, and yogurt. Taking vitamin D supplements and safely increasing your exposure to sunlight can also help prevent digestive issues.” – Erica Cirino, Medically Reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD, What Do You Want to Know About Digestive Health?, Healthline; Twitter: @Healthline
16. Practice yoga. “Remember how you feel after a good body massage? Well, your digestive system feels much the same after a sequence of yoga postures. Your mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine make up your digestive system, with your teeth, tongue, salivary glands, liver, gall bladder and pancreas acting as accessory organs. Throughout the day your digestive system is ingesting food, secreting fluids, breaking down and digesting fiber, absorbing nutrients and defecating waste. This is when it is all working correctly.
“Sometimes you might experience indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, pain, constipation or diarrhea. A regular practice of Hatha yoga can help prevent these kind of problems or aid in healing many types of chronic digestive complaints. There are certain simple, basic postures that you can easily incorporate into a regular practice. Putting them together in short sequences can be very effective and work within your time constraints.” – Delia Quigley, 10 Yoga Poses to Improve Your Digestion, Care2; Twitter: @Care2
17. Take high-quality probiotics supplements. "Probiotics are the good healthy bacteria which will help to build a foundation of healthy microflora in the digestive tract. Research is showing that the healthier our digestive tract microflora, the healthier we are.” – Dr. Melina Roberts, 6 Ways To Improve Your Digestive Health, Food Matters; Twitter: @FoodMattersFilm
18. Avoid eating a lot of raw plant foods, particularly during digestive flare-ups. “In the midst of a flare-up, it is best to eat mainly soft, cooked plant foods, the best ones being steamed zucchini, porridge made with white rice, and potato-based soups.
“What about those folks who point to white rice being a highly refined food and therefore not a healthy food choice? In theory, white rice is inferior to fresh vegetables and whole grains that are minimally processed. But sometimes, one has to recognize that theory doesn’t apply to every circumstance, and because I have experienced good results firsthand in feeding well cooked white rice to folks who were having dozens of bouts of bloody diarrhea a day while eating nothing but fresh vegetables, I stand behind this recommendation with confidence.
“For some people, even small amounts of raw plant foods (including raw vegetable juices and green food powders) can increase the intensity and frequency of their symptoms.
“Raw plant foods and their juices can be added back into the diet on a gradual basis once a flare-up has subsided.” – Dr. Ben Kim, How to Improve Digestive Tract Health, DrBenKim.com; Twitter: @Ben_Kim
19. Know the common culprits that tend to upset the digestive system. “Gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts, eggs, chocolate, citrus fruits. These are the common culprits, you may or may not be able to tolerate these foods. Thinking about how you feel after you eat these foods can be particularly helpful. If you experience any bloating, inflammation, brain fog, skin problems, etc. you should consider avoiding. Try cutting out one at a time to determine what is affecting your health.” – Steven Macari, 13 Ways to Improve Digestion Naturally, Harper’s Bazaar; Twitter: @harpersbazaarus
20. Eat on a regular schedule. “Try to establish a meal schedule that you can stick to. Pick times in the day that work with your daily routine. Remember to take into account work, social, and active parts of your day. I recommend not eating for 2 hours before engaging in any exercise. This pattern helps your body get into a routine of when it expects to eat."
- Breakfast @ 8 am
- Lunch @ 12 pm
- Snack @ 3 pm
- Dinner @ 7 pm” – Stephanie Clairmont and Team, Top 3 Strategies for Healthy Digestion, StephanieClairmont.com
21. Maintain consistency, but plan meals according to your daily schedule. “Some people keep unusual hours. If you work a night shift, the time you spend sleeping during the day is the time at which your metabolism enters a resting state. You might have the equivalent of breakfast late in the evening, and take your lunch and dinner while other people are asleep. Under these conditions, maintain regular late-night meals to foster a healthy digestive system. However, if you sleep at night and rise in the morning, eating at night exposes you to weight gain, indigestion and other uncomfortable consequences.” – Rob Callahan, Late Night Eating and Healthy Digestion, Livestrong; Twitter: @livestrong
22. Drink a glass of warm water about 20 minutes before eating. “A simple glass of warm water twenty minutes before a meal can improve digestive function by as much as 24%.” – John Immel, 10 Healthy Eating Habits to Improve Your Digestion from Ayurveda, Joyful Belly; Twitter: @joyfulbelly
23. While it’s good to drink a glass of water about 15-30 minutes before eating, you should avoid drinking beverages during meals. “Avoid drinking with meals. Liquids are best consumed about 15-30 minutes before meal or about and 1-2 hours after a meal to help avoid diluting enzymes needed to breakdown foods. If you do reach for a drink with your meal (like most of us do), reach for an herbal tea or kombucha that that will enhance the digestive process.” – Food Combining: What to Eat to Flatten Your Tummy and Optimize Digestion, The Chalkboard; Twitter: @chalkboardmag
24. Use food combining and food sequencing techniques for digestive health. “Some people – especially when coming from a standard American diet – will see a lot of benefits from getting very strict about food combining. It can do wonders for healing your digestive tract, and balancing your system.
“My brother was having some real problems when he moved to New York from Shanghai. The totally different food was giving him a ton of gas. He felt awful, and heard about food combining so decided to try it.
“By eating very simple combinations for his meals, and being really strict about his food combinations for a few months, he got rid of his gas. Once he got his digestion working properly, he had to take in all of his pants because his belly wasn’t bloated anymore.
“If your stomach is bloated with gas, if you find yourself tired after meals, if you feel full for hours after eating, or if you notice your food isn’t getting broken down fully you should try following the food combining rules for a while to see if it helps.” – Heather Nicholds, Food Combining Guidelines To Relieve Your Bloated Belly, HeatherNicholds.com; Twitter: @HeatherNicholds
25. Keep it simple and keep your portions manageable. “One of the ways to make sure that you get a positive net gain of energy from food is to eat nutrient-dense foods. Another way is to make sure that those nutrients can be easily absorbed into your body by keeping food combinations simple.
“Food combination theories can be quite complicated to understand, and almost impossible to remember right away. However, there is one key rule that will save you a lot of memorizing: SIMPLICITY. The fewer ingredients the less different enzymes you need to digest food and the less likely the food will get stuck in our body fermenting. Simple meals are easier because they require less resources to break down and turn them into nutrients.
“Another rule is to keep portions manageable. If you know that you will be eating a complicated meal consisting of hard-to-digest products, keep the amount small (Yes, I am talking about Thanksgiving). It is easier to deal with a small problem rather than a large one.” – Nadya Andreeva, 10 Interesting Facts About Food Combining, Spinach and Yoga Blog; Twitter: @realyoganyc