Digestion is something that we usually take for granted, despite the fact that it plays a critical role in health. After all, it is the digestive system that breaks down foods that we ingest and it is also responsible for the absorption of essential nutrients. When the digestive system works optimally, you enjoy a whole lot of benefits, including better sleep, clear skin, higher energy levels, and healthier body weight. Most importantly, you are less likely to experience indigestion, bloating, constipation, acidity, heartburn, and other problems on a regular basis. Unfortunately, these problems are all too common for most of us and this is because of poor food choices, unhealthy eating habits, high-stress levels, and sedentary lifestyles.
On the upside, all of these problems can be easily dealt with and avoided by making changes to your diet and lifestyle. The number of changes needed can seem overwhelming, so take it one step at a time, embracing the simplest and smallest changes first, before moving on to the bigger ones. To help you get started, here are some of the most important tips on how to improve digestion.
How to Improve Digestion Naturally at Home
Increase Fiber Intake
This really is a no-brainer. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion and this includes both soluble and insoluble fiber. You can increase your overall fiber intake by eating more fresh fruit, whole grains, and vegetables. A high fiber diet makes it easier for food to move through the digestive tract and it eases the passage of stools, reducing the risk of constipation, bloating, and indigestion. Studies have shown that high fiber diets can lower the risk of a number of gastrointestinal conditions including peptic ulcers, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux or GERD, and hemorrhoids (1). As an added benefit, high fiber intake also increases feelings of satiety or fullness, reducing the risk of overeating and making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Favor Whole Foods
Diets that are dominated by processed or ultra-processed foods are linked to a higher risk of digestive disorders. This should come as no surprise, as these diets are typically devoid of fiber, not to mention nutrition. Most processed foods also contain high amounts of food additives, including salt, sugar, and chemical additives. These ingredients can increase gut inflammation, making you more vulnerable to digestive disorders. Likewise, trans fats and artificial sweeteners have also been connected to a number of gastrointestinal conditions, including chronic diseases like ulcerative colitis and IBS (2,3). Diets that mainly contain processed foods are also more likely to give rise to nutritional deficiencies. To deal with this problem, start substituting processed foods with natural whole food options.
Take Prebiotics and Probiotics
One of the best things you can do to improve digestive system health is to increase your intake of prebiotics and probiotics. Most of us are now familiar with the term probiotics, which refers to healthy bacteria and yeasts that are present in the gut and are part of the gut microbiome. They play an important role in the maintenance of digestive health and also support healthy immune function. Probiotic supplements are a convenient and popular choice for most people and you can also get probiotics from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, and some cheeses. However, you shouldn’t overlook prebiotics as these can also help improve digestion. Prebiotics are a type of fiber in plant-based foods that support the growth of healthy gut bacteria – probiotics. You can get prebiotics by eating more raw fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Constipation and sluggish bowel movements are among the most common digestive disturbances and they are often a result of poor hydration. Although the ‘8 glasses of water rule’ may be arbitrary and misguided, you should increase your fluid intake by drinking more water and non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day. A simple way to tell if you’re getting enough water is by observing the color of your urine. If it’s a dark yellow, you definitely need to increase your water intake. In case you find it tough to drink more water and fluids, you can also improve hydration by consuming more fruits and veggies with high water content, such as watermelon, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, and so on.
Aside from the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to a growing list of lifestyle diseases, it is also associated with a higher risk of digestive disorders. This shouldn’t be surprising as any exercise or physical activity helps to keep things moving within the digestive system and this reduces the risk of indigestion and constipation. In fact, studies suggest that gastrointestinal motility can be improved through regular aerobic exercise, which could include activities like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing (4). Regular physical activity also helps with weight control, which in turn improves digestion. Exercise is so helpful because it improves blood flow to the digestive tract and other muscles involved in bowel movements.
Cut Back On Stress
It’s a term you hear so often, that it’s easy to just ignore it. However, stress really has a huge impact on the digestive system and research has connected it to a number of gastrointestinal problems from diarrhea and constipation to IBS and peptic ulcers (5). A rise in levels of the stress hormone cortisol triggers the fight and flight response, in which blood flow and energy is diverted away from the digestive system. So, if you are looking for methods on ‘how to improve digestive system health’, you may want to look beyond diet and exercise. Consider taking up meditation or behavioral therapy and other relaxation techniques like aromatherapy and progressive muscle relaxation to lower stress levels and improve digestion.
It can be tough to make all of these changes at once, so take it slow and don’t be too hard on yourself. At the same time, remember that there are other bad habits that can adversely impact digestion. Try to fix those habits before you adopt any sweeping changes to your diet and lifestyle. Some of these bad habits for digestion include skipping meals, overeating, eating too fast without chewing food properly, eating at irregular or erratic hours, drinking too much coffee and energy drinks, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, smoking, and going to bed soon after meals.
In addition to making these changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can consider adding herbs, spices, and other natural ingredients to your diet to boost digestion. Some good choices include turmeric, ginger, garlic, mint, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar.