There are many basic and easy steps we can all take to improve digestion.
These include the following:
1. Don’t overeat. Overeating puts more strain on the whole of the digestive system and hinders good digestion.
2. Take time to eat, and chew your food thoroughly. The function of the teeth is to mechanically break down food into the smallest particles so it can be more easily acted upon by the digestive juices and enzymes. Make sure you make the most of them! Some professionals advise that every mouthful of food should be chewed at least 30 to 40 times before swallowing. Gulping food down without chewing properly is hindering the digestive process before it has even started. Eating more slowly also allows the signals from the
stomach to tell us we are full, preventing overeating.
3. Avoid eating ‘on the run’, when stressed or while doing something else. Stress in any form – whether from work or simply watching something emotional or upsetting on television – causes your body’s stress response to kick in. Nerve signals are diverted away from the digestive tract and towards the parts of the body that are needed for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction: for example, the heart, to make it beat faster, and the muscle of the arms and legs. Even if you are not particularly stressed, eating on the run or trying to do something else at the same time as eating takes your attention away from the food, makes you less likely to chew it properly, and makes you more likely to overeat.
4. Make sure you get enough fibre. Fibre ensures food moves normally through the digestive tract, bulks out the stool for good bowel movements, and actually feeds the good bacteria in the gut, which then produce substances that nourish the gut cells. The main source of fibre in your diet should be vegetables, and plenty of them, as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as fibre. Fruits, beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas) and whole grains can also be good sources. However, in some cases, particularly with IBS, inflammatory bowel disease
and other digestive conditions, too much high-fibre food can aggravate symptoms, especially whole wheat or wheat bran, other gluten-containing grains (rye, spelt, oats) and beans and legumes.
5. Drink enough water, but between meals. Fluid is necessary to move food through the digestive system, to produce our digestive juices, and to lubricate the stool to encourage normal bowel movements. Most people should drink between 6 and 8 glasses of water a day, or 1.5 to 2 litres. But the majority of this should be drunk away from meals, as it can dilute the stomach acid and digestive juices too much when taken with a meal.
6. Avoid foods and drinks that interfere with digestion or irritate the digestive tract. These include coffee, tea, alcohol, fizzy drinks, highly spiced foods and fried foods. Alcohol irritates the stomach and may reduce absorption of nutrients, so for optimal digestion it should be cut down to the minimum, or drunk as an occasional treat. If you have a coffee habit, try to cut down to no more than one cup a day, and drink this away from meals; tea is not as irritating, but can still interfere with absorption of nutrients so should ideally be
limited to no more than two cups a day, again away from meals. Fizzy drinks should be avoided altogether. Spiced foods can be irritating to the gut, and fried foods are difficult to digest as well as containing unhealthy fats.
7. Avoid sugar, sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. Sugars can encourage growth of yeasts and ‘bad’ bacteria, which interfere with our digestion and the work of the ‘good’ bacteria.
– meaning foods made with white flour, such as white bread, pastry, etc.
– quickly break down into sugars themselves, having a similar negative effect to eating sugary food. They also contain minimal nutrients and little or no fibre to encourage healthy digestive function.
8. Don’t eat late at night. Ideally, the last meal of the day should be no less than 3 hours before you go to bed. We digest better when we are awake, and upright rather than lying down. Furthermore, the initial stages of digestion require a lot of work on the part of the digestive system, which should ideally be resting at night. If you have to eat later in the evening, have only a light meal such as soup which can be easily and quickly digested.
9. Get some exercise! Physical activity helps to stimulate blood flow to all parts of the body, including the gut. It also stimulates the muscles of the digestive tract, helping to move food along it, and supports healthy bowel movements. Don’t do intense exercise after meals, however – leave at least 2 hours after a meal.
10. Drink a glass of water with fresh lemon juice in the morning before breakfast. This can help to cleanse the digestive tract and stimulate the digestion.
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Articles on this website are based upon the opinions of their respective author(s). None of the information on this website is intended as medical advice nor replaces the advice of a qualified health care professional.