Your lifestyle and your choice of foods can affect the way your body digests what you eat. Drinking water, adding fiber, and exercising all contribute to better digestive health.
Your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into the nutrients your body needs. If you neglect your digestive health, your body could run into problems absorbing those nutrients.
Your digestive health is directly impacted by the foods you eat and the lifestyle you live. By taking steps to improve your digestive health, you'll help your digestive system to function more efficiently, improving your overall health and sense of well-being.
Try these 10 tips for better digestive health:
1. Eat a high-fiber diet. According to Maria Adams, RD, MPH, a nutrition consultant in Marblehead, Massachusetts, consuming a diet that's high in fiber and rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits can improve your digestive health. "A high-fiber diet helps to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated," Adams says, adding that a high-fiber diet can also help you prevent or treat various digestive conditions, such as diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, it can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
2. Get both insoluble and soluble fiber. It's important to consume both types of fiber, since they help your digestive system in different ways. "Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, can't be digested by the body and therefore helps add bulk to the stools," says Adams. "Soluble fiber draws in water and can help prevent stools that are too watery." Good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains; get soluble fiber from oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
3. Limit foods that are high in fat. "In general, fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, making you more prone to constipation," says Adams. But since it's important to get some fat in your diet, Adams says that pairing fatty foods with high-fiber foods can make them easier on your digestive system.
4. Choose lean meats. Protein is an essential part of a healthful diet, but fatty cuts of meat can lead to uncomfortable digestion. When you eat meat, select lean cuts, such as pork loin and skinless poultry.
5. Incorporate probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are the same kind of healthy bacteria naturally present in your digestive tract. "They help keep the body healthy by combating the effects of a poor diet, antibiotics, and stress," says Adams. In addition, probiotics can enhance nutrient absorption, may help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system, and possibly even help treat IBS. Adams recommends that people eat good sources of probiotics, such as low-fat yogurt or kefir, on a daily basis.
6. Eat on schedule. Adams says that consuming your meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help keep your digestive system in top shape. Aim to sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks around the same time each day.
7. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is good for your digestive health, according to Adams. Fiber pulls water into the colon to create softer, bulkier stools, allowing them to pass through more easily.
8. Skip the bad habits: smoking, excessive caffeine, and alcohol. Liquor, coffee, and cigarettes can interfere with the functioning of your digestive system, and lead to problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn.
9. Exercise regularly. "Regular exercise helps keep foods moving through your digestive system, reducing constipation," says Adams. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is good for your digestive health. Make it a point to work regular exercise into your weekly schedule.
10. Manage stress. Too much stress or anxiety can cause your digestive system to go into overdrive, according to Adams. Find stress-reducing activities that you enjoy and practice them on a regular basis.
What you eat and the quality of your digestive health are intertwined. Following these 10 strategies will help make sure it’s always a happy relationship.