Diet and lifestyle can have a major impact on the health of your digestive tract. Although the occasional stomachache, bout of gas or irregular bowel movement is experienced by most people from time to time, it shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. If you are starting to experience symptoms more frequently or if you just want to ensure that your digestive system is in optimal health, there are a number of simple lifestyle and diet changes that can improve your digestion.
Eat A Healthy Diet.
Not surprisingly, the food you eat plays a huge role in your gut health. For many people, processed foods that are often high in sugar, salt and fat are their normal diet. This type of unhealthy eating can cause imbalances in your gut bacteria and contribute to digestive issues, in addition to impacting your overall health. You can improve your diet by adopting a whole-foods eating plan that incorporates plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Increase Your Fiber.
One of the many health benefits of a high-fiber diet is better digestion. It is important to consume both soluble and insoluble fiber, as they play different roles in digestive health. Soluble fiber (found in foods like oats, legumes and fruits) absorbs water to prevent watery stools, while insoluble fiber from whole-grains, beans and vegetables adds bulk to help food move through your digestive system. Aim for around 30 grams of fiber per day.
Identify Trigger Foods.
If you are still experiencing digestive problems after improving your diet, there may be specific foods causing your symptoms. For some people, acidic or spicy foods can trigger heartburn, while others may experience diarrhea, bloating and gas from foods containing gluten or lactose. Certain artificial sweeteners, caffeine or alcohol may also cause symptoms to flare up or worsen. Keep a food diary to identify problem foods, and consult your doctor or a dietitian for further dietary advice.
Try Incorporating Probiotics.
Probiotics are found naturally in the digestive tract, but some people find that boosting these healthy gut bacteria and yeasts is beneficial to their digestive health. Try incorporating more probiotics by consuming fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut or kombucha, or you can take probiotic supplements.
Eating too quickly can result in problems like heartburn and gas. Make sure to chew your food properly, and try to eat slowly. This will also help you avoid overeating.
Stay Properly Hydrated.
Drinking plenty of fluids helps move food through the digestive tract, and it can prevent issues such as constipation. Make sure you’re drinking mostly water. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and carbonated drinks, which can irritate your digestive tract.
Get Regular Exercise.
In addition to all of the other health benefits associated with staying active, regular exercise helps keep your bowels regular by keeping food moving through your digestive system. It is particularly beneficial for those suffering from constipation.
Stress can significantly affect the digestive system, especially when it is chronic. Taking the time to properly manage stress may see a reduction or even complete resolution of gut issues. If you are suffering from ongoing stress, consider learning stress-management techniques; prioritizing sleep; and making time for rest, relaxation and social connection.
Address Bad Habits.
Drinking alcohol, smoking and consuming caffeine can all greatly impact your digestive health. Your gut (and your whole body) will thank you for quitting smoking and for avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Diet and lifestyle changes can be effective for many people. If your symptoms persist, worsen or are severe, please seek medical attention.
The physicians at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treat multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have over 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care that you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.