Every day, millions of Americans struggle with digestive health problems, from irritable bowel syndrome to indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, and more. But even those individuals lucky enough to not suffer from these kinds of conditions need to be vigilant about maintaining their digestive health.
But how do you ensure your digestive system continues functioning as it was intended to do? What steps can you take to help avoid many of the painful and uncomfortable health issues out there affecting organs like the stomach and intestines? Let’s take a look.
Eat More Fiber
Possibly the most straightforward and obvious way to avoid digestive health problems involves simply eating more fiber. Why? Because fiber helps maintain the movement of food through our digestive system, ensuring nothing becomes stuck and in doing so acts as an obstruction. A diet that’s high in fiber can also make sure you don’t get constipated, an uncomfortable condition that can make physical activity particularly challenging.
So, what should you be eating if you’re looking to consume more fiber? Generally speaking, you should be consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods, including whole-wheat bread and pasta. However, it’s also helpful to consume more legumes, like beans, and you can supplement your fiber intake by using fiber powders designed to help keep you regular.
Consume Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
It’s fairly easy to say you can improve your digestive health by consuming more fiber. But the matter is slightly more complicated than that, as there are actually two distinct types of fiber, both of which you should be adding to your diet. These two types of fiber include soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber sometimes referred to as roughage, is fiber that’s tough for your body to digest but does important work in helping bulk up your stool and keeps things moving through your digestive system. As for soluble fiber, it’s the type that acquires water from your body and helps keep your stool from becoming watery. Insoluble fiber is available through foods like veggies, bran, and whole grains, while nuts, seeds, and legumes are considered top-notch sources of soluble fiber.
Avoid High-Fat Foods
These days it can be really hard to avoid high-fat foods like fast-food hamburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes, french fries — the list goes on. Many of these high-fat foods are available through restaurants and grocery stores and they’re tough to turn down for three key reasons: they’re usually cheap, quick to prepare, and in a lot of cases, satisfy our ever-present desire for tasty comfort foods.
But there’s a price to pay for indulging in high-fat foods, especially when it comes to the functionality of your digestive system. For one, high-fat foods tend to be low in fiber, which assists in keeping food moving through the digestive system. Second, high-fat foods can eventually lead to one becoming overweight and even obese, health conditions that come with a wide range of problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Limit Red Meat Consumption
Many types of meat are very healthy, as they contain the protein we require to remain energetic and build muscle. The protein in meat can also help keep us feeling full, which can assist in avoiding binge-eating unhealthy high-fat foods like potato chips and candy.
But not all types of meat offer the same advantages. While lean meats like chicken and turkey breast contain lots of protein but relatively little fat, red meat — including pork, beef, and lamb — tend to be much higher in fat and calories. And that’s a problem, as fatty cuts of red meat can lead to digestive problems like constipation and indigestion.
There’s a good chance that you’ve heard the term “probiotics” in recent years, as it’s become one of the major new buzzwords among nutritionists and food vendors alike. But what does it mean and why should you eat foods considered to have probiotic qualities?
In simple terms, probiotics are foods that offer a source of healthy bacteria, or bacteria that can assist in the digestive process by more rapidly and effectively breaking down the food we eat. Probiotics are often found in dairy foods, including yogurt, but can also be found in kefir. For anyone with significant digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics may help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort you’re feeling.
Keep to a Schedule
If you’ve ever struggled with sleeplessness, you probably know that it can help to stay on a regular sleep schedule. That’s because our bodies are more effective at entering sleep when we go to bed at the same time every day.
The same principle can and should be applied to our diets. Many nutritionists encourage those patients with significant digestive issues to maintain a regular eating schedule, with the consumption of meals and snacks falling at roughly the same time each day. That may assist in helping our bodies adapt to the foods we consume, potentially limiting the impact of digestive problems like constipation and indigestion.
Drink Lots of Water
One of the simplest and most important ways to avoid the pain and discomfort of digestive problems involves simply drinking a sufficient amount of water each day. That’s because, without enough water in our systems, it can be difficult for food to move through the body in a timely fashion. The result is often constipation and problems passing stool.
To alleviate this problem, track your water consumption while noting that most people should be drinking roughly eight or more glasses of water each day. If you’re failing to hit that mark, make changes to your lifestyle that will allow you to drink more water, like carrying water with you at all times or swapping out beverages like coffee, tea, and soda in favor of more water.
Limit Caffeinated Beverages
Many caffeinated beverages — including coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks — can effectively remove the moisture from our digestive systems and increase the chances of one developing significant digestive problems, particularly constipation.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with these kinds of digestive issues should consider avoiding caffeinated beverages altogether, while those who occasionally experience these problems should consider limiting their consumption to one or two cups or glasses each day. Instead, try drinking more water, which can help you avoid digestive issues and can also increase energy levels.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Some digestive problems can be avoided by simply limiting the consumption of alcohol, which introduces a wide range of health problems when consumed regularly (and especially when consumed in excess). For example, excessive alcohol consumption can result in ulcers and heartburn and may also lead to upset stomach and vomiting, neither of which are healthy for the digestive system. Additionally, alcohol tends to dry out the body, making it harder for us to effectively pass stool.
As with coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages, there’s no need to avoid alcohol altogether. However, you should consider limiting its consumption and drinking more water than usual on days when you known you’ll be consuming some alcohol.
A healthy digestive system is one that is always working to move food throughout the body, from the moment food enters the mouth to the time it’s removed during toilet time. You can help keep your food moving by drinking lots of water, consuming foods high in fiber, and avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol, but another important step involves getting sufficient physical exercise.
How so? Put simply, physical exercise helps get the whole body moving, and in doing so it can assist in pushing food through the digestive system; in fact, many doctors recommend patients struggling with constipation get more exercise. Additionally, physical activity helps us avoid becoming overweight and obese, conditions that can make exercise more uncomfortable and painful.
Talk to Your Doctor About Anxiety and Depression
Mental health issues like anxiety and depression often have a visible impact on our physical health, with some of the most prevalent issues being digestive health problems like upset stomach, ulcers, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome.
For this reason, it’s worth talking to your doctor about any possible links between the digestive health issues you’re experiencing and any anxiety or depression that may be affecting you. If you and your doctor determine there’s a connection between your physical and mental conditions, then you can work together to determine a plan for combating both.
Find Effective Stress Busters
As mentioned, many digestive health problems can be linked to mental health concerns, including excessive stress. If you’ve been experiencing more stress than usual, as a result of either personal or professional change, then there’s a good chance you’ve also encountered some physical health problems affecting the digestive system, like constipation and an upset stomach.
That’s why it’s so important to find activities that can help you bust stress and take pressure off your mind and body. The best stress busters will be physical activities that help you burn calories and fat, like a preferred sport. But there are plenty of non-physical stress busters, too, including reading, meditation, playing video games, and more.