For some of us, digestive discomfort has become a fact of life, like never getting enough sleep or having too much to do. We complain about everyday ailments such as occasional gas, bloating, and irregularity, assuming they are inevitable. But they don’t have to be. By paying attention and making a few simple changes, you can help your digestive system do the job it was made to do—absorbing nutrients and keeping things running smoothly. Learn what you can do today to help take care of your digestive system!
Why is digestion important?
The digestive system is made up of the organs that mediate the breakdown of ingested food into usable compounds for metabolic and growth. The complex food carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are enzymatically converted into simpler substances that cells can absorb and use. The process of digestion involves five processes: ingestion, chemical and mechanical digestion, absorption, and elimination.
Common Digestive Conditions
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
Ways to Promote Healthy Digestion
- Stay Hydrated—There’s almost nothing better for your digestive system and your overall health than water. Just like not eating enough fiber, drinking too little water slows down your digestive system significantly because a harder stool is more difficult to pass.
- Move It—Physical activity speeds up digestion, increases blood flow to all your organs, and stimulates muscles in the GI tract, helping your organs work more efficiently. It can even tone the walls of your colon!
- Limit Fats—Fatty and fried foods are hard to digest, slow the process way down, and tax a system that would otherwise run well. Try choosing meats that are lower in fat such as chicken and turkey and go for lean cuts of pork. Switch from whole or reduced-fat dairy to low-fat or non-fat, and replace butter and margarine with olive oil.
- Eat More Fiber—Make fiber a regular part of every day, and you will be regular every day. Fiber is the traffic cop that helps keep everything moving smoothly in your intestines. It slows down digestion and absorption so the glucose in food enters your bloodstream more slowly, keeping your blood sugar at a more even level. Additionally, fiber increases the weight and size of your stools, and by softening them, fiber helps them pass quickly through your system. Without fiber, you get the gas, gridlock, and occasional discomfort of constipation.
- Healthy Weight—Losing even a few pounds eases some of the pressure in your abdominal area and can help reduce heartburn and other discomfort.
- Take Your Time—Nobody likes to be rushed, and your digestive system is no exception. Some of the key ways your body sends the signal to your brain that you’ve eaten enough take a little time to kick in. Slow down and chew each bite at least 20 times. That gives your stomach plenty of time to prepare to properly digest the nutrients you are giving it, and allows your body and brain to tell you when you’ve had enough. Also, try to avoid eating in front of the TV or the computer. Studies show that when people are distracted while eating, they eat significantly more than when they are at a dinner table, focusing on their food.
- Try Probiotics—Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the human gut. These “good bacteria” are used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions but particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract. They are particularly good at regulating the amount of healthy bacteria in your system and normalizing bowel movements.