Many of us suffer from digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhoea. Fortunately, changes in our diet and lifestyle can make a positive impact on our digestive health.
Here are 8 ways to improve digestion naturally:
1. Stay Hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, is important for the digestive process because water helps to break down the food we eat so that it can be absorbed more effectively by the body(1). Staying hydrated also helps to reduce constipation and keeps the bowels moving(2).
In the UK, the Eatwell Guide(3) suggests to aim for 6-8 glasses of water (approximately 1.2-1.5 litres) and other liquids each day to replace normal water loss. However, this amount will vary according to each individual’s health, age, size, weight and lifestyle.
2. Add Healthy Fats to your Diet
Limit foods that are high in saturated and trans fats such as butter, cakes and meat products(4), as they can slow down digestion and make you more prone to constipation(5). Instead include healthy fats in your diet such as avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds, as they are great for your digestive health(6).
3. Manage your Stress
Have you ever felt butterflies or a feeling of unease in your stomach during times of stress or worry? That’s because anxiety can upset the delicate balance of digestion. In some cases, stress slows down digestion, causing bloating and constipation, while in others it speeds it up, causing diarrhoea(7).
Find stress-reducing activities that you enjoy and practice them on a regular basis such as yoga, swimming, meditation or running.
Here is a useful guide on how to manage stress.
4. Regular Fibre Intake
Fibre is an imperative component of maintaining your digestive health and preventing constipation. For example, fibre bulks up stools, makes stools softer and easier to pass and makes waste move through the digestive tract more quickly(8).
It is recommended to consume 30g of fibre per day(9). Fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds are all diverse fibre sources. Linwoods Milled Flaxseed with Vitamin D and Bio-Cultures provides 6g of fibre per 20g serving, making it an easy way to increase total fibre intake.
5. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating is all about paying attention to the way we eat and has shown to improve digestion and regulate appetite(10).
Here are some tips(11):
1. Try to eat in an undisturbed environment (focus on what you are doing)
2. Make it a habit to only eat at a table (not your desk or the sofa)
3. Embrace the senses of your food (taste, texture, touch) and ultimately enjoy the food that you are eating.
Read more on Mindful Eating here.
6. Chew your Food
Most people think digestion only happens in our gut, but it actually starts in our mouth(12).
Chewing properly means the food is partially broken down before it reaches our stomach. Chewing also continues to boost salvia production(13), which helps us keep food moving around in the mouth, and it eases the passage of food down your oesophagus into your stomach, making swallowing easier(14).
Try noticing how many times you chew your food before you swallow and see if you can increase the amount to make sure your food is well chewed before you swallow.
7. Change your Habits
Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the food pipe and allow stomach acid to travel in the wrong direction back up, a process known as reflux(16).
Alcohol irritates your digestive system into producing more stomach acid than normal which can also lead to acid reflux(15).
Moderate drinking will not hurt your digestive system(16), so stick within the weekly limit of alcohol units.
Late Night Snacking
Are you a late night snacker? Eating late in the night or before bedtime can create havoc in your digestive tract.
Going to bed soon after eating means there is an increased risk that stomach acid will travel up your oesophagus, causing heartburn. Avoid eating for three to four hours before you go to bed(15).
8. Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is a brilliant way to improve digestion as it increases blood flow to all your muscles and this keeps the muscles in the digestive system moving, allowing food to pass through it much quicker(17).
Exercise can also help ease stress which is even more beneficial to our digestive health.