How to improve your digestion

how to improve your digestion
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When it comes to how to improve your digestion, there are lots of things you can do to improve your gut health and keep your digestive tract running smoothly. Some are easy to implement, like investing in one of the best water bottles so you can stay hydrated, while others can take a little getting used to. If your digestive system is sluggish or struggling, you’ll find a range of helpful tips in this article.  

We’ll take you through what you can do to boost your digestion, from eating more fiber and getting more exercise, to reducing the food triggers and unhelpful lifestyle factors that cause constipation, gas and bloating. Plus, we’ve got the lowdown on probiotics, from what are probiotics and how do they work, to whether they’re worth taking as a dietary supplement. 

If you’ve been wondering how to improve your digestion, you’ll find the tips and tricks below super helpful in getting you started off on the right track. From exercise to mindful eating, here’s everything you need to know…

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Yasmine S. Ali, MD

Yasmine S. Ali is an award-winning physician writer who has published across multiple genres and media. She is President of LastSky Writing, LLC, and has 25 years of experience in medical writing, editing, and reviewing, across a broad range of health topics and medical conditions. 

Dr. Ali is board certified in general internal medicine and the subspecialty of cardiovascular disease. She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (FACC) and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians (FACP).

Tips for improving your digestion

The following lifestyle tips can help to boost your digestive health, ease the symptoms associated with sluggish digestion, and improve your overall wellbeing.

Eat more fiber

Eating more fiber will help to keep you regular and make stools softer and easier to pass, reducing your chances of constipation and improving the health of your digestive system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) recommends 25g of dietary fiber for women and 38g of fiber for men every day, but Americans are only averaging around half of this. High-fiber foods include beans and legumes, whole grains, cherries, and whole-grain versions of bread, pasta and rice.

Get more exercise

Daily physical exercise can help to improve how your bowel functions and reduce bloating. It can also help to relieve stress, which in turn affects digestion.

De-stress

Stress can trigger problems in the digestive system, exacerbating inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and causing diarrhea or constipation.. Try to get more sleep if you can, and use unwinding activities, such as meditation or massage, to help reduce stress in your everyday life.

Best sleeping position: Woman sleeping on her back

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Cut out tummy-troubling food

Foods that are a surefire shortcut to digestive problems are a no-no. Avoid fizzy sodas, fried or fatty foods, and very spicy foods..

Most people have some degree of lactose intolerance, and findthat dairy can be a trigger for digestive discomfort. Look for low-lactose dairy foods, like yogurt, or dairy products with lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) added to them. You can also check out these dairy free diet benefits to see if it could be worth a try.

Eat mindfully

A study published in Obesity Reviews shows that slowing down how you chew and swallow your food can really help to boost weight loss. Further research published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal reveals that scientists are also exploring how it can improve digestion too.

In any case, common sense tells us that when we bolt our food without chewing properly, it results in more gas and bloating. Taking the time to sit down properly and chew your food slowly will help you take in less air while eating. You are less likely to overeat this way, and you’ll probably find you enjoy the food you’re eating more, too! 

Drink more water

Why is water important? Drinking enough water  reduces the chances of becoming constipated. It’s particularly important to drink more water if you increase your dietary fiber intake or step up your exercise regime. Although there’s no official daily guidance on water intake, experts at the Mayo Clinic generally recommend that adults drink around 6-8 glasses of water every day.

Pregnant woman drinking glass of water in kitchen at home. - stock photo

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Seek medical advice

Never take problems with your digestive system lightly, especially if you have an underlying health condition. If your digestive system is causing you pain or discomfort, or affecting your everyday activities, seek medical help. Your doctor can help to identify if you have another condition that needs treatment, such as ulcers or IBS. 

Foods that can improve your digestion

Food plays a hugely significant role in how our digestive system works. So, it’s possible to use food as a tool to improve our digestive functions, and much more besides.

Wondering which foods can give your digestive system and overall well-being a boost? According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are five foods you can eat to give a sluggish digestive system the kickstart it needs. These include:

Wholegrain foods

Give white rice, pasta, and breads a swerve and opt for whole-grain alternatives such as brown rice, multigrain breads and whole-wheat pasta. The increased fiber content of these foods will encourage your digestive cells to produce the fatty acids your gut needs to help the colon function well.

Leafy greens

Any vegetable that’s green and leafy, such as spinach, kale, and chard, is also an excellent source of fiber. But such vegetables  also contain vitamins and minerals essential to a healthy digestive system, such as vitamins C, K and A, and folate. According to Johns Hopkins, they also contain a sugar that helps the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut to thrive, improving your gut’s microbiome.

Bunches of leafy green vegetables

(Image credit: Leafy greens photo (opens in new tab) via Shutterstock)

Lean protein

Lean meats from fish or poultry, such as tuna, chicken, and turkey, are better than fatty red meats, such as beef, lamb, or pork. This is because the high fat content of these meats can trigger the colon to contract and produce ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, increasing your risk of producing chemicals that clog arteries.

Fruits that are lower in fructose

Low-fructose fruits are easier for your body to tolerate and reduce the risk of producing too much gas and bloating. So which fruits are low in sugar? Opt for berries and citrus fruits over apples, pears and mangoes.

Avocado

Avocado is fiber-rich and has lots of vitamins and minerals that help the digestive system function healthily, such as potassium.

Should I take probiotic supplements to improve my digestion?

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that already exist naturally in the body. They help to balance out the bad bacteria in the gut to help your digestive system to function well. Although you can find probiotics in certain foods, some experts suggest that taking a probiotic supplement can help to boost your digestion and your immune system.

woman eating a probiotic yogurt to lose weight

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Probiotic supplements are generally considered safe to take, but they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that it’s hard to know whether you’re getting enough probiotics to have an effect.

You may prefer instead to focus on getting more probiotic foods to support your gut into your diet. Foods that naturally contain probiotics include:

  • Yogurts
  • Kefir
  • Soft cheeses
  • Soy-based foods, such as tempeh and miso
  • Kimchi
  • Unpasteurized sauerkraut

If you do decide to take a probiotic supplement because of problems with your digestion, see your doctor first. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends that anyone with a serious underlying health problem should be monitored while taking probiotics. 


References

Cherpak, C. E. (2019). Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 18(4), 48–53. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219460/ (opens in new tab)

Fuentes Artiles, R., Staub, K., Aldakak, L., Eppenberger, P., Rühli, F., & Bender, N. (2019). Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, 20(11), 1619–1627. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12918 (opens in new tab)

Johns Hopkins University. (2022). 5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-foods-to-improve-your-digestion (opens in new tab)

Online Nutrition Resources at Your Fingertips. (2015, March 31). USDA. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/31/online-nutrition-resources-your-fingertips

Probiotics: What You Need To Know. (2019). NCCIH. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know

Water: How much should you drink every day? (2020, October 14). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256?reDate=14042022

Joanne Lewsley is a UK-based freelance writer and editor, covering health and lifestyle news and features. She mainly creates evidence-based health and parenting content and has worked with a number of global sites, including BabyCentre UK, Medical News Today, Fit & Well, Top Ten Reviews, and Yahoo!

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