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, including 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…
Tips for improving your digestion
The following lifestyle tips can help to boost your digestive health, ease the symptoms associated with a 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 (opens in new tab)(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 cherries, peppers and wholegrain 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.
Stress can trigger problems in the digestive system, causing diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). 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.
Cut out tummy troubling food
Foods that are a surefire shortcut to digestive problems are a no-no. Avoid fizzy sodas, too much coffee, rich and spicy foods, and foods that are more likely to cause gas and bloating, such as beans.
Some people also find that dairy can be a trigger for digestive discomfort. Check out these dairy free diet benefits to see if it could be worth a try.
A study published in Obesity Reviews (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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. And you’ll probably find you enjoy the food you’re eating more, too!
Drink more water
Why is water important? Well, for starters, it can help to flush out toxins from your digestive system and reduce 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 (opens in new tab) generally recommend that adults drink around 6-8 glasses of water every day.
- Related: Lemon water benefits: are there any?
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 wellbeing a boost? According to John Hopkins Medicine (opens in new tab), there are five foods you can eat to give a sluggish digestive system the kickstart it needs. These include:
Give white rice, pasta, and breads a swerve and opt for wholegrain alternatives such as brown rice, granary breads and wholewheat 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.
Any vegetable that’s green and leafy, such as spinach, kale, and chard, are also excellent sources of fiber. But they also contain vitamins and minerals essential to a healthy digestive system, such as vitamins C, K and A, and folate. According to John Hopkins (opens in new tab) they also contain a sugar that helps the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut to thrive, improving your gut’s microbiome.
Lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, are better than fatty red meats, such as beef 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.
- Related: What are high protein foods?
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 (opens in new tab) is fiber-rich and has lots of vitamins and minerals that help the digestive system function healthily, such as potassium. As with any food though, eat in moderation. Avocados can be high in fat, although it is a heart-healthy fat.
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.
Probiotics supplements are generally considered safe to take, but they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (opens in new tab) (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:
- Soft cheeses
- Soy-based foods, such as tempeh and miso
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut
If you do decide to take a probiotics supplement because of problems with your digestion, see your doctor first. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (opens in new tab) recommends that anyone with a serious underlying health problem should be monitored while taking probiotics.
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