Follow your gut feeling. There’s way more to this statement than meets the eye, and it turns out that science even agrees with this sentiment. Your gut, otherwise known as your “second brain,” is home to millions of microbes and surprisingly, neurons—or nerve cells—which are most often associated with the brain and spinal cord. (1)
Not only that, but about 70 percent of your immune system is in the gut. In many cases, it’s the first and last place to greet threatening pathogens that have invaded the body.
Evidence shows that your gut health has a strong influence on your mood. There is no denying the correlation found between the Western diet—full of saturated fat, refined sugars, and processed foods—and a poor balance of gut microbiota, and depressive disorders. (2)
When gastrointestinal problems come up, it’s difficult to focus on much else. Conditions such as indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, and heartburn can just about render us useless, letting us focus on little else aside from the rager being thrown in our gut.
If your digestive system is running smoothly, so will you. You’ll be able to focus on the things that you love instead of being weighed down by the things that make you feel bad. The following tips can help to get your digestive health back on track and keep it there.
RELATED: Keys to a Healthy Digestive System
1. Eat Probiotic Foods
Back in the day—before refrigerators and preservatives—people would ferment and pickle foods in order to make them last. The result was a diet full of easy-to-digest, probiotic-rich foods that naturally strengthened the immune system.
In Asia, fermentation is still the norm, with foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and natto served and eaten almost every day.
Not only is the Western diet lacking in probiotic-rich foods, but it’s full of saturated fats and refined and processed foods that are healthy gut bacteria’s worst enemy.
No wonder most Westerners suffer from gastrointestinal problems, whereas Asians rarely do.
If you’re interested in increasing your gut health, start by eating more probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, natto, and tempeh.
2. Eat Foods Rich in Fiber
Both soluble and insoluble fibers are absolutely vital for healthy digestive function. Fiber fills you up, promotes bowel function, lowers your cholesterol levels, and stabilizes your blood sugar levels.
The best way to get fiber is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Cut out white flour products that have been stripped of their fiber content.
Get your body moving, and your digestive system will follow suit. When you exercise, your heart is pumping faster and your circulation increases, bringing a rich supply of blood and oxygen to all parts of the body, including to the digestive system.
This helps to wake it up and get it moving, contributing to regular, healthy bowel movements.
4. Limit High-Fat Foods
Fatty foods are not digestion-friendly. They tend to slow down digestion and can lead to constipation when eaten on a low-fiber diet.
Limit your fat intake—especially saturated fats—and eat fatty foods together with high-fiber foods to keep things going.
When you’re well-hydrated, the fiber in your gut has more water to absorb, making for bulkier, lighter stools that are easy to pass. It’s very common for constipation to be one of the first symptoms of dehydration, so drink at least 64 ounces of water each day—more if you’re pregnant or physically active.
6. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
Caffeine and other components found in coffee are acidic and cause the stomach to release more hydrochloric acid, making it even more acidic. Short term, drinking coffee can lead to acid reflux or heartburn. Long term, it can lead to weakening and thinning of the inner lining of the stomach—the mucosal layer—causing painful ulcers.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking is a bad habit for a number of reasons, and the effects it has on the digestive system is just one of the reasons.
Studies show that smoking can lead to many digestive problems, including malnutrition, ulcers, and heartburn.
8. Reduce Stress Levels
Stress and digestive problems are closely linked to one another, and they often lead to a vicious cycle in which stress causes digestive problems, which, in turn, lead to even more stress.
Things like exercise, meditation, and yoga can not only help to reduce stress but they also directly benefit the digestive system in other ways.
9. Practice Mindfulness in Eating
When you eat quickly or thoughtlessly, many things happen that can lead to poor digestive health.
When you chew and swallow quickly, you ingest a lot of air, and that can lead to burping, bloating, and flatulence. Also, when food is not chewed thoroughly, it causes a greater load to be put on the stomach and more acid to be produced in order to break down the food.
Also, when you wolf down your food, your stomach and brain don’t get the memo quickly enough, and so you end up eating past the point of being full, which can lead to discomfort, acid reflux, and heartburn.
Instead, enjoy the smells, tastes, and textures from your food. Chew slowly and swallow mindfully, and you’ll be less likely to suffer from digestive problems after eating.
10. Supplement with Herbs, Spices, and Roots
There are certain foods that we often use to add flavor to dishes but don’t enjoy on their own. Many herbs, spices, and plant roots are known to be beneficial for the digestive system. Eat these foods daily, and you can benefit from good digestive health around the clock.
- Ginger: soothes upset stomachs, relieves nausea, indigestion, and constipation, and promotes detox of the digestive tract.
- Peppermint: contains oils that provide relief from indigestion, upset stomach, and nausea.
- Cinnamon: shown to be carminative, which means that it helps to relieve excess gas and inhibits yeast growth.
- Fennel: treats constipation, bloating, and flatulence by soothing irritation in the stomach and intestine.
11. Reduce Your Consumption of Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
As we mentioned earlier, refined and processed foods are the gut’s worst enemy. They cause an imbalance in gut bacteria and lead to inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. (3)
A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates leads to poor immune function and digestive health and chronic inflammation.
12. Eat Many Small Meals Instead of Fewer Large Meals
By eating only a small amount at a time, you’re ensuring that your stomach doesn’t get overloaded, which can lead to excess stomach acid production causing acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion.
Also, when you eat a big meal after going a long time without eating, you can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Instead, eat many small meals throughout the day to maintain good gut health.
Your digestive health plays a major role in your overall physical and mental health. It’s important to make sure that you’re eating foods that promote good gut health, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods.
You may be surprised at how much better you’ll feel once you’re aware of your gut health and engage in activities like exercise, meditation, and mindfulness. For a happy and healthy gut, follow the 12 tips listed above.