Guest Post by Lisa Richards
Nobody enjoys being bloated or gassy. And yet we often think that it’s just something to put up with. Well, good news — you don’t have to put up with it. All you need to do is make a few lifestyle changes.
Good digestion is not only about what you eat, but how you eat it, and how well you look after your body in general. After all, you are what you eat!
Here are eight lifestyle changes to help maintain great digestion:
Unsurprisingly, the foods that upset your digestive system the most are those that are high in fat, sugar, and artificial additives.
That’s because your body was never designed to break down these highly processed foods. Chips, cookies, crackers and soft drinks aren’t really food at all, but rather a mixture of chemicals and synthetic ingredients. Your digestive system is built for plant foods, lean proteins, fruits, and nuts. These are the foods that provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs in order to function properly — so it makes sense to eat them!
By including more real food in your diet and less man-made food, you’ll be feeding your digestive system the foods it recognizes and providing yourself with real nutrition. It’s a no-brainer, really!
Your gut is home to trillions of microbes that play a major role in healthy digestion. But if you’re suffering from dysbiosis or an overgrowth of bad bacteria (or yeast such as Candida albicans), your digestive function will be considerably weakened.
The best way to beat the bad bacteria is to add more good. Studies have shown that supplementing with probiotics is an effective way to reduce levels of bad bacteria and yeast in the gut and also restore good digestive function.
You can improve your levels of beneficial bacteria by taking a quality probiotic supplement every day or by adding fermented foods to your diet. These include products such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and natural yoghurt.
When buying a probiotic, look for one that contains lots of strains and at least 10 billion CFUs of bacteria. Also consider the delivery system to your gut, as most probiotics in vegetable capsules are destroyed by stomach acid. The probiotic that I use myself uses time-release tablets to deliver its bacteria safely past stomach acid.
Another one of the reasons for poor digestive function is slow bowel transit time. When your diet is lacking in fiber, food moves more slowly through the intestines, causing it to release nasty gases. Fiber also only helps to maintain the health of your gut and bulk out your stools, helping them to move through your digestive system more regularly. Even better, fiber provides fuel that supports the good bacteria in your gut.
The best fiber-rich foods include nuts, seeds, kiwifruit, berries, avocados, pears, bran, and oatmeal.
You may have noticed a kind of butterflies feeling in your tummy when you’re nervous or stressed. This is the effect that anxiety and worry can have on your digestion.
In some cases, stress slows down digestion and causes bloating, pain, and constipation. Other times, it can speed everything up, causing diarrhea or destroying your appetite completely. Stress can also worsen conditions such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also change the balance of your gut bacteria.
It’s a good idea to avoid eating if you’re feeling very anxious, stressed, or upset. Try to avoid stressful situations during meal times or eating on the run. Practice meditation for 15–30 minutes a day to reduce your stress levels and induce a sense of calm.
Smoking can really mess with your natural digestive function, causing all sorts of nasty symptoms.
Cigarette smoking tends to weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of your esophagus, known as the gullet. When this happens, acid from your stomach can splash up into your esophagus, causing the unpleasant sensation known as acid reflux. Reflux is often described as heartburn — a burning sensation in the chest.
Over time, excess stomach acid caused by smoking can also increase your risk of stomach ulcers and inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Smoking is also a major risk factor for stomach cancer. The best way to restore the health of your gut is to quit!
Taking the time to really focus on your food can make a huge difference to your digestion. Don't rush your meals. Take time to chew slowly. Try putting your fork down between bites and chewing each mouthful properly. This method can also help prevent you from overeating.
If you find it takes you too long to eat a full meal, try eating five to six small meals a day instead of three large ones. It’s also important to avoid eating a big meal just before you go to bed, as your body will find it difficult to digest a meal while lying down.
Make sure you have plenty of water to drink each day — at least two liters. Water helps to flush food through your digestive system, keeping everything flowing smoothly down through your digestive tract. When you don’t drink enough, your stools can become dry and hard to pass, causing constipation and intestinal discomfort.
Try carrying a water bottle with you at all times and remember to keep sipping it throughout the day. This is easier than drinking those eight glasses! Do try to avoid drinking large amounts of water 30 minutes either side of meals, as this can dilute your digestive enzymes.
Exercise naturally stimulates peristalsis, the movement of food through your intestines. Being sedentary, however, has the opposite effect: it causes your digestion to slow down, which in turn can lead to tummy trouble.
Being overweight can also cause digestive problems because excess abdominal fat puts pressure on your stomach, causing heartburn.
Regular exercise will not only help speed your bowel transit time but will also keep your weight at a healthy range. Losing a few pounds can help to relieve digestive symptoms and also reduce your risk of inflammatory bowel conditions. Try exercising for at least 30 minutes a day through walking, jogging, running, or cycling.
Lisa Richards is a Nutritionist for The Candida Diet.