A healthy digestive system

Contents

10 Tips for Better Digestive Health

2. Get both insoluble and soluble fiber. It’s important to consume both types of fiber, since they help your digestive system in different ways. “Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, can’t be digested by the body and therefore helps add bulk to the stools,” says Adams. “Soluble fiber draws in water and can help prevent stools that are too watery.” Good sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains; get soluble fiber from oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

3. Limit foods that are high in fat. “In general, fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, making you more prone to constipation,” says Adams. But since it’s important to get some fat in your diet, Adams says that pairing fatty foods with high-fiber foods can make them easier on your digestive system.

4. Choose lean meats. Protein is an essential part of a healthful diet, but fatty cuts of meat can lead to uncomfortable digestion. When you eat meat, select lean cuts, such as pork loin and skinless poultry.

5. Incorporate probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are the same kind of healthy bacteria naturally present in your digestive tract. “They help keep the body healthy by combating the effects of a poor diet, antibiotics, and stress,” says Adams. In addition, probiotics can enhance nutrient absorption, may help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system, and possibly even help treat IBS. Adams recommends that people eat good sources of probiotics, such as low-fat yogurt or kefir, on a daily basis.

6. Eat on schedule. Adams says that consuming your meals and snacks on a regular schedule can help keep your digestive system in top shape. Aim to sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks around the same time each day.

7. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is good for your digestive health, according to Adams. Fiber pulls water into the colon to create softer, bulkier stools, allowing them to pass through more easily.

8. Skip the bad habits: smoking, excessive caffeine, and alcohol. Liquor, coffee, and cigarettes can interfere with the functioning of your digestive system, and lead to problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn.

9. Exercise regularly. “Regular exercise helps keep foods moving through your digestive system, reducing constipation,” says Adams. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is good for your digestive health. Make it a point to work regular exercise into your weekly schedule.

10. Manage stress. Too much stress or anxiety can cause your digestive system to go into overdrive, according to Adams. Find stress-reducing activities that you enjoy and practice them on a regular basis.

What you eat and the quality of your digestive health are intertwined. Following these 10 strategies will help make sure it’s always a happy relationship.

How to Keep Your Digestive System Healthy

A sluggish digestive system can negatively impact on the health of the whole body, so it’s important to learn how to keep your digestive system healthy. Unfortunately, it is easy to take for granted, particularly when busy lifestyles demand quick food choices.

If you are looking to optimise digestion, follow these simple do’s and don’ts…

Why Is a Healthy Digestive System so Important?

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down the food we eat and forming a bacterial balance within the digestive tract. When these levels are balanced, a healthy digestive tract protects the immune system by boosting the body’s natural defences.

It also offers weight loss benefits by ensuring unwanted waste material is efficiently removed from the body. As a result, this also helps to energise the body and mind. Unfortunately, healthy levels of good bacteria can become unbalanced by various factors, including stress, poor diet, lack of sleep and ageing.

Luckily, there are simple lifestyle changes that can dramatically improve digestion and help us avoid digestive problems, such as heartburn, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, IBS, and nausea.

The Do’s and Don’t’s for Digestion

DON’T

  • DON’T Eat Too Quickly: Ensure you chew your food completely before swallowing; experts recommend approximately 20 chews per bite. The production of saliva offers powerful digestive enzymes, and research also suggests that the more you chew your food, the less you eat.
  • DON’T Overcook Your Vegetables: Raw vegetables contain many nutrients that can be lost during the cooking process. Try to limit cooking times as much as possible to preserve some of these nutrients, which helps the digestive process.
  • DON’T Eat Fruits with Other Foods: Fruit takes less time to digest so eating fruits along with other food types means they are left in the stomach longer, causing it to become bloated with air. Eat fruit on an empty stomach as snacks during the day or wait at least 30 minutes after finishing a meal.
  • DON’T Drink Cold Water Before or During Your Meal: It’s a common habit to have beverages at meal time but this is detrimental to digestion as it dilutes important digestive fluids and stomach acid. Cold fluids further slow down digestion as they solidify any oils. Try to drink 30 minutes before your meal and then avoid until after food has been properly digested.
  • DON’T Overeat Late at Night: Late night eating can have a negative impact on weight and metabolism as it interacts with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Try to avoid eating in the two hour period before bed.
  • DON’T Sleep or Nap Straight After Eating: This will slow down the digestive system. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) increases after eating, but sleeping decreases it and interferes with digestion. Lying flat will also allow stomach acid to travel up into the oesophagus, which increases the chances of heartburn.

DO

  • DO Establish a Regular Schedule for Food: Try to eat every few hours to avoid ‘crashes’ in energy – these ‘crashes’ increase sugar cravings because the body craves a quick burst of energy.
  • DO Drink Lots of Fluids: Dehydration is a leading cause of constipation so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Warm liquids, especially first thing in the morning, also help to stimulate bowel movements. It’s important to take into account your activity levels – the more physically active you are, the more water you will need to consume.
  • DO Drink Herbal Teas: Drinking warm herbal tea after your meal can offer many health benefits. Peppermint tea can help to relieve discomfort from bloating, gas, IBS, and digestive spasms, while ginger tea can relieve nausea and bloating. Be sure to wait until food has digested before drinking – approximately thirty minutes after eating.
  • DO Add Probiotics: Probiotics such as Acidophilus help to balance ‘good’ bacteria within the digestive tract, and improve the functioning of the digestive system. Some fermented foods are also a good source of probiotics, including yoghurt, kefir, raw cheeses, sauerkraut, and tempeh, or you can top up your diet with a probiotic supplement. Apples and bananas can also be useful as they contain fructooligosaccharide, which encourages the growth of good bacteria. Plus, one banana provides approximately 15% to 20% of your daily fibre needs.
  • DO Add Fibre to Your Diet: Fibre slows the absorption rate of foods and so provides a steady release of energy, rather than sudden peaks and crashes in energy. As a result, it also helps to reduce hunger pangs and cravings. Additionally, when the diet is lacking fibre, food struggles to move through the digestive system properly, which leads to irregular bowel movements and constipation. The best dietary sources of fibre are vegetables, fruits, and beans. Psyllium supplements are often used as these contain mucilage which has a calming and soothing effect on the digestive tract to relieve cramping.
  • DO Stop Eating When You Feel Full: It can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals from your stomach telling it that you are full, so eat slowly. A good way to achieve this is to ensure you chew your food around 30 times per mouthful. Poor chewing habits can compromise the first stage of the digestive system.
  • DO Exercise: Regular exercise triggers muscle contractions in the large intestine which speeds up the movement of food. This reduces the level of water lost from stools as they travel through the intestine, and keeps stools soft and easy to pass. However, it’s important not to do any strenuous activities an hour or two after eating, as this could lead to indigestion and heartburn.
  • DO Keep a Diary: Keep a daily log of the food you eat and any symptoms you experience to help you identify triggers. As triggers are not always food related, be sure to include other potential triggers such as stress and poor sleep.
  • DO De-Stress: The gut and brain are closely connected so excess stress can cause the digestive system to go into overdrive. Stress triggers the release of adrenaline into the body, which speeds up the transit of food through the digestive system and can result in diarrhoea or more frequent bowel movements. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, daily to reduce stress.

  • DO Restrict Alcohol Intake: Alcohol is a depressant and relaxant, and it increases the acid content in the stomach so should be used in moderation.

Follow these simple do’s and don’ts to promote healthy digestion, and let us know if you have any proven tips on how to keep your digestive system healthy.

“Your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into the nutrients your body needs. If you neglect your digestive health, your body could run into problems digesting foods and absorbing those nutrients,” according to everyday HEALTH. The most common problems related to the digestive tract are bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation and heartburn. These problems can be cause from many different things, such as poor nutrition, an unhealthy lifestyle, food intolerance or an infection. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help your digestive system run smoothly, says Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Jessica Beacom. With small changes, you can improve your digestive system and improve your overall health and sense of well being, by making changes in your lifestyle and food choices.

1. High Fiber Diet

Maria Adams a registered dietitian in Marblehead, Massachusetts, spoke with everyday Health, where she suggests eating a diet that is high in fiber and rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables “A high-fiber diet helps to keep food moving through your digestive tract, making you less likely to get constipated,” says, Adams. She also adds that it can help prevent or treat many digestive conditions, like diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome.

2. Incorporate Probiotics to Your Life

Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your overall health and specifically your digestive system. “These microscopic ‘bugs’ live in your intestines where they produce vitamins and short-chain fatty acids that feed and nurture other beneficial bacteria, and directly contribute to a healthy gut flora (the community of bacteria in your gut). These bacteria aid in digestion, help prevent infection and reduce chronic inflammation,” says Beacom.

3. Exercise Regularly

According to Dr. Oz, 30 minutes of exercise everyday will speed up digestion, increase the blood flow to all your organs, and stimulates muscles in the GI tract, which will help your organs run more smoothly.

4. Limit Foods High in Fat

Fried and fatty foods are not only very hard to digest but slows the digestive process down overall making you more prone to constipation, says Adams. In order to cut back, Dr. Oz suggests choosing meats that have low fat content like chicken or turkey and lean cuts of pork, and to go for non-fat dairy instead of whole or reduced-fat dairy.

5. Stay Hydrated

Water is a vital source for a healthy digestion. We need it to absorb nutrients correctly and digest solid food. According to Beacom, without water, the entire body’s function decreases which can lead to low blood pressure, dehydration and constipation.

Some digestive problems are harder to fix than others, but many can be fixed by just incorporating these simple habits to your daily life. Focus on what you eat, exercise regularly, and stay hydrated in order to keep your digestive system healthy.

Your Digestive System & How it Works

On this page:

  • What is the digestive system?
  • Why is digestion important?
  • How does my digestive system work?
  • How does food move through my GI tract?
  • How does my digestive system break food into small parts my body can use?
  • What happens to the digested food?
  • How does my body control the digestive process?
  • Clinical Trials

What is the digestive system?

The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal tract—also called the GI tract or digestive tract—and the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. The hollow organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system.

The small intestine has three parts. The first part is called the duodenum. The jejunum is in the middle and the ileum is at the end. The large intestine includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum. The appendix is a finger-shaped pouch attached to the cecum. The cecum is the first part of the large intestine. The colon is next. The rectum is the end of the large intestine.

The digestive system

Bacteria in your GI tract, also called gut flora or microbiome, help with digestion. Parts of your nervous and circulatory systems also help. Working together, nerves, hormones, bacteria, blood, and the organs of your digestive system digest the foods and liquids you eat or drink each day.

Why is digestion important?

Digestion is important because your body needs nutrients from food and drink to work properly and stay healthy. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water are nutrients. Your digestive system breaks nutrients into parts small enough for your body to absorb and use for energy, growth, and cell repair.

  • Proteins break into amino acids
  • Fats break into fatty acids and glycerol
  • Carbohydrates break into simple sugars

MyPlate offers ideas and tips to help you meet your individual health needs.

Your digestive system breaks nutrients into parts that are small enough for your body to absorb.

How does my digestive system work?

Each part of your digestive system helps to move food and liquid through your GI tract, break food and liquid into smaller parts, or both. Once foods are broken into small enough parts, your body can absorb and move the nutrients to where they are needed. Your large intestine absorbs water, and the waste products of digestion become stool. Nerves and hormones help control the digestive process.

The digestive process

Organ Movement Digestive Juices Added Food Particles Broken Down
Mouth Chewing Saliva Starches, a type of carbohydrate
Esophagus Peristalsis None None
Stomach Upper muscle in stomach relaxes to let food enter, and lower muscle mixes food with digestive juice Stomach acid and digestive enzymes Proteins
Small intestine Peristalsis Small intestine digestive juice Starches, proteins, and carbohydrates
Pancreas None Pancreatic juice Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
Liver None Bile Fats
Large intestine Peristalsis None Bacteria in the large intestine can also break down food.

How does food move through my GI tract?

Food moves through your GI tract by a process called peristalsis. The large, hollow organs of your GI tract contain a layer of muscle that enables their walls to move. The movement pushes food and liquid through your GI tract and mixes the contents within each organ. The muscle behind the food contracts and squeezes the food forward, while the muscle in front of the food relaxes to allow the food to move.

The digestive process starts when you put food in your mouth.

Mouth. Food starts to move through your GI tract when you eat. When you swallow, your tongue pushes the food into your throat. A small flap of tissue, called the epiglottis, folds over your windpipe to prevent choking and the food passes into your esophagus.

Esophagus. Once you begin swallowing, the process becomes automatic. Your brain signals the muscles of the esophagus and peristalsis begins.

Lower esophageal sphincter. When food reaches the end of your esophagus, a ringlike muscle—called the lower esophageal sphincter —relaxes and lets food pass into your stomach. This sphincter usually stays closed to keep what’s in your stomach from flowing back into your esophagus.

Stomach. After food enters your stomach, the stomach muscles mix the food and liquid with digestive juices. The stomach slowly empties its contents, called chyme, into your small intestine.

Small intestine. The muscles of the small intestine mix food with digestive juices from the pancreas, liver, and intestine, and push the mixture forward for further digestion. The walls of the small intestine absorb water and the digested nutrients into your bloodstream. As peristalsis continues, the waste products of the digestive process move into the large intestine.

Large intestine. Waste products from the digestive process include undigested parts of food, fluid, and older cells from the lining of your GI tract. The large intestine absorbs water and changes the waste from liquid into stool. Peristalsis helps move the stool into your rectum.

Rectum. The lower end of your large intestine, the rectum, stores stool until it pushes stool out of your anus during a bowel movement.

Watch this video to see how food moves through your GI tract.

How does my digestive system break food into small parts my body can use?

As food moves through your GI tract, your digestive organs break the food into smaller parts using:

  • motion, such as chewing, squeezing, and mixing
  • digestive juices, such as stomach acid, bile, and enzymes

Mouth. The digestive process starts in your mouth when you chew. Your salivary glands make saliva, a digestive juice, which moistens food so it moves more easily through your esophagus into your stomach. Saliva also has an enzyme that begins to break down starches in your food.

Esophagus. After you swallow, peristalsis pushes the food down your esophagus into your stomach.

Stomach. Glands in your stomach lining make stomach acid and enzymes that break down food. Muscles of your stomach mix the food with these digestive juices.

Pancreas. Your pancreas makes a digestive juice that has enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The pancreas delivers the digestive juice to the small intestine through small tubes called ducts.

Liver. Your liver makes a digestive juice called bile that helps digest fats and some vitamins. Bile ducts carry bile from your liver to your gallbladder for storage, or to the small intestine for use.

Gallbladder. Your gallbladder stores bile between meals. When you eat, your gallbladder squeezes bile through the bile ducts into your small intestine.

Small intestine. Your small intestine makes digestive juice, which mixes with bile and pancreatic juice to complete the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Bacteria in your small intestine make some of the enzymes you need to digest carbohydrates. Your small intestine moves water from your bloodstream into your GI tract to help break down food. Your small intestine also absorbs water with other nutrients.

Large intestine. In your large intestine, more water moves from your GI tract into your bloodstream. Bacteria in your large intestine help break down remaining nutrients and make vitamin K. Waste products of digestion, including parts of food that are still too large, become stool.

What happens to the digested food?

The small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients in your food, and your circulatory system passes them on to other parts of your body to store or use. Special cells help absorbed nutrients cross the intestinal lining into your bloodstream. Your blood carries simple sugars, amino acids, glycerol, and some vitamins and salts to the liver. Your liver stores, processes, and delivers nutrients to the rest of your body when needed.

The lymph system, a network of vessels that carry white blood cells and a fluid called lymph throughout your body to fight infection, absorbs fatty acids and vitamins.

Your body uses sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and glycerol to build substances you need for energy, growth, and cell repair.

How does my body control the digestive process?

Your hormones and nerves work together to help control the digestive process. Signals flow within your GI tract and back and forth from your GI tract to your brain.

Hormones

Cells lining your stomach and small intestine make and release hormones that control how your digestive system works. These hormones tell your body when to make digestive juices and send signals to your brain that you are hungry or full. Your pancreas also makes hormones that are important to digestion.

Nerves

You have nerves that connect your central nervous system—your brain and spinal cord—to your digestive system and control some digestive functions. For example, when you see or smell food, your brain sends a signal that causes your salivary glands to “make your mouth water” to prepare you to eat.

You also have an enteric nervous system (ENS)—nerves within the walls of your GI tract. When food stretches the walls of your GI tract, the nerves of your ENS release many different substances that speed up or delay the movement of food and the production of digestive juices. The nerves send signals to control the actions of your gut muscles to contract and relax to push food through your intestines.

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.

What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?

Watch a video of NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers explaining the importance of participating in clinical trials.

What clinical trials are open?

Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

We know that regular exercise is good for our overall health, but did you know that includes digestive health as well?

While nutrition has much to do with it, exercise and, more generally, being active, also plays a huge role in how well our digestive systems function.

How exercise affects digestive function

Over time, regular exercise helps strengthen the digestive tract and keep the gut healthy. Evidence suggests that regular exercise has other benefits for the digestive system including enhancing the microbiota found in the gut and reducing the risk of colon cancer. Conversely, as you become less active, your intestinal flow tends to slow down.

Physical activity can also have short-term benefits for our digestion. Exercising increases blood flow towards the muscles and digestive tract, which can help move food through the digestive tract. Exercise has also been shown to alleviate heartburn, gas, stomach cramps and constipation.

When and what to eat before exercising

For the most part, exercise is beneficial to digestive health, however too much exercise or improperly timed exercise with eating can have negative effects on digestion.

For example, if you’ve just eaten a meal before a workout, you can experience gastrointestinal problems such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, heartburn, bloating and constipation. This is especially true if you’ve eaten a meal high in fats and proteins. When you eat, the blood flow around your stomach and intestines increases to help your body digest the food. Therefore, if you start exercising without giving your body enough time to digest the food, most of the blood will be pulled back from your stomach to your heart and other muscles.

Give yourself at least 1-2 hours to digest before intense exercise and 2-3 hours if you’ve eaten a meal high in fats and proteins. If you need to eat closer to a workout, try to eat easily digestible foods like those high in carbohydrates and low in fats. Bananas, toast and oats are all good options. Also, be sure to keep yourself hydrated while exercising, as dehydration is a leading cause of gastrointestinal issues.

Exercises that pump up digestion

Aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling and swimming, are excellent ways to improve gut health because they increase blood flow to the organs, including the gastrointestinal tract. This results in stronger intestinal contractions and more digestive enzymes.

If you’re unable to perform aerobic exercises, the good news is that there are other less-demanding ways to improve your gut health, as even less strenuous exercises help with digestive health.

Certain types of abdominal stretches and yoga poses can help increase blood flow to the digestive system and can strengthen muscles, which has been proven to help promote digestion. Activities such as walking can support digestive health (and, yes, those walks after a large meal do help improve your digestion).

If you’ve experienced digestive health issues and would like to learn more about building an exercise plan that can help, please reach out to your Copeman kinesiologist.

mindbodygreen

When your digestive system is off, your health can suffer in all sorts of ways. In addition to digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or gas, you may also experience food allergies, weight gain, eczema, exhaustion, asthma, and more.

If unaddressed, these symptoms can manifest into chronic health conditions, which is what happened to me. Once I focused on improving my digestive system, I reversed my chronic health issues and lost over 60 pounds naturally — without drugs, diets or deprivation.

Here are 10 things that I did to heal my digestive system, and I hope that these ideas can help get you.

1. Chew your food.

Good digestion starts in the mouth. When you chew your food well, it eases the work required from your digestive system, so your body can focus on other tasks instead.

2. Eat real foods.

Focus on whole, fresh foods. Avoid the “fake” stuff, including processed foods and fast-foods, which are typically high in refined salt, sugar, and processed oils. Also, they’re difficult for your body to digest, and they don’t provide any nutritional value.

3. Eat fermented and cultured foods.

Fermented foods are high in “good bacteria” and eating them will help you to regenerate your gut flora naturally. The greater the variety of fermented and cultured foods you can include in your diet, the better. Try eating sauerkraut, kefir, fermented vegetables, kimchi, or Kombucha. If you have a severe gut disorder, start slowly. Allow time for your internal environment to change and for your digestive system to become healthier and stronger.

4. Be good to your liver.

You can heal your digestive system by supporting your liver to work efficiently and effectively. If your digestion can handle it, try to boost your intake of liver-loving foods by consuming carrots, beetroot and leafy greens in soups and freshly squeezed juices. I like to supplement with bitter herbs such as dandelion and/or milk thistle.

5. Get hydrated.

Many people with digestive disorders are extremely dehydrated. If that might be an issue for you, try increasing your water intake today! Try to drink at least one glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice.

Herbal teas are another great way to hydrate and heal your body. Peppermint, ginger, fennel and fenugreek are known for their digestive supporting properties. If you’re looking for a coffee substitute, try dandelion tea with milk (or your favorite milk substitute).

6. Manage your stress.

Stress doesn’t just wreak havoc on your mind; it can mess with your digestion! There are many ways to reduce stress and I recommend giving yourself permission to discover what kinds of relaxing activities work best for you. I found that gentle activities such as meditation, breathing, yoga, walking and naps really helped me to reduce my stress levels.

7. Reset with a regular detox.

A gentle detox on a regular basis can be a great way to reset your entire digestive system. Consider including aloe vera juice in your detox, as some research suggests that it may help with digestive issues.

8. Support your body with Glutamine.

Glutamine is one of the most important nutrients that you can give your body as it supports the repair and regeneration of the intestinal lining in your body and also soothes inflammation. You can find glutamine in supplement form and it’s also found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beets, beans, spinach, parsley and fresh vegetable juices. Check with a health care professional before taking any supplements.

9. Get probiotics.

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that have been shown to improve gut health. They are easily available as dietary supplements. For best results, work with a qualified health practitioner.

10. Listen to your body.

Let go of dieting dogma and food trends, and instead, build knowledge of your own body so that you can eat and live in a way that serves you. Understanding your body will put you in the driver’s seat of your own health, so you can make choices based on what works best for your body.

If you’re experiencing health disorders, consider that your body is trying to communicate with you. Listen to your body and use these 10 healing ideas to re-balance and heal your digestive system.

Digestive issues can easily interfere with what should be one of life’s pleasures—sharing a meal with friends. Ali Inay/Unsplash

Is gas, bloating heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea cramping your style? Are these annoying symptoms getting in the way of living your life to its fullest? You’re not alone. In our society, digestive problems have become a part of our daily routine. Few of us talk about these uncomfortable disorders, and we rarely seek advice to find solutions.

The reality is we have to eat in order to live, but when uncomfortable digestive issues arise, what normally should be a pleasurable occurrence can take a turn for the worse. As time goes on, you end up with a stressed-out stomach looking for relief.

A recent 2016 study from the Technical University of Denmark found that what is referred to as “transit time,” or, how fast our food moves starting from when we eat to the time it leaves our body, has a substantial impact on our gut health. The longer food stays in our digestive tract, the more harmful bacteria degradation products are created. A shorter transit time means a healthier digestive system.

A happy, well-functioning digestive system is fundamental to keeping us healthy and feeling good. Having a turbulent tummy can ruin the best of days for anyone. By knowing certain tricks to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) symptoms, you can avoid tummy troubles and begin to improve your digestion without even noticing you’ve made any significant changes.

  1. Eliminate too much sugar and fat

Too many calories from sugary, fatty or fried foods are hard to digest. They can irritate your stomach by slowing down the process of digestion, creating a very full, uncomfortable feeling. Excess sugar makes your blood sugar skyrocket, setting up an unhealthy duo of too much sugar in the bloodstream and too much insulin being pumped out by the pancreas to compensate for the situation. The excess of insulin also leads to extra storage of calories, contributing to weight gain.

The solution? Choose more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. When eating meat, go for something lower in fat such as fish, poultry, lean beef and pork. Replace butter and margarine with olive oil.

  1. Fill up with water

Being adequately hydrated is key in the digestion process. Water helps speed up the transit time of food through the digestive tract, and prevents constipation by creating a softer, bulkier stool. Aim for 9 to 13 cups of fluid each day, or enough until your urine appears clear.

  1. Move more

It’s easy to register the benefits of exercise by noticing changes in the appearance of our bodies on the outside, but keeping active also does wonders for us on the inside. Physical activity is vital for good digestive health. Regular exercise improves blood flow to all our organs, including the gastrointestinal tract. This stimulates and tones muscles within the stomach and intestines, keeping contents moving quickly. Aim for at least 30 minutes each day but avoid strenuous workouts right after eating.

  1. Include probiotics

We have more bacteria in our digestive tracts than we do cells in our bodies. Maintaining a balance between good and bad bacteria can sometimes be tricky, and when the bad bacteria dominates, we certainly feel it with a dysfunctional digestive system. Supplementing your good bacteria with food sources containing probiotics are usually the best way to get your gut bacteria in balance. Try integrating yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, soft cheeses, sour pickles, tempeh or acidophilus milk into your daily diet.

  1. Slow down when eating

Our digestive system doesn’t like to be rushed. Taking time when consuming a snack or meal gives the stomach the opportunity to properly digest and absorb the nutrients within the food. This also allows your body and brain to give you the signal of when you’ve had enough. Turn off the TV and resist looking at your computer or smartphone while eating—distracted people will eat significantly more food than when they put the focus just on eating.

  1. Consume more fiber

For a substance that really doesn’t get absorbed in our body, it’s surprising how much healthy digestion relies on fiber to keep things purring like a kitten. Fiber comes in two types—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, helping slow down digestion and absorption, making you feel fuller for longer. It also slows down the amount of glucose entering into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar levels at a more even level. Insoluble fiber passes through unabsorbed, but it attracts water to it in the colon creating a softer, bulkier, easier-to-pass bowel movement, reducing constipation and pain.

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight

A healthy body weight is associated with fewer symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition allows contents from the stomach to flow backwards into the esophagus due to a weak valve that doesn’t close completely between the stomach and esophagus. The strong stomach acid backs up into the esophagus causing unpleasant symptoms of pain, burning and irritation of the lining of the unprotected esophagus. Losing excess weight reduces the pressure and can help avoid heartburn and other discomfort.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com and Facebook.

Digestive Tract Health

1. Eat at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Be adventurous, and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in any form – canned, fresh, frozen, or dried. Plant foods are rich in fiber and many disease fighting chemicals.

Fruit serving sizes

1 cup fresh

1 tennis-ball sized piece

½ cup canned

¼ cup dried

4 oz. 100% juice

Vegetable serving sizes

1 cup raw

½ cup cooked

6 oz. 100% vegetable juice

2. Choose whole grains more often.

The new labeling of “whole grains” on packages can help you pick these good grains more often. Look for the word “whole” on the package and in the ingredient list (on the nutrition label), making sure that whole grains appear among the first items listed. Then also check the amount of fiber the product contains. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving for the best benefit.

3. Limit the amount of beef, pork, lamb, and processed meats you eat.

Choose poultry or fish more frequently than red meat, and limit processed meats. Smaller portions of meat, consumed less often (a 12-ounce porterhouse is really 3 servings, not 1), are also beneficial. Most people do not need to consume more than 6 to 8 ounces of meat every day. Try replacing meat with dried beans for more fiber. One half cup of beans provides the same amount of protein as in 1 ounce of meat.

4. Try the following cooking methods more frequently.

Steaming, poaching, stewing, microwaving, braising, and boiling can prevent carcinogen development (cancer). If you are grilling, you can remove the skin on chicken or fish to reduce exposure. And do not forget – it is important to make sure your meat gets cooked thoroughly before eating it.

5. Consume foods with probiotics.

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help fight off the bad bacteria in your gut. They also produce healthy substances that provide nourishment for your gut. Good sources of probiotics are yogurt, kefir, kimchee, raw apple cider vinegar, and raw sauerkraut.

6. Limit foods that have added sugars and animal fats.

These foods can produce harmful chemicals in the gastrointestinal tract and cause damage over time. Read ingredient labels for sources of added sugars. Choose lean meats and poultry without skin. Limit high-fat dairy products such as cheese and butter.

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Your Digestive System: 5 Ways to Support Gut Health

Digestive system problems such as heartburn, gas, bloating and constipation reflect what’s happening throughout your body. “As we age, the natural cycles slow down and don’t work as well,” says Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin, M.D.

The main drivers of gut health change are shifts in stomach acid, gut immunity and gastrointestinal flora—the complex ecosystem of bacteria in your digestive system.

When gut health is good, he says, you’re less likely to experience damaging inflammation and lapses in immunity.

The following ways to protect your digestive system may sound surprising because they’re not just about diet. “Everything ties together,” Mullin says.

Eat the right foods.

“Americans’ fiber intake is 40 to 50 percent of what it should be,” Mullin says. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the fiber that builds good bacteria and gut health.

Other foods that build a healthy digestive system include kefir (a fermented milk drink that’s similar to yogurt and is rich in probiotics) and other fermented or pickled foods (such as kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled ginger).

Ask your health care provider about foods for specific problems such as constipation or bloating.

Get more sleep.

Not getting enough sleep is linked to a higher prevalence of obesity, which sets you up for digestive system disorders.

Move more.

As with other aspects of health, exercise is the best way to lose weight and maintain a healthy body weight to ward off digestive system problems.

Manage stress.

Reducing stress is fundamental to reducing heartburn, Mullin says. “There’s no magic diet that works.” Try relaxation therapies along with other distraction techniques.

Get help for issues like anxiety and depression.

Mood and digestive system health (especially disorders like irritable bowel syndrome) are closely linked via the brain-gut connection.

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Gut Health

It’s hardly news that the gastrointestinal tract is important to human health: It transports food from the mouth to the stomach, converts it into absorbable nutrients and stored energy, and shuttles waste back out of the body. If you don’t properly nourish yourself, you don’t live. It’s that simple.

But in recent years, scientists have discovered that the GI system has an even bigger, more complex job than previously appreciated. It’s been linked to numerous aspects of health that have seemingly nothing to do with digestion, from immunity to emotional stress to chronic illnesses, including cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

“We now know that the GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food but that also help our bodies maintain homeostasis and overall well-being,” says Dr. Tara Menon, a gastroenterologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The key, experts say, may lie in the microbiome—the makeup of bacteria and other microorganisms in the stomach and intestines, or, informally, the gut.

Research on the microbiome is still in its infancy. But studies have already found that certain environments, foods and behaviors can influence gut health for better or worse. Here’s why that matters and what you can do to improve yours.

Why is gut health important?

Everyone’s microbiome is unique, but there are a few generalities about what’s healthy and what’s not. “In healthy people, there is a diverse array of organisms,” says Dr. Gail Hecht, chair of the American Gastroenterological Association Center for Gut Microbiome Research & Education. (Most of those organisms are bacteria, but there are viruses, fungi and other microbes as well.) “In an unhealthy individual, there’s much less diversity, and there seems to be an increase of bacteria we associate with disease.”

Hecht stresses the word associate because scientists don’t know for sure which comes first—whether bacteria influence disease risk or whether existing disease influences gut bacteria. Most likely, she says, both are true. “We’re still lacking specific proof of how this connection works, but we know it’s there.”

Some bacteria fight inflammation, while others promote it. When the gut works as it should, these two types keep each other in check. But when that delicate balance gets skewed, inflammatory bacteria can take over—and they can produce metabolites that pass through the lining of the gut and into the bloodstream, spreading the inflammation to other parts of the body.

Specific types of bacteria in the gut can lead to other conditions as well. Studies in both animals and humans have linked some bacteria to lower immune function; others to greater risk of asthma and allergies; and still others to chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.

Gut health has even been linked to anxiety and depression, and to neurological conditions like schizophrenia and dementia. The makeup of gut bacteria also varies between lean and overweight people, suggesting that it may play a role in causing obesity in the first place.

What affects gut health?

The food you eat obviously plays a role in the bacterial makeup of your gut, but so do a lot of other factors, including the nature of your birth. Research shows that babies delivered vaginally grow up to have more diverse microbiomes than those delivered via C-section, thanks to the exposure they get to different bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Breastfeeding has also been shown to foster beneficial gut bacteria.

The environment you grow up in matters too. “We are way too clean of a society,” says Hecht. More exposure to germs and bacteria, within reason, can strengthen our microbiomes. “Go outside, dig in the dirt, play with animals … it’s all good. These are things that will help establish a healthy gut.”

Emotional stress can also affect gut bacteria. Scientists refer to the “gut-brain axis,” a pathway through which signals from the gut can affect neurotransmitters in the brain, and vice versa. Research is still early, but a person’s microbiome and mental state appear to be able to influence each other to some extent.

Then, too, there is the role of medications, including over-the-counter painkillers and drugs used to treat acid reflux, diabetes and psychiatric conditions; all have been linked to microbiome changes. But the best-known gut-altering drugs are antibiotics: though they’re prescribed to kill harmful bacteria, they can also wipe out bacteria of all kinds.

“I’ve seen patients on antibiotics develop allergies, or become more susceptible to infection, or have motility issues, all because their microbiota composition suddenly changes,” says Hecht. Antibiotics should be prescribed when they’re needed to fight bacterial infections, she adds, but doctors and patients should be careful about overuse.

Can you tell if you’re having health problems in your gut?

When the microbiome is thrown out of balance for any reason, it’s often easy to tell. Bloating, gas, diarrhea, stomach pain or nausea are all pretty direct signs that something in the gut isn’t working as it should. The imbalances often fix themselves after a short time, but if they become chronic, they may require a medical diagnosis and treatment. (Gastroenterologists can test for specific conditions associated with the microbiome, like an overgrowth of certain bacteria.)

But more and more, doctors are discovering irregularities in gut bacteria that don’t cause immediate symptoms—at least not gastrointestinal ones. “You can have bacteria in your gut that aren’t overproducing gas or altering your motility or anything you’d notice but that, for example, are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer,” says Hecht.

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For people curious about their microbiome, commercial testing kits will analyze a stool sample and provide information about the strains of bacteria detected. But if you’re looking for advice about your health, doctors say the kits are not worth the money. “We don’t know enough to make those readouts meaningful yet,” says Dr. Robert Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We know in general what looks like inflammatory and noninflammatory bacteria, but in a practical sense we can’t really measure it or match specific bacteria to specific diseases.”

How can I maintain my gut health?

You don’t have to know exactly what’s going on in your gut at all times. And as long as you’re following doctor’s orders for overall health, you’re likely benefiting your microbiome. “We tell people to follow a balanced diet, stay hydrated, exercise regularly and get a good night’s sleep,” says Menon, “because we think staying healthy overall will help you maintain a healthy gut.”

Similarly, the same habits that are bad for your heart, lungs and brain—like cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol intake—can also hurt the microbiome. (Some data does suggest, however, that moderate amounts of red wine may be beneficial.) Avoid taking unnecessary medications, says Hecht, and talk to your doctor about how your current drug regimen might affect your gut health.

Limiting dairy, red and processed meats, and refined sugars can also improve gut health. So can getting the recommended amount of fiber—20 to 40 g a day, depending on your age and gender. Most Americans don’t meet these guidelines, but you can increase your amount by adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to your diet.

Menon recommends keeping a food diary to track fiber intake, as well as GI symptoms related to food. A sudden switch to high-fiber foods can cause bloating, so introduce them gradually and keep track of how your body reacts to anything new. “Sometimes you can identify specific trigger foods that make you feel bad every time you eat them,” says Menon, “and you can find alternatives that work better for you.”

Some studies have looked at how regular consumption of specific foods—including mangoes, cherries, cranberries, broccoli, walnuts and leafy greens—appear to benefit the gut. But rather than narrowing your options to these items, it’s more important to look at what they (and plenty of other foods) have in common, says Hirten: they’re high in nutrients and fiber, and low in saturated fats and refined ingredients.

Overall, says Hecht, eating a wide variety of foods—including plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains—is the best way to encourage a diverse and healthy microbiome. “Your gut bacteria lives off whatever’s left over in your colon after your cells have digested all of the nutrients and amino acids,” she says. “You want to feed them complex fiber, not bad, processed stuff.”

Should I take probiotics?

Many commercial dietary supplements claim to boost gut health and introduce good bacteria. But the science is still out on the real-life benefits of probiotic pills and capsules. One potential problem is that even though probiotics should contain live bacterial cultures, the supplement industry isn’t well regulated—and there’s no guarantee that what’s in the bottle matches what’s on the label.

What’s more, studies have been inconclusive about whether probiotic supplements actually improve gut health for everyone. The evidence is stronger for people with specific health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. “A lot of probiotic strains are not what you would naturally find in large quantities in the human intestine,” says Hecht. “So you can eat them or drink them, but they won’t necessarily stay and colonize, and they won’t necessarily do you any good.”

Instead of pills, Hecht recommends getting beneficial bacteria from fermented food sources—like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi—that have other nutritional benefits as well. Hirten also advises his patients to focus more on a healthy diet and lifestyle rather than on pills. “I’m always cautious of new diets or supplements that claim to alter gut health in some way,” he says.

Finally, there are the cutting-edge ways in which doctors are beginning to manipulate the gut microbiome directly. Fecal transplants, which introduce donor stool material containing healthy bacteria into the intestinal tract of a recipient, have been used to treat IBD as well as C. difficile, a dangerous infection that causes recurrent diarrhea. Researchers are also studying how bacteria-killing viruses can target strains of E. coli associated with Crohn’s disease. “We’re actually giving people viruses to see if we can treat this specific bacteria,” says Hirten.

With so much still unknown about the microbiome, he adds, the best advice is stick to the basics. “I think that at this point, the most important thing we can do is follow a healthy diet and lifestyle,” he says. “If it’s good for you, it’s probably good for your gut.”

Correction, April 1

The original version of this story mischaracterized the health condition IBD. It is inflammatory bowel disease, not irritable bowel disease.

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What should I eat for a healthy gut?

The truth about ‘healthy gut’ foods

These popular foods are often claimed to benefit your gut – but what’s the truth?

  • Probiotic supplements, including spirulina, might be helpful, but it hasn’t been proven that the bacteria reach the gut intact. Some supplements have other well-established health benefits, but they tend to be expensive. Most probiotic supplements contain a limited array of microbes compared to what you can get from a good diet. Even if they do have health benefits, they are no substitute for eating a balanced diet.
  • Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha and many pickles. We can’t be certain the bacteria they contain reach the gut, but in countries where this type of food is eaten frequently people appear to have better gut health and less bowel disease. However, other factors could be responsible. Fermented foods can be cheap and easy to make at home, so eat them if you enjoy them. Mass-produced pickles use vinegar instead of traditional methods of fermentation, so don’t have the same benefits.
  • Raw milk. The variety of microbes found in raw milk is very similar to pasteurised milk – there’s just much more of them in raw milk. There is a strong correlation between drinking raw milk in childhood and a reduced incidence of allergies. This might be because of the high numbers of microbes in raw milk, but we can’t be sure. Children who drink raw milk often live on farms, which also bring microbial advantages. However, raw or unpasteurised milk may contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
  • Sourdough breads have fermented slowly using a wide range of bacteria and fungi found naturally in the air and ingredients. Commercial yeast, used in most breads, is a single strain that causes bread to rise much faster. It is not known if the additional microbes in sourdough survive cooking. One study found that the bacteria don’t need to be alive to provide health benefits, but this is not conclusive. Many people claim they find sourdough easier to digest than other bread, but it is likely that the lengthy fermentation process is most beneficial. This is because microbes have had more time to break down the protein strands that might otherwise cause digestive problems.
  • Traditionally produced cheese can contain a huge array of probiotics (from the natural bacteria used in the production of the cheese). Some studies have found that these can benefit health, but more research is required. We cannot be sure the bacteria in some cheeses survive digestion for long enough to be beneficial. However, it is possible that other properties of cheese help preserve bacteria during digestion. Mass-manufactured cheeses don’t have this potential benefit because of the way they are made.
  • Traditionally produced yoghurts, ‘live’ yoghurts and yoghurt drinks contain probiotic cultures, but they may not survive the acidic environment of the stomach and reach the intestines intact. Some yoghurts state the cultures used to make them in the ingredients list and diversity is usually beneficial. Stick to natural yoghurts; fruity yoghurts usually contain sugar and additives, which might cancel out any potential health benefits. Some yoghurt drinks contain very high numbers of bacteria that are considered to promote health – far more than you would find in a normal yoghurt. However, they can also contain lots of sugar and can be expensive.

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