1. Chew Well
Digestion of nutrients such as fats and carbohydrates starts in the mouth. Chewing properly contributes towards easier and more efficient digestive process within the intestines as well as towards better nutrient absorption.
2. Establish an Eating Routine
Eat at regular times during the day to promote consistent bowel movements. Aim for 4 to 5 smaller meals as opposed to 2 to 3 larger ones, to avoid overloading your digestive system.
3. Eat Slowly and Mindfully
Ensure that you are in a relaxed state of mind while having your meal. Avoid any distractions such as TV or radio and focus on the food on your plate, savouring each bite. Eating slowly will also help you to eat less. Generally it takes around 20 minutes for the brain to signal to your stomach that you are full which is why eating slowly will help to avoid overeating.
4. Pay Attention to Food Combinations
Eat fruit alone and on an empty stomach, to allow your digestive system to easily process all the nutrients, fibre and simple sugars that are contained. Eating a fruit close to or just after a large meal in combination with other food can slow down the process of digestion and result in fermentation. This in turn can cause indigestion, heartburn, burping and other digestive discomforts. The same applies to dried fruit.
Consume proteins with non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, turnips, sprouts, red radish, yellow squash, beets, zucchini, celery and cauliflower. Combining proteins with starchy foods such as bread, rice and potatoes will neutralise them and inhibit digestion (as protein digestion produces highly acidic stomach conditions while digestion of starchy foods produces alkaline).
Eat grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and millet (all of which are gluten-free) and starchy vegetables such as butternut squash, peas, red skinned potatoes (contain fewer sugars than other types of potatoes) in combination with non-starchy vegetables. Read more on food combinations here.
5. Drink Plenty of Water, but not during Mealtime
Water can aid digestion and prevent constipation. However avoid drinking (especially cold water) during a meal as this can impair digestion by interfering with the natural levels of acid and bile required to properly digest your food. Drinking water whilst eating doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, nevertheless it’s advisable to take small sips (of preferably warm water) or even better – to hydrate 15 to 30 minutes before a meal. Remember to also make a habit of drinking a few glasses of water and other fluids throughout the day between meals.
6. Cut Down on High-fat and Fried Food
Both of these can overload the stomach and cause acid reflux and heartburn, so it’s best to stay away from them. Eat lean meat and fish, drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and use baking, grilling, boiling, poaching and steaming as alternative cooking methods to frying.
7. Take it Easy with the Spices
Spices can be good for you in moderate amounts, however it’s advisable to avoid highly spicy food because, as Dr. S K Thakur, Gastroenterologist from Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi explains, once spices reach the digestive tract they can cause an irritation of the stomach mucosal lining. They can also increase acid secretion and reduce the strength of the gastritis mucosal barrier.
8. Reduce Intake of Caffeine and Alcohol
Both of these should be consumed in moderate amounts and preferably avoided by individuals with digestive problems. Alcohol results in the production of excess acid, inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis) and interferes with absorption of nutrients. Caffeine stimulates stress hormones which can cause indigestion. Consumption of coffee can have strong laxative effects in susceptible people. Moreover, coffee is highly acidic and can cause hypersecretion of gastric acids. Other sources of caffeine include tea, milk and dark chocolate (go for white chocolate instead) and certain medications. Find out more about the effects of caffeine and coffee on diseases such as IBS, Crohn’s Disease and Colitis here.
9. Manage Stress
Release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol can result in changes in the digestive system such as sudden lack of appetite, nausea and stomach pains. Blood supply to the intestines is decreased which slows down digestion. Stress can also cause inflammation throughout the digestive system and, as this study has shown, over the long term may lead to gastrointestinal diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, IBD, IBS, and even food allergies.
Identify the cause of stress and work towards reducing and eliminating it. Do relaxing activities such as yoga and meditation, and ensure you are free of any worries or irritations before starting your meal. Take a few deep breaths and realise any tension from your muscles before eating to calm down your mind and body.
Keep yourself active to promote digestive health. Exercise is also well-known for it’s ability to help reduce stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Even light activities such as stretching or walking can be beneficial. Avoid heavy exercise after a large meal.
11. Avoid Smoking
Smoking weakens the sphincter (a muscular valve that keeps fluids in your stomach) allowing stomach acid to flow back in the oesophagus which can result in heartburn and conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Smoking also increases the risk of developing peptic ulcers, as well as the risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori (bacteria most commonly found in ulcers). Furthermore, it increase the risk of Crohn’s disease, gastritis and colon polyps.
If you are trying to quit smoking through the use of nicotine replacement therapy be aware of the potential side affects that nicotine intake has on the digestive system. For more help on quitting smoking click here.
1. Harvard Health Publications – Keep Your Digestive System in Shape – http://www.harvardhealthcontent.com/HealthCommentaries/66,COL051603
2. Mercola.com – 7 reasons to properly chew your food – http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/31/chewing-foods.aspx#_edn2
3. Natural News – Six simple Tips: Improve Digestion Naturally – http://www.naturalnews.com/029668_digestion_tips.html
4. Natural News – Drinking water with meals can impair digestion – http://www.naturalnews.com/033731_digestion_drinking_water.html#
5. MindBodyGreen – The Major Rule for Eating Fruit – http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4970/The-Major-Rule-for-Eating-Fruit.html
6. Healthline – The Effects of Alcohol on the Body – http://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body
7. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Smoking and Digestive System – http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/smoking/Pages/facts.aspx
8. Johns Hopkins Medicine – Smoking and Digestive System – http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/digestive_disorders/smoking_and_the_digestive_system_134,177/