Digestion is one of the most important functions in the human body. It’s the process by which the food we eat is broken down into its base nutrients, so we can use those nutrients in every bodily process, from repairing injuries to providing energy to our brains when generating creative ideas. Better digestion can help you feel better, better support your health, and reduce the likelihood of long-term negative outcomes, like the development of intestinal cancer.
How to Improve Your Digestive Health
Improving your digestive health doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. In fact, there are many changes you can make to boost your digestive health that require little to no money – and you can start using them today:
- Eat whole foods. Try to eat “whole” foods whenever possible. Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, at least as much as possible. For example, you might choose to purchase whole wheat pasta instead of enriched white pasta. Or you might choose fresh fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods like dessert snack cakes. You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to see benefits; even small habit changes, if you commit to doing them every day, can make a big impact.
- Monitor your fiber intake. Pay attention to how much fiber you’re getting, and try to increase your intake. Soluble and insoluble fiber are both important for a variety of digestive processes, and getting more fiber can dramatically improve your digestive health. If you’re eating lots of whole foods, you should already be getting lots of fiber, since fiber is present in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But if you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, you should consider adding a fiber supplement.
- Drink lots of water. Most people understand that water is important for our survival, since water makes up most of our bodies. But you may underestimate just how important water is for your digestive health. Consider choosing water over other beverages and drink lots of water every day; if your urine is nearly clear, you’ll know you’re drinking an adequate amount. If you find yourself having difficulty getting enough water every day, consider getting a large water bottle and carrying it around with you. You can also set an automatic alarm that alerts you periodically to drink water. While it’s possible to experience negative health outcomes from drinking too much water, most people never come close to this limit – even when they’re drinking water all day.
- Invest in a bidet. Bidets can’t change your nutritional habits or improve your internal organs directly, but they can make it much more comfortable to use the bathroom. Defecating marks the end of the digestive process, and it has the potential to be comfortable or uncomfortable depending on what you’ve eaten and your personal approach to the movement. Bidets have the potential to give you a much more thorough clean and a much more comfortable experience, so they’re definitely worth using. As an added bonus, they can (almost) eliminate your need for toilet paper, allowing you to save hundreds of dollars per year on paper product purchases and protecting the environment at the same time.
- Get physical exercise in abundance. Physical exercise is important for maintaining a variety of different bodily functions and your overall health. Getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise and lifting weights occasionally can similarly boost your metabolism and make sure you process all the food you consume in a healthy way. Just be sure to avoid any high-impact activities immediately after eating; otherwise, you could cause yourself some gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Consume more healthy fats. Healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats, have a variety of health benefits for your cardiovascular system and your digestive system. Unfortunately, the typical American diet is much higher in unhealthy fats like saturated fats. When improving your fat intake, look for plant sources rather than animal sources, and limit the amount of unhealthy fats you consume.
- Eat probiotic foods. Probiotic foods and supplements contain yeasts and live bacteria that are healthy for your digestive system. In case you aren’t familiar with the concept of your gut microbiome, your entire digestive system is teeming with microscopic lifeforms. These tiny bacteria, fungi, and other organisms are responsible for helping your body break foods down entirely; probiotics can foster the development of a healthy microbiome, easing your digestion.
- Destress. Stress can have a major negative impact on your digestive health. Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, which in turn affects your stomach, your large intestine, and other areas of your digestive system directly. That means you could experience upset stomach, bowel urgency, or diarrhea as a result of the stress in your life (especially if that stress is severe or chronic). If you’re chronically stressed, consider taking a break from work and making other positive changes in your life, such as getting more sleep.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Experts recommend chewing your food an average of 32 times before swallowing so your body has an easier time breaking the food down. When was the last time you counted the number of times you chewed your food? If you’re like most people, you don’t think about it, so you end up not chewing your food enough. You don’t have to count every bite, but you should make sure you chew your food thoroughly.
- Mitigate your unhealthy habits. Certain unhealthy habits, like binge drinking or smoking tobacco, can also result in digestive problems. Try to eliminate, or at least minimize, these habits as much as possible for better digestive health.
When to See a Doctor
If you have persistent digestive issues that don’t disappear when you start using the above habits and approaches, consider visiting a doctor. Chronic stomach aches, indigestion, heartburn, and other symptoms could be a sign that something more serious is going on – and more suitable medication or treatment may be necessary to help you improve your comfort.
Don’t wait to do this, since the earlier you take action, the more likely you’ll be to see effective results.