9 Ways to Naturally Optimize Digestion
According to the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 61% of Americans experience uncomfortable GI symptoms, including acid reflux, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. Everyone has these symptoms occasionally, but they can be very disruptive to everyday life if they happen frequently. However, simple lifestyle and diet changes can have a positive impact on gut health. Here are nine ways to naturally optimize digestion.
1. Eat Real Food
The American diet is very high in processed foods, which often contain trans-fats – artificial fats created in a process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them more solid – and artificial sweeteners like xylitol and erythritol. Trans-fats are known to increase gut inflammation and cause digestive issues, while artificial sweeteners can lead to bloating and diarrhea.
2. Get Enough Fiber
Fiber is important for digestion. It absorbs water and promotes the movement of food through your digestive system. Consuming at least 25 grams of dietary fiber helps to reduce the risk of many digestive conditions, such as gas, bloating, acid reflux, ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Try fiber-rich fruits and vegetables like pears, carrots, broccoli, bananas, apples and avocado, grains like quinoa and oats, along with beans, lentils, and almonds.
Low fluid intake can lead to a whole host of health problems, one of which is constipation. To determine how much water – or other non-caffeinated beverages like herbal teas and seltzer water – you should drink per day, experts recommend dividing your bodyweight in pounds in half to get your recommended number of ounces of water per day; that is, a 180-pound man should drink 90 ounces, while a 140-pound woman should drink 70. However, those who exercise regularly require more water to stay adequately hydrated. It’s also important to note that drinking too much liquid with meals can reduce the production of stomach acid and dilute digestive enzymes, so try to drink more between meals than during them.
4. Chew Your Food
Digestion starts the moment you put food in your mouth. Your teeth break your food down into smaller pieces so your digestive system can more easily break them down. Additionally, chewing activates the production of saliva, which begins to break down some of the carbohydrates and fats you consume. Chewing your food thoroughly – you will often hear experts suggest each bite be chewed 32 times - ensures that you have plenty of saliva for digestion, which may prevent indigestion and heartburn. Chewing and saliva production also alert your digestive system that food is coming, signaling it to produce the enzymes needed for digestion. If you chew too quickly or not enough, you may not produce enough enzymes to fully break down your food, which can lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps and nausea.
5. Eat Mindfully
We all have times where eating on-the-go is a must, but as often as possible, try to let eating be the only priority at meal times. If you are relaxed while eating – rather than standing, driving, watching TV, texting or otherwise multi-tasking – your body can better regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with the production of appropriate amounts of stomach acid. Concentrating solely on eating helps you to eat more slowly, which allows your body time to assess when it feels full so you can avoid overeating and the digestive discomfort that comes with it.
6. Eat on a Regular Schedule
Your body is like a petulant toddler; keep it on a schedule, and tantrums will disappear! The body’s natural Circadian rhythm – the normal 24-hour cycle regulated by light and darkness – is also influenced by times of eating, rest, exercise, etc. When you are predictable, your body knows what’s coming and can be primed and ready. With regard to food intake, eating at relatively the same times throughout the day allows your body to be prepared to receive and efficiently digest your food.
In European cultures, families often take a post-meal walk together. And sure, it’s a nice activity, but it’s a practical one too, in that it helps the body regulate the post-meal insulin spike, facilitates digestion and boosts metabolism. In fact, regular exercise is one of the best natural ways to improve your digestion, because it helps food move through your digestive system. One study showed 30 minutes of moderate exercise like cycling or jogging increased the transit time of food through the gut by nearly 30%.
8. Don’t Eat Late at Night
While many of us have programmed ourselves over the years to enjoy a bedtime snack, eating before bed, then lying down to sleep can lead to heartburn and indigestion. This is partly because between the esophagus – the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach – and the stomach is a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. This valve can sometimes remain open, and if you lie down, stomach contents and digestive juices can flow upward and cause the irritation of the esophagus commonly known as heartburn. Additionally, the body just generally needs time to digest, and gravity keeps all of the food you eat moving in the proper direction. For optimal digestion, try taking your last bite three hours before bedtime.
9. Take a Digestive Enzyme
Digestive enzymes that help the body break down sugars, fats and starches. Kore Digestive Enzyme is a blend of 18 digestive enzymes formulated to improve your body’s ability to break down food and absorb nutrients while reducing gas and bloating.
- Protease benefits: Helps to break down proteins into amino acids, and allows the vitamins and minerals we ingest to go to work in the body
- Amylase benefits: Helps to breaks down carbohydrates into sugars, which are used by the body for energy
- Aspergillopepsin benefits: Helps to degrade the difficult-to-digest gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.