5 Ways to Improve Digestion and Boost Your Gut Health
No matter what your health or wellness goals–improving digestion and gut health is something nearly everyone can benefit from. Besides feeling better and having more energy overall, paying attention to digestion can be a real game-changer in your health. Did you know that if you’re not digesting food well that your body can miss out absorbing the nutrients from your food? That’s a huge letdown if you work hard to get your veggies in everyday and yet find yourself not feeling 100% or even that you have a vitamin deficiency down the line.
Honestly, before I started learning about wellness and nutrition, I didn’t think that digestive issues were that big of a deal. But after experimenting with cutting things like dairy, gluten, and grains out of my diet, I realized that dealing with weird digestive issues should not be the norm…not go get all TMI, but I think so many of us experience these types of symptoms on a daily basis but ignore them. But this is not the best thing since symptoms are messages our body is trying to tell us. Feel gross after eating that ice cream? Feel like your stomach blows up like a ballon after eating a salad? Both of these things are signs your digestion is off.
Besides digging deeper into what may be causing your issues (like food sensitivities or compromised gut health) there are simple changes you can make in your daily life that can make a huge difference when it comes to your digestion and your gut health. Besides, gut health and the gut microbiome is one of the buzziest topics in wellness these days, and more and more experts and scientists are confirming how vital it is to our health (like for our immune function, brain health, mood).
Keep reading for 5 tips that will help you say goodbye to digestive distress + hello to better gut health.
1. Don’t drink during or close to meal times
This is one thing I’ve actually never done and people used to always ask me why I never drink with my meals…it seriously messes with your digestion! Even though I didn’t always know this, I guess I intuitively knew it did’nt make me feel my best. Now after studying nutrition and learning more about digestive health, I found out that drinking with (or to close to meals) actually compromises your digestive enzymes, which you need to digest food properly and absorb the nutrients from food. As we age, we have less digestive enzymes available, so it’s important to pay attention to this habit if you’re currently chugging water or other drinks while you eat.
2. Eat slowly (not while you’re stressed or tense)
I’m definitely guilty of mindlessly eating a salad too fast at my desk during lunch, but this is not a great habit when it comes to digestion. First of all, eating too quickly is not ideal since chewing is such an important part of digestion and is what stimulates the production of digestive enzymes. Besides being distracted while you eat and eating too quickly, eating while stressed or while you are tensed (like while working or reading stressful emails) is not a good idea. Why? Because your body is really smart and when it senses stress it stops processes (like digestion) from happening so you can focus your energy on getting away from “danger” aka stress.
3. Take probiotics (and eat them too)
We all have heard by now that taking probiotics is a good thing–and it is since so many of us have compromised gut bacteria, it’s a good idea to supplement with healthy strains from a probiotic. Besides a supplement, something else that can make a difference is adding probiotic foods into your diet on a daily basis. I know that this may not sound appetizing, but fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are your best bets. You’d be surprised at all of the varieties of fermented veggies out there now—check it out at Whole Foods (one of my fave products is Farmhouse Organics.)
Another option is trying an almond or coconut yogurt with added probiotics. One of my favorite non-dairy yogurt brands is Kite Hill (just go for the plain version, the others have a ton of sugar. I add vanilla protein powder or monk fruit extract to mine to sweeten it.)
4. Take digestive enzymes 30 min before a meal (especially when you travel)
I don’t know how I went so long without digestive enzymes in my life. These have been such a game-changer for me in the past year. I always take them 30 minutes before a meal to help with digestion and to aid in nutrient absorption. Digestive enzymes contain a blend of enzymes that help your body break down fat, protein, and carbs. If you’re trying to up your veggie or fat intake, then I highly recommend one of these supplements since your body may not be used to the additional fiber or fat. ( I like Now Foods Digestive Enzymes and also Love Wellness’s Bye, Bye Bloat is great!)
5. Get creative with fiber
Fiber is so underrated, but it really is the key to great digestive health (and so much more!). And when I say up your fiber, I don’t mean drink Metamucil (first of all…gross, second of all that ingredient list is not pretty!). My favorite ways to add fiber are with adding lots of veggies to meals (especially green ones), avocados (which are high in fiber), chia seeds, flax seeds, and acacia fiber. I would encourage you to always add some form of fiber to your meals when you can, whether that means a sprinkle of chia seeds on your salad, ground flax in your smoothie, or try snacking on a high-fiber, gluten-free cracker like Flackers.
One last bonus tip! MEAL TIMING is super important when it comes to digestion. Eating enough during meals so that you feel full and can give your body time to digest (instead of snacking every 2-3 hours) is one of the best ways to ensure smoother digestion. Digestion is hard work, so give your system some time to do it’s thing. Also, try and give yourself at least 3 hours before bed to digest your food, so your body can focus on all of the important things that happen while you sleep instead of digesting your late night dinner. :)
More resources + digestive health experts:
Clean Gut by Dr. Alejandro Junger
Go with Your Gut by Robyn Youkilis