Stomach upsets can affect everyone. Whether it’s an infrequent burst of indigestion, or something more serious, having digestive difficulties can make life very difficult - and sometimes very awkward!
Fortunately, gut health is something that you can work on in the same way that you would any other part of your body.
Here are some of the best ways to improve your digestion and, ultimately, your gut health.
Eat more whole foods
This one might seem a bit obvious, but upping the amount of whole foods in your diet is a good way to improve your digestion. Foods high in refined ingredients, artificial ingredients or ‘bad’ fats have been linked to an increase in digestive discomfort (Dixon et al., 2015).
Additives, for example, as well as foods high in glucose and salt have been shown to increase inflammation in the gut which can, over time, develop into leaky gut syndrome. This is a chronic condition where the walls of the intestine become increasingly permeable, so that toxins and bacteria can find their way into your bloodstream (Lerner and Matthias, 2015).
Artificial products, including sweeteners like xylitol, have also been shown to have a negative impact on digestion, causing diarrhoea and bloating, as well as increasing the amount of harmful bacteria in your gut. This can lead to the onset of conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (Suez et al., 2015).
However, research shows that a diet based on whole foods can help to protect against these digestive conditions! (Viladomiu et al., 2013)
Eat more Fibre!
Most of us know that fibre is great for digestion. A diet high in fibre has been linked to a reduction in the risk of developing a whole range of digestive issues, including IBS, ulcers and diverticulitis - a condition where small pockets form in the intestine which can then become inflamed or infected (Anderson et al., 2009).
There are different types of dietary fibre, all of which are useful in improving our digestion:
- Soluble fibre: Typically found in legumes, nuts and seeds, soluble fibre absorbs water and helps to bulk out waste.
- Insoluble fibre: This type of dietary fibre is more often found in vegetables and whole grains, and helps to keep your gut clean and healthy.
- Prebiotics: Found in fruits, vegetables and grains, prebiotics are a type of fibre which offer healthy bacteria into the gut, reducing the risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
All of these sources of fibre promote regular and healthy digestion, bowel movements and keeping our gut healthy.
Eat more healthy fats!
Whilst it’s true that trans fats (and other types of unhealthy fats) can play a role in digestive discomfort, healthy fat is a requirement for good digestion as it’s often needed for optimal nutrient absorption.
What’s more, omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the risk of developing certain bowel conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, so making sure you’re taking your omega 3 supplements might well help to improve your digestion, whilst also keeping your brain, heart and eyes healthy! That seems like a win-win situation to us (Schwanke et al., 2016).
Drink more water
Staying hydrated has a number of health benefits, and is one of the most important places to start with any lifestyle changes.
In terms of digestion, low fluid intake can be a cause of constipation. Aiming for 6 to 8 cups of water a day can help to prevent this - but you can also snack on fruits with a high water content for an extra burst of hydration! (Mearin et al., 2016)
Understand the impact of stress
This is a big one. You wouldn’t necessarily think that stress can have an effect on digestion, but it can actually have a huge impact. That impact can present itself as diarrhoea, IBS, and constipation and can also lead to the development of stomach ulcers.
When you’re stressed, your body diverts blood flow away from your stomach, halting digestion, which can lead to some serious digestive upset. Your gut is often called the ‘second brain’, and where your brain and gut are so intrinsically linked, learning how to manage the impact of stressors can help to improve your digestion. In fact, studies have shown that stress reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga and acupuncture can help to improve digestion by calming the influence of the world on the brain (Grundmann, 2014).
Remember to chew!
It can be really easy to eat quickly in front of the TV after a long day. Before you know it, your plate’s empty and it doesn’t really feel like you’ve eaten anything. This can be really bad for your digestion. Eating slowly, mindfully, and chewing your food properly is really important, not just for the pure enjoyment of the meal, but also for your body and digestion.
Digestion starts as soon as the food enters your mouth. Chewing your food properly helps to break it down, so your body has to do less work to digest it and move it through your intestines. Chewing also produces saliva, and the more saliva that’s produced the more the carbs and fats in your food are broken down before they’ve even been swallowed! This also increases nutrient absorption, can help to reduce stress, which as we’ve noted above, can also have an impact on your digestion (Keller and Layer, 2014).
Regular exercise is not just beneficial for our fitness, it can also really help with our gut health. Having a walk after a meal will help food travel through your digestive system.
For people who regularly suffer with constipation, 30 minutes of walking can help to increase the speed at which food travels through the digestive tract, relieving those symptoms (De Schryver et al., 2005).
As if there aren’t already enough reasons to quit smoking, here’s another. Smoking can double the risk of acid reflux, increase the chance of developing stomach ulcers, and is believed to increase the risk factor of developing Crohn’s disease (Nilsson, 2004).
Limit your alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption increases acid production in the stomach which can have an impact on digestion. The increase in stomach acid can lead to the development of stomach ulcers, acid reflux, and cause heartburn. It’s also known to be linked to the development of IBD and leaky gut syndrome.
Limiting your alcohol intake can help to reduce these risks (Engen et al., 2015).
Find the right supplements
Protein powders and other supplements can also have an impact on digestion, and it has been noted that protein powders, especially animal-based ones can cause bloating, gas and other stomach issues.
Choosing a protein powder with turmeric extract and digestive enzymes for easier absorption and digestion is really important. Vivo Life’s collection of plant-based protein powders are all created with optimal digestion in mind, using bio-fermented and cold pressed proteins to ensure that you’re not feeling bloated and gassy after a shake!
Dixon, L.J., Kabi, A., Nickerson, K.P. and McDonald, C. (2015). Combinatorial Effects of Diet and Genetics on Inflammatory Bowel Disease Pathogenesis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 21(4), pp.912–922. doi:10.1097/mib.0000000000000289.
Lerner, A. and Matthias, T. (2015). Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity Reviews, 14(6), pp.479–489. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2015.01.009.
Suez, J., Korem, T., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Segal, E. and Elinav, E. (2015). Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges. Gut Microbes, 6(2), pp.149–155. doi:10.1080/19490976.2015.1017700.
Viladomiu, M., Hontecillas, R., Yuan, L., Lu, P. and Bassaganya-Riera, J. (2013). Nutritional protective mechanisms against gut inflammation. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 24(6), pp.929–939. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.01.006.
Anderson, J.W., Baird, P., Davis Jr, R.H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V. and Williams, C.L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews, [online] 67(4), pp.188–205. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x.
Schwanke, R.C., Marcon, R., Bento, A.F. and Calixto, J.B. (2016). EPA- and DHA-derived resolvins’ actions in inflammatory bowel disease. European Journal of Pharmacology, [online] 785, pp.156–164. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2015.08.050.
Mearin, F., Ciriza, C., Mínguez, M., Rey, E., Mascort, J.J., Peña, E., Cañones, P. and Júdez, J. (2016). Clinical Practice Guideline: Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation and functional constipation in the adult. Revista Española de Enfermedades Digestivas. doi:10.17235/reed.2016.4389/2016.
De Schryver, A.M., Keulemans, Y.C., Peters, H.P., Akkermans, L.M., Smout, A.J., De Vries, W.R. and Van Berge-Henegouwen, G.P. (2005). Effects of regular physical activity on defecation pattern in middle-aged patients complaining of chronic constipation. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 40(4), pp.422–429. doi:10.1080/00365520510011641.
Engen, P.A., Green, S.J., Voigt, R.M., Forsyth, C.B. and Keshavarzian, A. (2015). The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, [online] 37(2), pp.223–236. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26695747/.