5 Keys to Healthy Digestion by Lisa Johnson, RD

Healthy digestion is a buzz-topic these days. Honestly, many people suffer digestive ailments. Digestive help has become big business with pharmaceutical companies filling shelves with products such as laxatives, stool softeners, enzymes, probiotics, antacids, and more! Complaints vary from chronic constipation to urgent diarrhea, to bloating, gas, and reflux.

These symptoms do increase with age. Unfortunately, most things decline with age except our weight! But, seriously, digestion does slow, enzyme production diminishes, and digestive muscles weaken. In addition, stress may increase, and physical activity may decrease, as well as sleep; all these factors affecting our well-being and digestion. Another major concern is processed foods. To digest well, we need enzymes to help break down our foods. Processed foods are void of natural enzymes that aid our bodies own digestive enzymes. Then, of course we may have intolerances to certain foods or components within foods like gluten, casein, or lactose which are common in wheat and dairy sensitive people.

Clearly, correcting your digestion can be a complicated process. However, I am going to give you 5 keys that will help anyone with sluggish digestion regardless of your food sensitivities. These 5 keys also contain other life-giving benefits and so they should be foundational as part of your healthy life-style.

1. Exercise

Exercise benefits digestion by reducing stress as well as increasing peristalsis. Peristalsis is like gut motility. Your gut needs to contract its muscles to move foods through adequately. Exercise helps! Especially walking and yoga which are both relatively low impact and restorative. Excellent yoga classes are available on You Tube for free, and many morning yoga classes are just 15-20 minutes. A perfect cool-down to your walk!

2. Water

Adequate water intake is essential to healthy digestion. If constipated, most laxatives work to pull water into the bowel and soften the stool. If you drink enough water, this is not needed. Water also hydrates the skin, keeps joints fluid, regulates blood pressure and body temperature, and detoxes the kidneys. Most adults need 80-100 ounces a day of filtered or distilled water.

3. Fiber

Fiber can be beneficial for constipation or diarrhea. It can also be a bit complicated as there are so many different fiber types. Soluble fibers bulk stools and help lower cholesterol, insoluble fibers increase stool transit, and pre-biotic or resistant fibers help feed and strengthen your healthy gut bacteria. We need 25-50 grams of fiber daily. Below are some good food sources of fibers.

Soluble fiber: Oats, barley, lentils, apples, citrus fruits, prunes, beans, chia, flax

Insoluble fiber: Wheat or oat bran, whole grains, vegetables, popcorn

Prebiotic Fibers: Chicory, canned pumpkin, garlic, onions, asparagus, apples, oats, flax, konjac root

Resistant Starches: Cooked and cooled starches like cold potato in potato salad, overnight oats with flax or chia, unripe banana, cold rice

4. Living Foods

I mentioned earlier we need fibers, enzymes and water. These are all found in living foods! Eat your fresh fruits and vegetables, fermented foods like kefir or kimchi, and sprouted grains which remain moldable and perishable. These are living foods, rich in enzymes, probiotics and fibers. As such, they also offer maximum nutrition and nutrient absorption benefits!

5. Rest and Destress

We all realize stress is hazardous to our health, but most of us are not sure how to minimize it. Small changes add up! First, you need sleep, so begin shaving 15 minutes off your bedtime until you get to bed early enough to ensure 7 quality hours of sleep. Minimize computer use at night, social media and the like. Read and drink herbal tea to unwind rather than watching media

which is much more stimulating. Also, learn to breathe. Exercise helps with that, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You truly cannot do it all and do it well!

I hope you found some tips here helpful. Be sure to discuss ways to implement these changes with your dietitian or health care provider. Remember, small steps add up to big change if you keep taking them.

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