Twenty million Canadians suffer from digestive issues. “Most people don’t realize that symptoms like bloating, fatigue or even a rash can be signs that something is off in their digestive track,” says Desiree Nielsen, a dietitian in Vancouver and author of Un-Junk Your Diet. Your gut does a lot more than process food. Preliminary research shows it may affect everything from your mood to the state of your skin. Here’s how to keep it running smoothly.
1. Fill up on fibre
“Fibre is like a personal trainer for your digestive tract,” Nielsen says. “It ensures that things don’t move too fast or too slowly.” Fibre also promotes healthy gut bacteria and reduces blood cholesterol. Aim for at least 25 g a day (good sources include beans, pistachios, oatmeal, raspberries, pears and sweet potatoes).
2. Increase your enzymes
Digestive enzymes are proteins that break down food. “Without them, our bodies can’t absorb nutrients,” says Aimee Hayes, a dietitian in Oakville, Ont. Get tested for enzyme deficiency, or try a natural boost from pineapple or papaya. To give enzymes a chance to kick in, always chew each bite thoroughly.
3. Take a probiotic
Boost good gut bacteria (which aid digestion, fight pathogens and bolster immune function) with a multi-strain probiotic. “Rotate the strain every few months to avoid an imbalance,” says Dr. Kristy Prouse, founder of the Institute for Hormonal Health in Oakville, Ont. Studies show probiotics may also relieve symptoms of IBS.
4. Get moving5. Rest your gut
“Your gut needs a chance to rest in order to work properly,” says Prouse. It needs time to make digestive enzymes without having to focus on digesting food. She recommends fasting for at least 12 hours every night to give your gut a chance to recuperate.
6. Eat smaller meals
Small but more frequent meals are the key to keeping your digestion on track and can also help prevent heartburn. If you’re prone to heartburn, avoid tight-fitting clothing and lying down after meals (wait at least three hours); and talk to your doctor about taking an antacid, which helps neutralize stomach acid.
7. Dial down the sugar
“The overall quality of most people’s diets is not good,” says Nielsen. Processed, fatty and high-sugar foods slow down the whole digestive process. Sugar is especially bad for the gut because it promotes unhealthy bacteria growth and also draws water into the colon, which can lead to loose stools and discomfort.
8. Manage stress
“There’s a big connection between mood and food,” says Prouse. Ninety percent of serotonin — the happy hormone — is produced in the gut, which is another reason to keep stress at bay. Try making meditation a part of your daily routine, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
9. Stay hydrated
Dehydration slows the digestive system. “If you don’t drink enough water, your body will try to remove water from your feces, which can lead to constipation,” says Nielsen. Drink enough water every day to ensure your urine is clear or very pale yellow.
10. Slow down
Wolfing down your food can cause indigestion, bloating, and gas. You need to give your digestive system time to prepare for the food, says Prouse. Eating too quickly is associated with extra weight gain, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.