A smooth running digestive system relies on the right foods at the right time.
According to nutrition expert Susan Bowerman, a US-based registered dietitian and a board-certified specialist in Sports Dietetics, there are plenty of ways people get signals from the digestive system – everything from “feed me!” to “could you loosen the belt a little?“ to “air coming your way!”
“Your digestive system has a way of speaking up – and has a lot to say about what you put in it… as well as how much and how often,” she said, adding that, “Many of us eat too much or eat too fast. We don’t eat enough fiber. We skip meals and then subject our systems to a gigantic plate of food.”
Bowerman, a consultant for global nutrition company Herbalife, cited three common digestive system ‘disturbances’: gas, bloating and irregularity.
Gas production, she explained, is a normal part of the digestive process, unless it’s excessive, this usually indicates a healthy intake of fiber and a well-functioning digestive tract. The average person passes gas about 14 times a day, she revealed, releasing about a half-liter of gas in the process.
“Most foods that contain carbohydrate – anything from beans to bagels – are not completely broken down during digestion, so the resident bacteria in your intestines take over, producing gas as they complete the digestive process,” added Bowerman.
Bloating, on the other hand, as she describes it is a ‘puffed up’ sensation that comes on rather quickly, mostly in the upper abdomen. It is the result of air that gets trapped in the digestive tract, which can come from a surprising number of sources. Often, it’s simply a matter of swallowing a lot of air while you eat – which often happens if you eat too fast or do a lot of talking while you’re chewing.
“Sometimes carbonated beverages can leave you feeling bloated since you’re taking in a lot of air along with your liquid. Some people get that bloated feeling when they eat a fatty meal – fat delays the time it takes for food to leave your stomach, so it can leave you feeling uncomfortable,” Bowerman further expounded.
As for irregularity of bowel movement, it is one of the most common digestive complaints, and also one of the most misunderstood. “Many people think if they don’t visit the bathroom on a daily basis, they’ve got a problem. But if things are moving smoothly – whether it’s three times a day or three times a week – you probably don’t have anything to worry about,” she clarified.
Bowerman suggest these seven tips for healthy digestion :
Get enough fiber
Fiber is the structural portion of a plant, so it’s found in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Adults should be eating about 30 grams of fiber a day. Busy lifestyles contribute to the problem, so aim to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack. Toss some beans into a soup or salad, and choose whole grains over refined “white” breads, cereals, rice and pasta.
Get some “good” bacteria
The digestive system is home to thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria that help to break down foods that are resistant to normal digestion, which allows a person to obtain more nutrients from food. The bacteria in the digestive system also help keep the growth of other, potentially harmful, bacteria at bay – thus promoting healthy digestion.
While the idea of consuming bacteria in the diet may not sound appealing, the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods can promote digestive health. Aside from yogurt, eat fermented soy products (miso, tempeh, kefir), as well as pickled foods like cucumber pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Get regular exercise
Exercise is also good for the smooth muscles of your digestive tract. Exercise stimulates the muscles to contract, which keeps things “moving along”. Exercise is also a great way to relieve your body of stress, which makes it particularly good for those whose digestive systems act up when they get stressed out.
Don’t go too long without eating
When you go too long without eating, a couple of things are likely to happen. You’ll eat quickly because you’re so hungry, and you’ll eat too much, because you’re starving. Either way, you could end up with some kind of indigestion. Your digestive system is likely to be a lot happier if you eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
Take your time when making dietary changes
Often time when people are bothered by gas, they figure the best thing to do is to eliminate ‘gassy’ foods like beans or broccoli from their diet. But rather than eliminating these healthy foods, try eating just small amounts over several days to give your system time to adjust. Similarly, if you’re trying to add more fiber to your diet, work your way up to the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber gradually.
Take your time eating and eliminating
When you eat too fast, not only does it lessen the enjoyment of your meal, you’re also more likely to swallow air, which can lead to gas build up and bloating. When you eat too quickly, you’re more likely to overeat too, since it takes for the stomach about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it’s full. This can lead to further digestive discomfort. Lastly, when nature calls, act on it immediately. Too many people put off visits to the restroom if the urge to “go” strikes at an inconvenient time. Sure, the urge may pass, but if you put it off, you’re more likely to have trouble getting the job done.
Meet your fluid needs
Fluid helps the fibers in foods to “swell” and helps to add more bulk to the material passing through the lower digestive tract, which keeps things running smoothly. Watery fruits and vegetables go a long way in meeting fluid needs, but it’s still important to drink fluid throughout the day, too.
Try drinking a beverage drink infused with aloe vera, for instance, the Herbal Concentrate Aloe Mango, which is made from raw and certified organic aloe barbadensis leaves grown in Mexico. It is easy to prepare. Using one glass, mix the capfuls (15ml) of Herbal Aloe Concentrate with ½ cup (120ml) of water. Just include it in your daily regimen to support healthy digestion.