Every day, your digestive system is working for you: breaking down food you eat and absorbing nutrients your body needs to thrive. But sometimes, digestive health doesn’t flow as well as it’s supposed to—and changes need to be made.
If you struggle with digestive problems and aren’t sure what’s going on, these tips may shed some light.
Digestive Health: Why It Matters and What Helps
When you eat a meal, your digestive system breaks the food down into smaller parts—like carbs, proteins, and fats. Your body then uses these nutrients to build and repair its cells and keep you healthy.
The digestion path looks like this:
- Mouth: The point where where digestion begins. As you chew food, some digestive enzymes begin breaking it down as it passes into the esophagus to head toward the stomach.
- Esophagus: After you start swallowing the food, your brain signals the esophagus muscles to begin constricting and relaxing, moving things along. As the food reaches the end of the esophagus, these muscles relax and the food is passed into the stomach.
- Stomach: Here, the food mixes with digestive juices. The mixture is then emptied into the small intestine.
- Small intestine: Digestive juices from the intestine, liver, and pancreas mix with the food. As it is digested more, your small intestine walls will absorb nutrients and water into your bloodstream. Waste products from this process (including undigested parts of food) move to the large intestine.
- Large intestine: Waste is turned from liquid into stool here, and the large intestine absorbs water from the mixture. The stool is then moved into the rectum and stored for later elimination.
When the system is healthy, this process works well. But certain factors can upset with the digestive flow and cause complications. Common digestion-related issues can include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky gut
- Celiac disease
For some people, genetics play a role in digestive issues. Many times, it’s largely lifestyle choices—like what we choose to eat—that widely contribute to problems.
Below are some healthy lifestyle choices to support the digestive system. (If you have a serious illness, talk to your doctor before following any specific protocol.)
1. Eat High-Fiber Foods
Our bodies need fiber to keep food moving through the digestive tract and help avoid constipation. Many whole plant foods are excellent sources of healthy fiber. And since they’re also high in nutrients and lower in calories, high-fiber foods are good for maintaining a healthy weight and body overall.
High-fiber foods good for digestion include:
- Vegetables, especially low carb ones like kale, spinach, and zucchini
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
Insoluble vs Soluble Fiber
The type of fiber you eat matters, too. There are two types:
- Insoluble fiber provides roughage in the digestive tract, adding bulk to your stools to “clean out” your insides. Foods with beneficial amounts of insoluble fiber include:
- green beans
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like texture that can keep stools from getting too watery. Soluble fiber can also help lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fiber include:
- citrus fruits
High-fiber foods also make it easier for your body to digest healthy fats, which are important for optimal health.
2. Emphasize a Regular Eating Schedule
For some people, an erratic eating schedule may mess with digestion. If your eating schedule changes a lot day-to-day, try to stay more consistent. Have your meals and snacks around the same time of day so your body can get accustomed.
3. Incorporate Probiotics and Other Aids
Probiotics are good bacteria that naturally occur in your digestive tract. They help combat the bad bacteria in your gut and assist with actions like digesting carbohydrates and short-chain fatty acids.
An imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to digestion-related issues, so probiotics often help. You can get probiotics in supplement form or from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Boiron Gasalia for excess gas
- Liddell’s oral spray for stomach distress
- American Health papaya enzymes to support nutrient digestion and absorption
- Hyland's Ipecacuanha 30x for symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and more
- Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Parasite Syrup to aid in worm and parasite elimination
- TRP IBS Therapy
4. Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is another healthy practice for boosting digestion and fighting constipation, as it helps keep foods moving on through. It’s also a good remedy for stress-relief, which can influence digestion.
Try to get at least a little exercise daily, preferably at least 30 minutes each day, and see what changes you notice.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
While you’re increase your fiber intake (see #1), be sure to drink plenty of water too. Fiber pulls that water into your large intestine, making stools bulkier and softer so they can pass through more smoothly.
As much as possible, keep water with you at all times throughout the day, and remind yourself to drink—especially if you feel thirsty.
Your urine is a good indicator of your hydration level: the color should be a very light yellow. If it’s dark, you need more hydration. (Also note: if your urine comes out completely clear, you’re likely over-hydrated.)
6. Take Some Deep Breaths
You might not equate poor digestive health with stress, but the two can be closely connected.
Too much anxiety or stress day-to-day can take a toll on your microbiome, leading to digestive concerns like bloating and constipation. If you’ve tried all of the steps above and are still having problems, consult your doctor and work on decreasing your stress levels.
This includes mindful eating too. Take time to pause and enjoy each meal or snack. Chew carefully and be present. Eating mindfully can help prevent digestive upset by slowing things down and reducing mindless overeating.
7. Stop Smoking
Smoking is bad for your entire body—and that includes your gut! It contributes to various diseases, and even cancers, of the digestive system—especially increasing the risk of liver, colon, and rectal cancer, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.
If you currently smoke, quitting is one of the best steps you can make towards better digestive health (and your overall health). And if you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Our digestive system supports us in various ways every day. The more we can do for our digestive health, the better we’ll feel and the more we’ll support a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and those around us.
For products that directly support the digestive system, view and shop our Digestive Health section.