5 Ways to Improve Your Digestion

This article originally appeared on FoxNews.com.

Your digestive system is how your body breaks down food into the nutrients it needs. Gas, bloating, diarrhea, reflux, and constipation are just a few digestive ailments people face on a daily basis. While it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about what foods and lifestyle habits are best for your specific condition, here are five remedies to consider for optimal digestion.

Chew your food well. The digestions process begins right when food hits your mouth. The saliva that is produced when you chew food contains an enzyme called amylase that helps breaks down the food while you chew. The better you chew your food, the smaller the food particles will be that enter your stomachs, which means less energy and digestive enzymes are needed resulting in better digestion of the food.

Add fermented and cultured foods. Fermented and cultured foods have natural probiotics and prebiotics, which contain bacteria for your gut that research shows helps with digestion, inflammation, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Add foods that have naturally occurring probiotics such as Kimchi, Kefir, yogurt, fermented sauerkraut, kombucha or miso.

Fill up on fiber. Fiber is the body’s natural detox. It’s found in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. “While not a panacea for all digestive issues, eating more fiber can benefit many, particularly those experiencing constipation. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important, but for those with constipation insoluble fiber helps to add bulk to the stool and accelerate bowel movement,” says Begun MS, RDN, nutrition advocate and special diets expert. The general recommendation is to aim for 25-35 grams of fiber each day.

Stay hydrated. Hydration is essential to our health as our bodies are made up of 60 percent water by weight. “Water is necessary for all body functions, including digestion. Eating more fiber is often recommended, but without enough water fiber can’t do its job. Water and fiber work together to push stool through the GI tract,” says Begun. The exact amount of water your body needs depends on such factors as climate, altitude, exercise, and age. However, as a general guideline the Institute of Medicine recommends women drink 9 cups of water a day and men drink 13 cups of water a day. 

Manage your stress levels. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which prepares the body for the fight-or-flight response in a stressful situation. While this response is important for an acute situation, when the stress response becomes chronic digestion and absorption are compromised and indigestion, irritation and inflammation can result. “Improving your ability to cope with chronic stress will help improve your body’s digestion and wellbeing. Research demonstrates that by practicing relaxation exercises and following lifestyle habits to calm the nervous system such as deep breathing or spending time with a supportive friend may prove helpful for virtually all digestive conditions,” says Misti Gueron MS, RDN of the Khalili Center. Other ways to control stress levels include meditation, exercise, and gratitude.