Your digestive tract is long—nearly 30 feet long. It’s also very important to your overall health. It works with other parts of your digestive system to break down the food you eat and the things you drink. The process ends, you guessed it—in the bathroom.
But with so much ground to cover, sometimes there are bumps in the road. About 60 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, like gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. It happens when your stomach acid or contents come back up into your throat and cause heartburn and indigestion.
Here are some things you can do to pave the way to good digestion.
Get Your Fill of Fiber
A high-fiber diet is essential if you’re hoping to improve your digestive health. The National Fiber Council recommends fitting 32 grams of fiber into your diet each day.
High-fiber foods include:
- Berries (raspberries rock)
- Beans (black beans are best)
- Popcorn (without the butter and salt)
Fiber not only improves your digestion, it keeps you feeling fuller, longer. That helps to keep your calorie count down.
Increase Insoluble and Soluble Fiber
You should be getting two types of fiber to improve your digestive health: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It helps lower cholesterol, regulate glucose levels and keep you regular.
You can get soluble fiber from foods like:
- fruits and vegetables
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but it contributes to bowel regularity. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran and some vegetables are good sources.
Limit Fatty Foods
Your body needs fat. Healthy fats help improve your digestive health. In fact, research shows people with irritable bowel syndrome may not be getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from fish.
The key is limiting your fat intake. Your diet should be low in saturated fat, the fat that raises your blood cholesterol and slows digestion. Unsaturated fats are better for your body. They’re the ones you get from fish and olive oil. They’re also good for your heart.
But keep this in mind: The latest dietary guidelines recommend getting only 70 grams (or a little less) of total fat each day.
Choose Lean Meats
Lean meats such as chicken (and some cuts of pork) are easier to digest because they’re lower in saturated fat. They also improve your digestive health by providing lots of protein, iron and B vitamins, which help your body get energy from the food you eat.
Eat On a Schedule
To stay regular, you should try to eat regularly. Try eating breakfast within an hour of waking. Eat lunch about four or five hours later, and dinner no less than three hours before you go to bed. This will give your body enough time to properly digest.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your digestive health, start by checking how much water you’re drinking. Drinking too little water slows down your digestive system. It’s similar to not having enough fiber in your diet.
You should also keep this in mind: Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. In general, drinking 8 cups (64 ounces) of water each day is a good goal.
You probably also have heard that probiotics may help improve your digestive health. These are live microbes similar to those found in the human gut.
There is some evidence that probiotics may improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but more studies are needed. You can get probiotics in yogurt, but talk to your doctor before you take a probiotic supplement.
At Fisher-Titus, we’ve developed a comprehensive approach for the diagnosis and treatment of acid reflux and other digestive disorders. If your heartburn is out of control, download our free guide to GERD.