6 Tips On How To Improve The Health Of Your Digestive System

September 28, 2021

Your digestive system is the first contact between the external environment and your internal body. As the saying goes, 'You are what you eat', the importance of the health of your digestive system cannot be undermined. Here are 6 tips on how you can improve on your digestive health!

1. Eat food with high dietary fiber

Dietary fiber is also known as bulk or roughage. They are a type of carbohydrate our body cannot digest. It may be commonly found in cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Intake of dietary fiber has its benefits, such as improving digestion and regulating the bowels to manage constipation. It also facilitates the fermentation of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) to help increase muscle contraction of the large intestine. These SCFAs are produced as by-products when the bacteria in the gut (known as the gut microbiota) metabolize these dietary fiber in the large intestines.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, the recommended intake of dietary fiber for men is 30-38 grams per day and 21-25 grams daily for women. The recommended daily intake for children is 19-25 grams daily [1].

photo of fruits and vegetables

Figure 1. Fruits and vegetables

2. Limit your consumption of processed foods

Processed food contains trans-fat that may be associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis [2]. It also contains high quantity of salt and low fiber content. Salt has also been known to have dehydrating effects that results in constipation [3]. You should opt for fresh fruits and vegetables with enough dietary fiber or poultry instead of processed meat.

3. Eat foods rich in probiotics

Probiotic foods are fermented food containing good bacteria naturally found in the intestine [1]. These bacteria improve intestinal health by helping food digestion and influencing your immune system. Examples of probiotic food include yogurt, cottage cheese, apple cider, and buttermilk. Probiotics are also available in supplements, functioning similarly to fermented food. The American Association of Family Physician (AAFP) recommends a daily intake of 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) [4].

Photo of dairy products

Figure 2. Dairy products (including yogurt and cheese)

4. Feed good bacteria with prebiotics

It is important to feed both the good bacteria from probiotics as well as those innately present in your digestive system. Prebiotics are used by these good bacteria to manage their activities and compositions. Prebiotics remain indigestible by your body but are digested by probiotics. Simply put, they are food for probiotics. In addition, prebiotics may provide health benefits of their own when taken in adequate amounts.

Prebiotics are present in high fiber food such as chicory root, garlic, onions, wheat bran, and barley, etc. They can also be taken in the form of dietary supplements. Some of the most commonly studied prebiotics include inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) recommends a daily intake of 5 grams of FOS and GOS, including from dietary sources [5].

Photo of banana, corn and chicory root

Figure 3. Foods rich in prebiotics

5. Regular exercise

Not only does exercising regularly help you stay in shape and keep you active, it also has benefits related to your digestive health. A study has shown that spending 40 minutes, three times a week on moderate exercise, may decrease the time taken for food particles to pass through the digestive tract [6]. This can help with decreasing the incidence of constipation and improve bowel regularity.

Group of people exercising in gym

Figure 4. People exercising

6. Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is very important to your gut’s health. The human body is composed of 60% water, and it requires a constant intake of water to function effectively. Dehydration causes a change in the acidity of the intestinal environment and water contents, and is often found to be a cause for dehydration [7]. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 2-3 liters of water be consumed daily for overall health [8].

Photo of woman drinking water from glass

Figure 5. Woman drinking a glass of water

Bottom Line

Eating sufficient food rich in dietary fiber, prebiotics and probiotics is the best way to care for your digestive system. They also come in supplements that help meet the daily intake requirements.

References

  1. Trumbo P, Schlicker S, Yates AA, Poos M; Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002 Nov;102(11):1621-30.
  2. Ananthakrishnan AN, Khalili H, Konijeti GG, et al. Long-term intake of dietary fat and risk of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Gut. 2014 May;63(5):776-84. Available on: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915038/
  3. EatingWell. 6 Sneaky Signs You Might Be Eating Too Much Salt. 2019 Oct. Available on: https://www.eatingwell.com/article/2057813/6-sneaky-signs-you-might-be-eating-too-much-salt/
  4. Wilkins T, Sequoia J. Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of the Evidence. Am Fam Physician. 2017 Aug 1;96(3):170-178. Available on: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2017/0801/p170.html
  5. International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). Prebiotics. Available on: https://isappscience.org/for-scientists/resources/prebiotics/
  6. WebMD. 2020 June. Exercise to Ease Constipation. Available on: https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/exercise-curing-constipation-via-movement
  7. Arnaud MJ. Mild dehydration: a risk factor of constipation? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;57 Suppl 2:S88-95. Available on: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14681719/
  8. Institute of Medicine (IOM): National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Available on: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/10925/chapter/6