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Overview

Maintaining your digestive health is an important part of overall wellness. Taking control of your digestive health can help you improve your overall health, well-being and happiness. These 10 simple, proactive changes to your diet and lifestyle can benefit your digestive health now and throughout your life.

1. Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Your diet should include a broad spectrum of colorful fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and other important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that provide a broad array of health benefits including enhancing your digestive health

2. Get Plenty of Fiber
Fiber can help you regulate the function of your G.I. tract, improve cardiovascular health and regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber also reduces cholesterol levels in the blood, enhances proper bowel function, prevents constipation and diverticulosis, and provides a feeling of fullness without adding calories. It is found in plant sources, so be sure to eat a diet containing a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.

Health and nutrition experts recommend eating 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. Fiber is found only in plant food, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It's the part of the plant that is not digested in the human body. It's important to eat foods containing both soluble fiber, such as oat bran and beans, and insoluble fiber, such as whole-wheat products. Both forms are necessary for a healthful diet.

  • Soluble fiber mixes with water to create a gel-like consistency; this slows digestion to help the body absorb more nutrients and remove substances like cholesterol.
  • Insoluble fiber does not mix with water but adds bulk to stool and helps move food through the digestive system. Insoluable fiber helps prevent conditions of the gastrointestinal tract such as constipation, diverticulosis (a condition effecting 10% of people over the age of 40 where sections of the colon protrude through weak spots forming what look like pouches) and hemorrhoids.

3. Consume Adequate Protein
Consume adequate protein, especially vegetable protein, as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Try non-animal foods such as beans and soy products.

Proteins are obtained from two main sources: animal foods (e.g. beef, chicken and fish) and plant foods (e.g. soy and bean sources). Although animal sources of protein contain many important vitamins and minerals, they also contain saturated fats and cholesterol. Plant proteins, like beans, soy products and nuts, contain more beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats but no cholesterol. When you do choose animal protein, choose lean meats, poultry and fish.

4. Get Your Nutrients from Food First
The nutrients obtained from food play a vital role in the health of the entire body, including digestive health. The human body needs a broad spectrum of nutrients in order to function optimally. Getting the right nutrients is about more than feeling good in the present day, it's about a lifetime of health and wellness.

  • Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for vision, growth, healthy skin and hair, tooth development, reproduction, and the immune system.
  • Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in limited amounts in food like salmon, tuna and fortified dairy products. Vitamin D can be produced by the human body after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Vitamin D helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
  • Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body. It is responsible for building strong bones and teeth. It is also needed for muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, and for sending messages through the nervous system. Calcium is found primarily in dairy products, some vegetables and fortified foods.
  • Potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure and is necessary for nerve impulses and muscle contractions. It is also important in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance throughout the body.
  • Iron is a crucial nutrient for red blood cells, which transport oxygen to tissues throughout the body. Iron deficiency anemia can develop if the body lacks the iron necessary to make red blood cells. Iron is especially important for women and children.
  • Folic Acid is a B vitamin that can reduce the risk for neural tube defects. It also protects against heart disease and stroke through its role in the metabolism of the amino acid, homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline in the elderly.

5. Limit Fats and Sweets
Instead, emphasize complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, because they are higher in fiber and contain many of the important nutrients needed for optimal digestive health.

Studies show that a low-fiber, high-fat diet can increase the risk for some types of cancer, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and heart disease. Health and nutrition experts recommend choosing a diet that provides no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and that most of those fats be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

6. Stay Hydrated
Healthy digestion requires adequate fluid intake. Get enough fluids from beverages and foods you eat. Include a beverage with every meal or snack.  Many factors such as exercise, weather, weight and health affect how much water is right for you. The standard recommendation is to consume the equivalent of 8 glasses of water a day. Whichever guideline you use, it is important to make sure you are drinking enough fluids throughout the day, whether it is in the form of simple water, or water-rich food sources such as soup. Decaffeinated herbal teas are also a great way to hydrate.

7. Eat Mindfully
How you eat can be as important as what you eat. Eat slowly, stop eating when you feel full, and avoid eating just before bedtime. Make time for proper nutrition. Eat until you are satisfied but not stuffed; there's no need to finish your plate if you aren't hungry anymore. Eating too much can cause digestive symptoms including heartburn and stomach upset. Save the rest of your meal for later or serve smaller portions. Focus on your meal when you eat. Avoid working, walking around or other distractions.

8. Keep Moving
Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, doing activities you like, such as walking, aerobic or strength-building activities. If you can't fit 30 minutes in every day do whatever you can, when you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work, or take a walk during your lunch break.

In addition to cardio and weight-training exercises, try to incorporate fitness into everyday life. Activities like taking stairs rather than elevators, power walking during lunch and coffee breaks, and taking the long way when walking can make a big difference.

9. Stay Calm
Manage your stress. Stress has a direct effect on digestive health. Build time for relaxation into your daily routine.

Taking care of your emotional well-being is important for your physical well-being. Stress affects the way the digestive system functions. Depending on the way an individual's body reacts, stress can cause the passage of food through the digestive system to slow down or to speed up, which can cause abdominal pain and/or diarrhea. Digestive muscles may exert less effort and digestive enzymes may be secreted in smaller amounts when you are under stress. Stress can also worsen symptoms of conditions such as peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. Your body and mind need time to rejuvenate and relax.

10. Pay Attention to Your Body
If you feel low in energy, get up and move your body. If you are satisfied, stop eating. When your stomach feels stuffed, you've probably eaten too much. Focus on wellness, not disease and schedule regular screenings.