Did you know that your gut is a microbiome? You probably haven’t heard that term since high school biology. And maybe you feel a little unsettled thinking about living creatures inside your body.
There are 300 to 500 types of bacteria living in your digestive tract. But don’t worry. This is a good thing. Your gut’s microbiome plays a big role in many aspects of your health.
When your gastrointestinal health is off, chances are you’ll feel it. You may experience diarrhea, gas, bloating, or constipation.
However, poor digestive health can also spill over into the rest of your body. You may notice weight changes, fatigue, food intolerances, stress, anxiety, depression, and skin irritation.
With that in mind, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to recognize and understand the signs of poor gastrointestinal health. It’s also vital to know what to do about it.
Keep reading for tips to improve your digestive system and keep it working as it should.
1. Eat Plenty of Fiber
Fiber is important for proper digestion. It helps move food through your digestive tract, preventing constipation. Adequate fiber intake also reduces the risk of hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticulitis.
There are two kinds of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber works to firm stools and prevents diarrhea. Insoluble fiber bulks up in the digestive tract, promoting healthy stools and satisfying appetite.
Women need 21 to 25 grams of fiber each day, while men should aim to get 30 to 38 grams. These fiber recommendations are easy to meet if you choose plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
2. Eat Healthy Fats
Your body needs some fat to promote nutrient absorption in your digestive tract. The trick is to choose healthy fats that fight disease and satisfy your appetite.
Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important. That’s because this kind of fat also helps lower the risk of bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis.
You can get healthy fats from many species of fish, including salmon, mackerel, and herring. Avocados, olive oil, flaxseed, and walnuts are other delicious options.
You should also avoid unhealthy fats, including trans and saturated fats. Limit processed meats, fried foods, fast food, and store-bought baked goods.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
To prevent constipation and keep your digestive tract moving, it’s important to stay well hydrated. Most people need about 1.5 to 2 liters of water each day.
If the weather is hot or you exercise, you may need more. The best way to be sure you are getting enough fluids is to make sure your urine is light yellow. If it’s dark, chances are you need more water.
In addition to water, you can reach quota with herbal tea, seltzer water, decaf coffee without milk or sugar, and other unsweetened beverages without caffeine.
Fruits and vegetables also contribute to your water intake. Berries, melon, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cucumbers, and peaches are delicious options.
4. Include Probiotics and Prebiotics in Your Diet
One of the best steps you can take for better gastrointestinal health is to focus on probiotics. Probiotics are similar to the bacteria and microorganisms that are already living in your gut.
They play several roles, including promoting healthy digestion and reducing stress levels. Probiotics also boost immunity and enhance nutrient absorption.
You can get probiotics from a variety of fermented foods, including kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi.
You may not have heard as much about prebiotics as probiotics. Prebiotics feed probiotics so increasing your intake optimizes probiotic levels in your digestive tract.
Get prebiotics from onions, bananas, oats, legumes, as well as other raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
5. Stick With a Consistent Meal Schedule
When you have a fairly consistent meal and snack routine, your digestion keeps working as it should. Irregular eating habits can lead to bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive disturbances.
Try to eat your meals around the same time each day, including snacks. This optimizes digestion, prevents unpleasant symptoms, and ensures that your body is getting the nutrients it needs for good health.
Other Tips to Improve Gastrointestinal Health
What you eat, when you eat, and how you eat are the best answers for how to improve your digestive system. But they aren’t the only ones.
Another vital component is stress management. Chronic stress alters hormone levels and can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut. Not only can this lead to digestive disturbances, but it also weakens your immune system.
Managing your stress could be incorporating meditation or other relaxation techniques into your routine. It might also be getting more exercise, seeing a therapist, or taking medication.
Sleep also plays a role in digestion. If you aren’t getting enough, you may notice more discomfort in your stomach and bowels. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours each night.
This list tells you a lot about what you should be eating. But there are also some things you should avoid. That includes excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods.
Limit processed and fatty meats, sugar, and salt. This is easier to do if you prioritize healthy foods from each food group and stay away from fast food, soda, store-bought desserts, and fried foods.
Taking the First Step
Learning how to improve your gastrointestinal health is an important step in taking good care of yourself. Recognizing when there’s a problem and knowing what to do about it is your first step.
Of course, if you’re having chronic digestive problems or trouble making healthy changes, talk to your doctor for guidance.
Getting the help you need is an important step in your good health. Have a look at our Peak Lifestyle Program to help you get a jump start on your healthy lifestyle.