You probably haven't given much thought to how your body processes your food after devouring it. You put the food inside your mouth, you chew it, and you let the body do the rest. On the surface, it seems like that's really all that you can do.
But is it? Susan Bowerman, the Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife and registered dietician, says you can do more beyond your usual just-eat-what-is-in-front-of-you routine. She shares eight tips here to ensure that you and your digestive system stays healthy.
1) Eat more fiber.
We've read so much about how fiber is good for us. Typically though, our problem is actually incorporating colon-cleaning fiber in our diet. Bowerman recommends: "Aim to have a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack, toss some beans into a soup or salad, and choose whole grains over refined white breads, cereals, rice, and pasta."
2) Get some probiotics.
"While the idea of consuming bacteria in the diet may not sound appealing, the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods can promote digestive health," explains Bowerman.
"The bacteria in your system also help to keep the growth of other, potentially harmful, bacteria at bay—thus promoting healthy digestion," she adds.
Where can we get it? Aside from yogurt, you can pick up good bacteria in other soy products like tofu as well as in pickled foods like cucumber and kimchi.
3) Stay hydrated.
Fluid helps the fibers in foods to "swell" and add more bulk to the material passing through the lower digestive tract, and in the end, helps keep things running smoothly. Though watery fruits and vegetables go a long way towards meeting our fluid requirements, Bowerman reiterates that we should never forget to have enough of the holy grail of all fluids: good ol' water.
4) Move it.
No, not just your bowels. By "move it," we mean exercise. Exercise isn't just for the muscles you readily see in your core and arms; it's also good for the smooth muscles of your digestive tract. According to Bowerman, exercise stimulates the muscles to contract, which keeps things "moving along." Exercise is also a great stress-reducer, she tells us. Less stress equals more relaxed digestion.
5) Don't skip meals.
Your digestive system is a lot happier if you eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
"When you go too long without eating, a couple of things are likely to happen—you'll eat quickly because you're so hungry, and you'll eat too much because you're starving," reveals Bowerman.
6) Eat slowly.
When you eat too fast, not only does it lessen the enjoyment you get out of your meal, but you're more likely to swallow air which can lead to gas and bloating. And when you eat too quickly, you're more likely to overeat since it takes your stomach about 20 minutes to tell your brain that you're full. This can lead to further digestive discomfort, according to Bowerman.
She also reminds us that when nature calls, be sure to listen.
"Too many people put off visits to the restroom if the urge to go strikes at an inconvenient time," observes Bowerman. "Sure, the urge may pass—but if you put it off, you’re more likely to have trouble getting the job done."
7) Take your time making dietary changes.
So you've decided to go on a diet starting tomorrow and you're thinking of completely ditching rice. That would harm your digestive system, though. "Try eating just small amounts over several days to give your system time to adjust," says Bowerman. Sudden changes in your regular diet can shake up your digestive system's balance.
8) And if all else fails: aloe vera.
Try herbal remedies like aloe vera. Herbalife Philippines General Manager Rosalio Valenzuela says: "Aloe has numerous benefits proven to aid digestion. It contains a powerful detoxifying agent and is rich in amino acids."