Our digestive habits can be just as important as our diets in ensuring healthy digestion and overall well-being. Proper digestive habits help our bodies extract maximum nutrients from the food we put in ourselves. Many of us also deal with digestive issues such as gas, bloat and heartburn on a consistent basis.
Read on for five easy-to-do, science-based habits we can all incorporate to help improve our digestive systems.
Mindful eating isn’t necessarily something that’s “zen” or “New Age”. It simply means paying attention to what you’re eating and how much of it you put in your body.
When you practise mindfulness during eating, that means turning off all your devices and just focusing on the food in front of you. Pay attention to the flavour, smell and sight of the plate before you. Also pay attention to your feelings while eating; specifically, pay attention to how your stomach feels when you come to the end of your plate.
Are you still hungry for seconds after all? Have you had a meal that is balanced? If there is still room for more, what is the healthiest thing you can have to finish your meal?
Mindful eating is a wonderful way to prevent both overeating and undereating. It should be the first step to begin any diet.
Something we were taught as kids but have seemingly forgotten as adults is to chew our food well before we swallow.
This may seem like too trivial a point to make mention of, but this is the single most important thing you can do to help your digestion. Saliva naturally contains digestive enzymes and this means a lot of the pressure is off your stomach and intestines when you chew your food long enough.
Moreover, the smaller the size of the particles when you swallow, the easier it is for your intestines to do a good job with absorbing nutrients.
Digestion is an energy-intensive process for the body, particularly when digesting improperly chewed chunks of food. Ease the pressure on your digestive system by the simple habit of chewing your food properly and prevent digestive issues such as bloating too.
Water helps breaking down food, softening it as it goes along the gut and ultimately prevents constipation. Having water during and after a meal is thought to help digestion happen quicker and better.
It’s always a good idea to remember to stay hydrated – water is the one thing that helps in every single process our bodies undergo, and seeing as we’re made of 70% water, this should come as no surprise.
Post meal 15-minute walks
Research suggests taking smaller 15-minute walks post meals is more beneficial than taking a single 45-minute walk once a day. Getting your body moving after you eat something helps keep the digestive process going at a healthy rate.
Research has also pointed out that these short walks help regulate and normalise blood glucose levels post your meal (large spikes in glucose point to some risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes).
It’s also a quick, healthy way to burn some calories.
Pre- and probiotics
The gut is populated by trillions of bacteria which help not only in digestion, but also in keeping up our health and well-being. When these strains of “good” bacteria aren’t in their optimal numbers, our entire health takes a toll. We are more susceptible to diseases and specifically, our digestion is not as effective as it ought to be.
This may happen due to many reasons, some of the most common ones being overuse of medication such as antibiotics or a proliferation of unhealthy or “bad” bacteria. Keeping the “good” bacteria going is the secret to a strong digestive system, and ultimately, a strong body.
Essentially, prebiotics are foods that help set up a conducive atmosphere in your gut so that these “good” bacteria can flourish. Some diet-based examples include leeks, onions, garlic, green leafy veg, beans etc.
Probiotics are living strains of these “good” bacteria which need to inhabit the gut. The most common diet-based example would be yoghurt. In general, fermented foods usually contain a lot of “good” bacteria. Kombucha, kefir, buttermilk etc are great sources. Both pre and probiotics are also commonly available as supplements.