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How to improve digestion in 5 easy steps
Boosting your digestion is easier than you might think. Learn how to improve your gut health with these simple tweaks.
Here’s a fact that may score you a win on trivia night. It takes up to three days for food to move through your entire digestive system.
If it takes any longer than that, you might be experiencing a slowdown. And if this happens, you’ll know. You’ll feel bloated, constipated or nauseated.
Fortunately, it’s easy to improve your digestion. No complicated diets required. Here are five simple steps you can take to make eating more comfortable.
Drink enough water
There are so many health benefits to staying hydrated. Normal digestion is high on that list, says Niren Jasutkar, MD. He’s a gastroenterologist at Riverside Medical Group, part of Optum, in Secaucus, New Jersey. Water helps move food along through your digestive tract and keeps your stool from drying out, which can lead to constipation.
"Water keeps your gut healthy,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”
How much should you aim for? Dr. Jasutkar says it depends on your size and activity level. A good goal is about 12 cups throughout the day.
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Eat hydrating foods
Hydration doesn’t just come from drinking water. Dr. Jasutkar suggests choosing foods with a high water content, such as:
- Low-sodium broth
These foods also offer plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Get the right amount of fiber
When it comes to fiber, the message always seems to be: More is better. But that’s not always the case for everybody, Dr. Jasutkar says. You may have trouble digesting certain grains, for example.
Instead, he suggests these fiber-rich foods. Your small intestine can break these down more easily. These include:
- Sweet potatoes
Dr. Jasutkar suggests a meal of whole grains, such as oats or quinoa. (Whole grains haven’t been processed.) Pair them with lean protein, vegetables and a glass of water. For example, brown rice with black beans is a combo that provides fiber and protein. Add chicken breast, spinach and zucchini. You’ll have a meal that’s high in fiber, nutrients and hydration.
Talk to your doctor about the right amount of fiber for you. The general recommendation for women is to aim for about 25 grams a day. Men need 38 grams. Once you’re ready to start increasing, make sure to do it slowly and drink plenty of water. If you don’t have enough fluid, the extra fiber could lead to constipation.1 Check out our list of 10 high-fiber foods.
Focus on daily movement
Activity stimulates the gut. It increases blood flow to the digestive tract muscles. This keeps food moving through your body at a normal pace.2
Have ongoing stomach issues like inflammatory bowel disease? Exercise can help. It lowers stress and can even help reduce flare-ups.3
You’ll also get plenty of other benefits from exercise. Staying active can lower your risk of certain cancers and improve your blood pressure.4
Other habits can support digestion, too. That includes getting quality sleep and reducing stress.
Keep a food journal
To improve digestion, you need to know which foods might be causing your problems, Dr. Jasutkar says.
A good starting point is jotting down what you eat right now, without making any changes, for two weeks. Make sure to keep track of how you feel afterward. Over time, you may start to see connections, he says. Maybe every time you eat food that has gluten (like bread or pasta) you feel bloated. Or perhaps dairy-based foods like milk or ice cream bother you.
If you think a specific food is causing digestion issues, remove only that food for a week. Then see if your digestion improves, he says. Sometimes, even a small change can have major benefits.
There’s no need to start with a strict elimination diet. That’s when you take out as much food as possible from your diet and slowly add some back in. They’re tough for most people, Dr. Jasutkar says.
"In many cases, they’re not necessary,” Dr. Jasutkar says. “You just have to create more awareness around how you feel after eating.”
These methods are simple, but they can offer major health benefits. Try them out and you'll be feeling better in no time.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet. Published March 1, 2021. Access July 10, 2022.
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Exercise modifies the gut microbiota with positive health effects. Published March 5, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2022.
- American College of Sports Medicine. Being active with inflammatory bowel disease. Published 2021. Accessed July 10, 2022.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Benefits of physical activity. Last reviewed May 2017. Accessed July 7, 2022.
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