Tips to Improve Food Digestion

Good food digestion is key to overall well-being. This is why it's important to analyze your daily habits and adopt some strategies to optimize the process. Read on to learn more!
Tips to Improve Food Digestion

Last update: 22 July, 2021

Improving food digestion can relieve symptoms such as fullness, diarrhea, gas, and heartburn. This is especially the case after a particularly heavy meal. People think most of these are normal, but they actually indicate that something’s wrong. So, what can you do to make it better?

The digestive system is perfectly designed. The mouth crushes the food as soon as we take a bite and then passes through the esophagus into the stomach. There, it goes from solid to semi-liquid to reach the small intestine which absorbs what the body needs and discards the rest. Finally, this waste goes into the large intestine for subsequent evacuation.

Bad eating habits such as overeating, eating at untimely hours, and not chewing thoroughly can break the harmony of the digestive system. Hence, it’s essential to adopt better habits that promote a proper digestion process.

Recommendations to improve food digestion

According to an article in the Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases, diet plays an important role in promoting health when diseases of the gastrointestinal tract occur. Consequently, it’s necessary to review dietary habits when there’s discomfort after eating.

There’s such a thing as inappropriate food combinations and wrong eating. This is why it’s essential to correct it as an optimal digestive process is a key to general well-being. Let’s take a closer look at some recommendations.

Concentrate on eating your meal to improve food digestion

One of the keys to better digest food is to concentrate on it. Eating is a moment of pleasure and, thus, we should enjoy it. A review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that many digestive symptoms improve when we apply deep concentration or mindfulness therapies.

For this reason, there’s long been a call for mindful eating. It consists of reaching a state of mindfulness through every meal, according to the physical signals when eating, experiences and cravings. This includes:

  • Eat slowly and without distractions.
  • Eat only what you need to feel satisfied.
  • Pay attention to texture, temperature, and taste.
  • Be aware of food cravings.
  • Identify hunger triggers.
  • Eat to maintain overall health and well-being.
A woman eating greens.
Practice mindfulness when eating to better digest food.

Review the way you eat

Eating on the run leads to quick chewing and it can lead to digestive problems. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition emphasizes it’s essential for absorbing nutrients.

In addition, proper chewing can prevent the tendency to overeat and decreases the risk of indigestion. Swallowing food without chewing it well alters the whole process of emulsification, preparation for enzymes, and absorption of nutrients.

Concerning this, the recommendation to digest better and chew well is to place the cutlery on the plate in between bites. It’ll help you eat slowly, improve the rhythm of chewing and enjoy the food.

Avoid stressful situations

The American Psychological Association asserts that chronic stress can impact digestive health in the long run. This is because a stressed body adopts a state of high alert and activates the fight or flight mechanism.

According to Harvard Health specialists, this situation leads to increased blood pressure, increased muscle tension, alterations in heart rate, and an increase in cortisol.

The activation of all these mechanisms leads the body to stop processes it considers less important — such as digestion. This results in symptoms such as stomach pain, constipation, inflammation, and more or less appetite.

A publication in the journal Gastroenterology reports that people who eat under stress experience fullness or swelling of the digestive tract. Thus, it’s important to practice relaxation techniques.

A review on irritable bowel syndrome and stress found that relaxation training, meditation, and stress management significantly improve symptoms. Other indicated techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, and acupuncture.

Avoidance of alcohol and smoking to improve food digestion

Habits such as smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages cause problems in the digestive system and at a general level. The gut magazine warns of the risk of gastroesophageal reflux in smokers.

Other studies, such as one reported in Physiological Reviews, reveal that these patients also have a high probability of ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, and gastrointestinal diseases.

Excessive alcohol intake also leads to disorders similar to those caused by smoking. According to a paper reported in PLOS One, its intake alters the intestinal microbiota and increases inflammation in the digestive tract. Therefore, you must avoid both smoking and regular consumption of alcoholic beverages to improve digestion.

Don’t eat too late

Eating late at night also compromises digestive health. A case-control study revealed that late-night eating can increase heartburn, reflux, and indigestion, especially among those who eat and go to bed almost immediately.

Thus, the recommendation is to eat at least three to four hours before going to bed. This allows all the contents of the stomach to go into the intestine.

Physical activity

Regular activity plays a fundamental role in overall health. Research in Gut reports that cycling or jogging speeds up intestinal transit time by almost 30%. Other activities – such as walking – also help food travel faster through the digestive tract.

Disorders such as constipation also decrease with exercise. A publication in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology revealed that 1/2 hour of walking and 11 minutes of daily physical activity decreases the symptoms of this digestive condition.

Drinking water

A review in Jornal de Pediatria de Brasil highlights that low fluid intake is a frequent cause of constipation. For this reason, they advise drinking between 1.5 and two liters of decaffeinated liquids per day. This amount may vary depending on the climate, the amount of exercise, and other factors.

Water is the most recommended drink, of course. However, there are other options such as herbal teas, fruits, vegetables, and broths. As far as possible, drink these after meals to avoid digestive problems.

A woman drinking water.
Abundant intake of water and healthy beverages is key to better digest food; also skip industrial drinks.

Increase fiber intake to improve food digestion

The magazine Nutrition Reviews ratifies that a diet high in fiber reduces digestive disorders such as hemorrhoids, ulcers, reflux, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Some specialists indicate that fiber may be soluble and absorb water to increase the volume of the feces; or insoluble to maintain proper bowel movements.

Soluble fiber is present in legumes, seeds, oats, barley, and nuts. Vegetables, wheat bran, and whole grains are sources of insoluble fiber.

In addition, a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reveals the advantages of fiber for promoting intestinal bacteria. It acts as a prebiotic and contributes to reducing the risk of inflammatory digestive diseases.

Consuming probiotics

Probiotics are good bacteria for digestive health. An article shared in the journal Nature Medicine highlights their importance for health. Specifically, they help reduce gas, intestinal transit time, and inflammation. Some alternatives are:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Cheeses
  • Acidic milk
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented juices
  • Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium supplements

Include healthy fats in your diet

Some studies link low consumption of omega-3 fats with the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases. In addition, fat not only produces satiety but also allows adequate absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are some good options:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Nuts and other dried fruits
  • Chia seeds
  • Fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, among others

The importance of proper food digestion

Applying these tips to better digest food is key to promoting a sense of overall well-being. Optimal digestion improves nutrients absorption and optimizes the function of the organs and tissues.

Conversely, poor digestion leads to health problems. Thus, symptoms such as reflux, heaviness, and abdominal pain become recurrent. In addition, more serious digestive diseases develop in the medium to long term.

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