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Improving and Maintaining Digestive Health

08-10-2020

The digestive system is a wonder of human biology. It breaks down the nutrients you eat into parts small enough for your body to use for energy, growth, and cell repair. Since your body needs nutrients to work properly, a functioning digestive system is essential for staying healthy.

How does the digestive system work?

The digestive system consists of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the liver, the pancreas, and the gallbladder. These organs work together with the GI tract to break down what you eat and drink into carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Your food’s digestive journey begins in your mouth. After swallowing, food passes into the esophagus and then the stomach. Then it passes into the small intestine, which further breaks down the food, absorbs nutrients, and sends nutrients into your bloodstream.

The rest of the food residue makes its way into your large intestine. Here, bacteria feed off the food remnants. After this step, any undigested food is expelled through a bowel movement.

Happy gut, healthy life

Digestive discomfort can be a real pain. Symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and diarrhea can affect your daily life, but these symptoms can also be managed and prevented with a few simple lifestyle changes that promote a healthy gut:

  • Focus on fruits and veggies. Eat at least seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day—canned, fresh, frozen, or dried. Plants and produce are rich in fiber and contain disease-fighting chemicals.
  • Choose whole grains. When buying groceries, look for the “whole grain” label on the packaging and check the fiber content. If possible, choose items with at least three grams of dietary fiber.
  • Limit red meat. Pick poultry and fish more often than red meat. If giving up steak isn’t in your plans, consume smaller portions of meat less often. Instead of a 12-ounce porterhouse, try a four-ounce steak once or twice a week.
  • Avoid processed foods. Foods high in carbs, trans fats, and additives are linked to an increased risk of digestive problems. Say no to lunch meats, foods with artificial sweeteners, and high-sodium packaged snacks.
  • Switch up your cooking style. Although they can make for some delicious dishes, frying and sautéing are some of the worst cooking styles for gut health. Try steaming, poaching, stewing, braising, or boiling instead. Don’t forget—make sure your meat is cooked thoroughly before eating it.
  • Pick probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that fight harmful bacteria and produce healthy substances to nourish your gut. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, raw sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, and kombucha are fantastic sources of probiotics.
  • Limit sugars and animal fats. Foods with added sugars and animal fats can produce harmful chemicals in the gastrointestinal tract that cause damage over time. Before you buy food, check the label for added sugars and fats. Choose lean meats and skinless poultry, and avoid high-fat dairy products like cheese and butter.
  • Ditch your bad habits. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and excessive caffeine can lead to digestive problems like stomach ulcers and heartburn.
  • Manage stress. Stress can have many negative effects on the body, including digestive issues. Find stress-reducing activities—like yoga, meditation, art, or gardening—and practice them on a regular basis to keep stress in check.
  • Savor your food. Eating and drinking too fast not only can lead to weight gain and heart disease, but it can interrupt your digestive system, also.

If you frequently experience symptoms like bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or constipation, talk to your doctor or schedule an appointment with a Frederick Health gastroenterologist. Be sure to explain to them the type of problems you’ve been having, as well as how long they have been happening. Many digestive issues have similar symptoms, so your doctor will run tests to determine what is causing your discomfort.