As a gastroenterologist, Dr. B knows a thing or two about improving digestion. In the final part in our Ask Dr. B, The Gut Health MD, he shares his top 5 tips for improving digestion.
On a daily basis in my gastroenterology practice I nurture the guts of those with digestive disorders. Everyone deserves to enjoy the food they eat, but this is next to impossible if you’re suffering with bloating, excessive fullness, discomfort, diarrhea or constipation after meals. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to improving digestive function, and there’s no magic pill or silver bullet either. But there IS the power of simple lifestyle measures that can go a long way in getting your gut back to singing and dancing after a meal instead of crying and whining. Here are 5 simple tips to improve your digestive function:
Maximize plant based diversity.
The single greatest predictor of a healthy gut is the diversity of plants that you eat[i]. With that in mind, every time you set foot in the supermarket you should be enthusiastically perusing the produce aisles in search of a fresh, new fruit or veggie that you can add into your mix. Every time you sit down to eat it should cross your mind, “How can I get more variety of plants into this dish?” Something as simple as a sprinkle of herbs or spices, a squeeze of citrus, or a garnish with carrots and celery can help. And let’s not forget the Genuine Health’s fermented organic gut superfoods+, which contains 22 fermented, organic superfoods in a powder mix. Its use should not change your approach to maximize plant based diversity at every meal, but it offers a nice baseline to help support a healthy gut.
Be conscious about your food choices.
You’ve probably heard of FODMAPs, which is an acronym standing for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Basically, this is referring to the parts of our food that can cause gas or digestive distress. An example is lactose, found in dairy products. Whether you’re lactose intolerant or not, if you drink enough milk you are definitely going to upset your gut. With this idea in mind, the Low FODMAPs diet was developed to identify food triggers and help to moderate them. It’s an approach that has shown benefit for patients with irritable bowel syndrome[i]. At the same time, if one uses the diet to eliminate foods permanently, it’s also been shown to cause damage to the microbiome[ii]. Remember, the single greatest predictor of a healthy gut is the diversity of the plants that you eat. Therefore, I would recommend not eliminating foods, but using an awareness of the FODMAP content to help identify food triggers and then moderate portion size.
Maintain a healthy schedule.
Your body has a natural rhythm designed to work optimally at certain times during the day and suboptimally at other times. For example, you are most insulin sensitive first thing in the morning and least insulin sensitive late in the evening[i]. What this means is that eating the exact same food but at a different time of day can produce a different response. Snacking late at night is putting your gut to work when it really wants to just rest. With this in mind, I’d recommend eating dinner as early as possible. Does 6pm sound early? Well, it’d be even better if it were 5pm! In doing this, I am asking you to commit to dinner being the last food of the day, and afterwards you limit yourself to just water.
Add a daily probiotic for digestive support.
A probiotic, by definition, is a living micro-organism with a demonstrated benefit on your health. By taking a probiotic you are not replacing, but you are temporarily augmenting the good guys in your gut. Studies have shown us that the benefits of taking a probiotic may include reduced bloating and improvement of irritable bowel syndrome[i]. As discussed in my article on probiotics for food sensitivities, I believe Genuine Health’s advanced gut health probiotic checks all the boxes in what one would look for in a high quality probiotic.
Keep yourself hydrated.
Perhaps the easiest yet most overlooked thing to do for our health is to drink more water. Unfortunately, most of us spend too much time sipping caffeine in the morning, which only makes us more dehydrated. Have you ever noticed dry, chapped lips or cotton mouth in the morning? It’s because we’re not getting enough water. With this in mind, I started an approach over a year ago that has boosted my energy levels and mental clarity, and it’s incredibly simple. Water is now my “go to” beverage throughout the day. I still enjoy my coffee, but the first thing I do in the morning is to drink two large glasses of water. Then, as I’m enjoying my coffee, if I feel the chapped lips or cotton mouth coming on, I put the coffee mug down for a little bit and pick up the water bottle. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are opportunities to ignore the sweetened beverage and opt for water, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon in it.
Thanks for reading our Ask Dr. B, The Gut Health MD series. In case you missed any of Dr. B’s informative articles, here they are:
READ: A Gastroenterologist Takes on the Top Cause of Gas and Bloating from His Clinic
READ: FODMAPs Explained by a Gastroenterologist
READ: Can Probiotics Help with Food Sensitivities? A Gastroenterologist Weighs In
[i] mSystems May 2018, 3 (3) e00031-18.
[ii] Nutrients. 2017 Sep; 9(9): 940.
[iii] J Nutr. 2012 Aug; 142(8):1510-8.; Gut. 2015 Jan; 64(1):93-100
[iv] FASEB J. 2016 Sep;30(9):3117-23.
[v] Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2010 Jan; 6(1): 39–44.