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These days, with our busy work schedules, long hours at the office, frenetic modern lifestyle and unhealthy food choices readily available, it’s no wonder that a lot of us run into problems with our digestive system.

Instead of feeling healthy, happy and full of energy, we feel bloated, sluggish and fatigued, even perhaps experiencing constipation, heartburn and gas.

Neglecting our digestion means our bodies have difficulty absorbing the nutrients it needs to be able to break down the foods we eat. In order to focus and enjoy our daily activities, we need to take great care of it and find ways to improve our digestion.

Your stomach – in other words your digestive system – is your very own personal “blender” and “second brain.” What happens or doesn’t happen here has a direct effect on your digestion.

1. Drink water

It sounds so simple but it’s so easy to forget and so many of us do. We all mean to drink water regularly but it doesn’t always happen. Water is an essential fluid that our body needs to flush toxins, transport nutrients and provide moisture to our membranes. So how much water does our body need? It’s not as simple as drinking eight glasses or 1.9 litres per day. That number is just popular because it’s easy for us to remember. In fact, no hard evidence even backs it up.

Mayo Clinic, a highly reputed research institute in the United States, says it actually depends on your level of health and exercise, and even where you live. It also varies between men or women. But experts there generally recommend three litres for men and 2.2 litres for women because drinking water aids digestion, helps to soften stools and prevent constipation.

Drinking a glass of hot water with lemon upon waking is another great way to kick-start your digestion system each morning. Not to mention that it brings your body into an alkaline state.

2. Have probiotics

Here, you’re looking for friendly-bacteria to enter your gut so include kefir. It’s a yogurt-like food made out of fermented milk that originates from the Caucasus Mountain. Often sold as a drink, it is tangy and slightly effervescent with a mildly tart taste.

If you prefer to go dairy-free, have some fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, kombucha, tempeh and kimchi, a national favourite in Korea, to your diet. Described as “soul food” by the New York Times, kimchi is a cabbage-based side dish that is packed with vitamins, high in fibre and healthy bacteria. Exactly, what you need to improve your digestion.

3. Don’t overeat

It’s so easy after a long day to just graze the cupboards or just slouch in front of the TV with an unhealthy food option. Resist the urge to overindulge on the couch. Experts say overeating not only causes discomfort but also heartburn, bloating, gas, sluggishness the next morning and impairs your ability to focus – therefore triggering poor digestion. Rather, eat when you are hungry, take the time to chew your food well, slow down and sit down when you have your lunch, and stop when you’re full.

4. Manage your stress

It is perhaps easier said than done, but managing your stress levels is crucial because your digestive system is controlled by your “second brain,” the enteric nervous system that communicates with your central nervous system. The two are interconnected and therefore talk to each other. When one is upset, the other gets the signal.

Experts say stress can have an impact on every part of your digestive system, most often negatively. For some, this means that their digestive system goes into overdrive so they go running for the bathroom with diarrhea while others suffer from constipation. Making the time to de-stress or disconnect either through exercise, yoga, meditation or breathing techniques on a regular basis, can therefore be very beneficial.

5. Eat fibre

Finally, stock up on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Eating fibre is an essential way of hydrating your large intestine as it helps to clean out your digestive system by allowing food matter to travel freely through the bowel and keep things moving. In turn, making you less likely to get constipated. It also has lots of health benefits. It promotes proper colon health, intestinal bacterial balance, weight control and a strong immune system.

Harvard School of Public Health recommends incorporating at least 20 grams of fibre per day in your diet, stressing that more is even better. Therefore, men should aim for 38 grams, while women should consume 25 grams.

Fibre is quite simply plant roughage or bulk. There are two kinds – soluble (it dissolves in water) and insoluble (it doesn’t dissolve in water).

Soluble fibre: You’ll find it in fruits, especially berries, vegetables, chia and flax seeds, oats, barley, rye, lentils, beans and psyllium. Soluble fibre becomes like a gel in your stomach by absorbing liquid and swelling, in turn helping to soften stools and make them easier to pass.

Insoluble fibre: Green vegetables like kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes with the skin on are excellent sources of insoluble fibre. Adding bulk to your diet will help to move food along the digestive track and keep you regular.

by Chantal Ouimet – Honestly Healthy online editor

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Jul 31, 2016

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