Your digestive system is used to digest and absorb food and remove waste. It is 25 feet in length and runs from your mouth to your…well you get the idea.
Keeping your gut in good health is crucial if you want to lead a healthy life. Sadly, many people have poor digestive health. Numerous factors can cause this, including bad diet, a lack of exercise, and poor lifestyle choices.
Let's look at five ways to reboot your digestive system.
Reboot #1: Stay hydrated
Not often thought of as having anything to do with digestion, water is actually a crucial part of the process. Dehydration can cause a lot of digestive issues. Studies have shown that dehydration can lead to delayed gastric emptying.
This sounds complicated, but it basically means food takes too long to travel through your stomach. This can lead to you feeling very full after eating, losing your appetite, bloating, heartburn, or even nausea. The most common side effect is constipation.
A busy festive period (even one spent indoors) can easily lead to dehydration. Drinking more alcohol than usual, eating high in sodium foods, and cold weather can all lead to you not drinking enough water and becoming dehydrated.
Hitting 3 litres of water per day should get you back on track. Being hydrated should help prevent digestive discomfort. You get 1 litre of water per day from the food you eat, and water from tea and coffee should make up around 0.5 litres.
So, fill a 1.5-litre bottle with water and try and finish it by the end of each day.
Reboot #2: Increase dietary fibre
Fibre is crucial for digestive health and should make up a good portion of your diet. Whole grains are an excellent source, processed carbohydrates that we love? Not so much.
There are fibre supplements out there, but as with anything, it’s better to get your fibre from food sources. Add some of the following foods to your diet and your digestive system will thank you:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and pulses
- Wholewheat pasta
- Wholegrain bread
Not only will eating more fibre help your digestive system, but it can also lower cholesterol, help you to reduce your risk of colon cancer, and stabilise blood sugar levels.
Reboot #3: Exercise more
The connection between exercise and digestion may not be immediately apparent. But you have probably "walked off" a big meal. The truth is that exercise helps digestion in both the short and long term.
In the short term, exercise can increase blood flow, which means more blood flows to your digestive system. However, this only seems to work with low or medium intensity exercise. Increase the intensity too far, and your digestive system could turn on you. Just ask Paula Radcliffe!
The NHS often recommends walking to improve post-surgery constipation as it is so effective at enhancing motility.
Moving more generally can also have long term benefits for your digestive system. Over time, exercise can strengthen your digestive tract, meaning less blood needs to flow to it. Exercise can also lower your risk of colon cancer.
Reboot #4: Consume probiotics
There is a lot of debate about probiotics vs prebiotics (see next section), but both can be helpful.
Probiotics are foods fermented with bacteria, this sounds disgusting, but you've probably eaten probiotic foods before:
Sauerkraut is available from most supermarkets; however, this is usually pasteurised, making it "safer" but killing off all useful bacteria. Making your own is your best bet, or frequenting good German restaurants!
Alternatively, you could purchase a probiotic supplement such as Yakult.
Probiotics have lots of benefits for the gut, adding in healthy bacteria that can aid in digestion. They are effective at treating numerous digestive issues, including IBS, Crohn’s disease, and diarrhoea.
Reboot #5: Consume prebiotics
Technically, fibre is a prebiotic, so we’ve sort of covered this already. Prebiotics work similarly to probiotics. But where a probiotic will throw a bunch of bacteria into your gut, prebiotics work by encouraging the bacteria to naturally grow in the gut.
Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and berries are excellent sources of prebiotics, as are the traditional fibre sources we mentioned earlier.
You can also buy prebiotic supplements, but as always, finding ways to add prebiotics to your diet naturally will always yield more significant results.
What to do now
Now that you have five ways to reboot your digestive system, the challenge is to find a way to combine them with your current lifestyle.
Staying hydrated is probably the most straightforward change to make and the first one you should concern yourself with. Grab yourself a 1.5-litre bottle and fill it each morning. If you don't drink tea or coffee, then you'll need a further 500ml of water from somewhere.
Breakfast is an excellent meal to add fibre. You've got wholegrain bread that can make toast, oats that can make porridge, wholegrain cereals, or a piece of fruit. Beans on toast would also work wonders.
Exercise for 30 minutes every day. Walk (at a brisk pace), run, jog, cycle, or perform some bodyweight exercises. Get to the gym if it's open. Time this so that it is 60-90 minutes after breakfast or lunch if you can. This will allow you to utilise the food as fuel for your workout, and help speed up digestion.
You can get a mixture of prebiotics and probiotics through an evening snack of Greek yoghurt with berries. This delivers a nice protein punch, too, helping you maintain muscle, burn more calories, and feel fuller for longer.