For years as a teenager, I struggled with chronic inflammation and constipation. Living with bellyaches was “normal” for me. And every time I felt stomach pain, it affected my mood to the point that I just wanted to go home and quit everything I was doing. Sadly, that was often.
Granted, I wasn't eating properly. At the time, I snacked on sugary yogurt, cookies, and pastries. I also wasn't drinking nearly enough liquids, and I didn’t have many greens or veggies in my diet. The funny thing is, I noticed that digestive fruits like prunes always helped me feel better, more than any medicine I took. And yet, needless to say, I didn't listen to what my body was trying to tell me.
I only got better once I started taking care of my diet and gave up the processed foods that hurt my stomach. Fortunately, as my story shows, you can improve your digestion through the power of a few lifestyle changes.
Here are the rules I started following — and still do today — to heal my gut and ensure happy digestion every day:
1. Add at least 25 grams of fiber to your daily diet.
The standard recommendations are 38 grams of fiber per day for men, and at least 25 for women. It's probably easier than you think to meet those goals: For instance, 1 cup of cooked black beans contains about 15 grams of fiber, more than half of the recommended daily intake for women.
To make sure you're getting your fill, opt for fiber-packed foods like artichokes, raspberries, pears, apples, peas, lentils, beans, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
2. Drink up to keep things moving.
Research shows that the benefits of eating fiber can be severely enhanced by increasing your fluid consumption to at least 1.5 to 2 liters per day, or about eight glasses.
That's because sufficient fluid intake is crucial for the fiber to work properly in your digestive tract.
In order to make sure I'm hitting my liquid goals, I keep a 500ml glass bottle on my desk that I refill at least three times per day. Drinking one or two cups of unsweetened green or herbal tea during the day is also a great way to stay hydrated and get a boost of phytonutrients.
3. Ditch processed carbs for good.
Processed carbs — such as white flour, instant oatmeal, white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and anything made with them — hurt your gut microbiota by creating an imbalance between good and bad bacteria.
Several studies have found that refined sugars can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, and refined grains have been shown to increase the risk of stomach, colorectal, and upper-digestive cancers.
4. Relax with herbal teas.
Herbal teas aid digestion and fight bloating and inflammation. Research shows that the most beneficial teas for digestion are ginger, peppermint, aniseed, fennel, citrus fruits, dandelion, artichoke, melissa, and chamomile.
Specifically, chamomile tea can help relieve indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, and gastrointestinal irritation.
5. Feed your gut good bacteria.
Probiotics (live bacteria) and prebiotics (food for the bacteria) increase the levels of bifidobacteria, or beneficial bacteria, which has been shown to help relieve constipation, reduce digestive disorders, and minimize symptoms of IBS.
To add more probiotics to your diet, fill up on fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt, and kefir. Natural prebiotics include garlic, asparagus, onions, and leeks.
6. Avoid broad-spectrum antibiotics whenever possible.
Research shows that broad-spectrum antibiotics reduce bacterial diversity in the gut, kill beneficial bacteria, and aid the overgrowth and resistance of harmful bacteria.
Frequent intake of antibiotics can lead to a chronic imbalance in the gut, which can trigger gastrointestinal problems. Make sure you're using them only when absolutely necessary.
7. Eat your beets.
I recommend combining beets with apples, carrots, ginger, cucumbers, strawberries, and celery to make a delicious juice.
8. Practice yoga poses.
Yoga has been shown to enhance the circulation around the intestines, decrease symptoms of IBS, improve bowel function, and reduce tension and pain.
I started doing yoga three years ago, and it has been an ally against my inflammation and constipation symptoms ever since. Whenever I experienced pain, forward folds and twists helped me diminish it, and once I started a consistent yoga practice, I found I had significantly fewer problems overall.
I recommend digestion-friendly poses like hands-to-feet pose, triangle pose, cobra pose, seated forward bend pose, fish pose, and locust pose.
9. Embrace leafy greens.
Thanks to their fiber content, leafy greens — like spinach, Swiss chard, and kale — can help regulate your digestion and protect the gut.
Thylakoids, a component in leaves, has also been shown to regulate glucose uptake and help you feel fuller longer, which promotes healthy weight loss. Plus, other studies suggest that chlorophyll in leafy greens decreases colon cancer risk.
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