The Best Ways To Support Healthy Digestion Speed, According To Experts
On average, it takes anywhere from 10 hours to three days1 for food to move through your entire digestive system. But if you're feeling a little sluggish or dealing with GI issues, it's possible things have slowed down.
Bloating, an unsettled stomach, and feeling disproportionately full after eating small meals are some of the major signs that your gut could use some extra TLC. Here are expert-backed ways to speed up digestion and get back to feeling like yourself:
Move your body.
Exercise is one of the best ways to get things moving. In an older, yet still relevant, study published in Gut2, researchers reported that daily moderate exercise (in this case, cycling and jogging) may reduce gut transit time by as much as 30%.
But you don't have to stick to these two modalities if they aren't your thing. Here are some other types of exercise you can try:
Go for a walk.
Basic movement, like walking, speeds up digestion by stimulating the muscles3 in your stomach and small intestine, helping move things along. Walking any time of the day is great, but a post-prandial stroll may be especially beneficial.
Research suggests4 that taking a 15 minute, leisurely walk right after eating can help move food through your stomach more quickly. The keyword here is leisurely, though. Going too hard can have the opposite effect.
Try a yoga flow.
There are many yoga poses, like dandasana, janu sirsasana, and even savasana that can help speed up your digestion. Committing to a simple 10-minute sequence each day can physically support digestive processes and encourage elimination. "Yoga is…a key factor in improving digestion, as twisting postures can help to enhance your digestion and encourage your liver and kidneys' detoxification processes," Lee Holmes, registered yoga teacher, gut expert, and author of Heal Your Gut, previously told mbg. "Yoga can also help with bloating, increasing the amount of oxygen to the area."
Yoga can also indirectly speed up digestion by promoting relaxation. When you're relaxed, your nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This calming state, aptly nicknamed "rest and digest," is critical for proper digestion.
Eat something to help.
Some foods, like refined carbohydrates (we're looking at you, sugar) and anything fried, impede digestion, while others keep things moving as they should. Take a look at your plate and make sure these things are on it:
Probiotic-rich foods, or fermented foods, are teeming with good bacteria that support your gut health. Research in 5Applied and Environmental Microbiology5 suggests5 that yogurt—one of the go-to probiotic foods—can speed up digestion, while also supporting the part of the immune system that lives in your gut known as the GALT.
If you don't do dairy, or you just like options, you can, and should, also try kimchi, natto, kefir, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut (FYI: Just 2 tablespoons of raw sauerkraut contain about 1 million colony-forming units [CFUs] of good bacteria).
In addition to a diet rich in gut-supporting foods, a well-formulated probiotic supplement can also be a very helpful option.*
mindbodygreen's probiotic+, for example, contains four targeted probiotic strains that have been clinically shown to support gut health and maintain a variety of key daily functions of the digestive system.* In addition to reducing gas and bloat, these strains also help improve total digestion time (i.e., gut transit time), increasing regularity and promoting healthy bowel movements.*
Fiber is another nonnegotiable for digestion. There are two main types—soluble and insoluble—and while you should get both for overall health, insoluble fiber is the star of the show when it comes to transit time.
"Insoluble fiber is not digested by the body or absorbed into the bloodstream," Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition previously told mbg. "Instead, it forms the weight and bulk of stools in the body, acting as a broom." In other words, insoluble has more of a laxative effect6, pulling water into the stool and pushing things out.
Pay special attention to prebiotic fibers, too. These types of fibers, which you can get from a variety of sources like garlic, onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, and jicama, serve as a food source for probiotics, helping them grow and colonize the gut.
And don't forget to actually chew your food (read: Don't just chomp a couple of times and then swallow). "Not chewing thoroughly causes more work for your stomach, which further impedes the digestive process down the line—it's a negative ripple effect," says functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, M.D. "Aim to chew until your food is liquefied, which is usually about 20 to 30 chews."
Get plenty of fluids
Failing to take in optimal amounts of hydration7 can affect digestion, so it's impossible to keep things moving without drinking plenty of fluids. But that doesn't mean an extra cup of coffee or a sugary lemonade. Stick to these beneficial liquids:
Water is the most essential nutrient you put into your body. It helps you digest your food and absorb nutrients, and then push the waste through your digestive system. Drinking enough water is a surefire way to support digestion, so make sure you're getting what you need daily (9 cups for women and 12.5 cups for men is a good place to start).
Bone broth is a double whammy for digestion. Not only does it keep your gut hydrated, but it also contains gelatin and gut-supporting minerals, electrolytes, and bioactives, like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine.
Stay away from drinking too much caffeine, though. "A cup of coffee is not going to dehydrate you that much," integrative medicine doctor Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., says, "but many cups of coffee without water intake will." A good rule of thumb is to drink an extra cup of water for every cup of coffee you drink.
Sluggish digestion is really uncomfortable, but there are plenty of practical things you can do to speed things up. Filling your plate with fermented and fiber-rich foods, drinking plenty of noncaffeinated fluids, and regularly moving your body (especially after a big meal) are great places to start.
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist specializing in gut health, mood disorders, and functional nutrition. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
She has written twelve books and has had more than 2,000 articles published across various websites. Lindsay currently works full time as a freelance health writer. She truly believes that you can transform your life through food, proper mindset and shared experiences. That's why it's her goal to educate others, while also being open and vulnerable to create real connections with her clients and readers.