By Kayla Abella, Sodexo Dietetic Intern
The way we digest food can have a huge impact not only on our health but our mental wellbeing. If we aren’t digesting food properly we can experience overall discomfort, pain and disruption in our daily lives, and this can lead to feeling isolated and frustrated. What and how much we eat plays a huge role in how our digestive system works. For those who have digestive issues such as heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, gas, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or are in or recovering from an eating disorder, properly nourishing our body and gut is vital to living a happy, healthy life. First off, it’s important to remember that there are two different causes of digestive issues, functional and organic. Functional often result from the digestive system simply not working as it’s supposed to regardless of the digestive tract looking normal. Whereas organic occurs from a structural or physical issue within the digestive tract, which often coming up on tests.
Functional GI issues can sometimes be a direct result of underfueling or low energy availability. This can be a common occurrence among athletes or active individuals who tend to eat less calories than they burn in a day or miss out on key meals and snacks. Disordered eating also falls within this category as the individual is often not consuming enough food or nutrition throughout the day. This can lead to the digestive system to run slower and cause common symptoms of gastroparesis, like gas, bloat, and lead to constipation or diarrhea. This is one way in which what an individual eats can directly affect their digestion.
To improve digestion, it is important to eat adequate calories and well rounded meals and snacks with adequate fiber intake and lots of hydration. Foods that are high in fiber include whole grains, legumes, pears, strawberries, avocados, carrots, beets, and oats. That being said, consuming too much fiber can also pose a problem because fiber can retain a lot of the water in your body making your stool more difficult to pass. The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25-30 grams of fiber daily (for reference, ½ of an avocado is 6 ½ g of fiber) , which will give you just the right amount. Hydration is super important as well because fluids keep everything moving in your digestive system and loosen your stool so it is easier to pass. Just eating enough can often not be easy for someone who is not used to eating enough or suffers from an eating disorder so it is important to consult with a dietitian or gastroenterologist to find the best method for improving fiber intake in your diet.
While the first method of improving digestion is through food, there are also herbs and supplements that can help with improving digestion. In a situation where there is poor digestion, ginger has shown to help improve overall movement in the digestive tract as well as ease symptoms of poor digestion such as nausea and bloat. Another popular herb/supplement surrounding digestion is peppermint oil which has actually been prescribed by gastroenterologists for those with IBS to help with gas and bloat. There are many other supplements that have shown to be effective, such as DGL (a form of licorice) which coats the esophagus to help ease heartburn symptoms. Although some supplements have been noted to be helpful for gastrointestinal issues, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to function digestive issues some symptoms stem initially from limited availability of energy to run the digestive system. When this is the case, a supplement will likely not address these concerns until adequate energy is available to the body. Eating for your body and for your digestive system is the key to finding relief to any digestive troubles you may be having.
As always make sure you consult with a doctor and registered dietitian if you are having digestive troubles so you can determine the cause and find the best method for treating them and easing your symptoms. Want more tips and tricks on how to confidently fuel your body and optimize your overall health? Follow me on Instagram @BeBalanced.Dietitian.
Fodmaps and irritable bowel syndrome. About FODMAPs and IBS | Monash FODMAP – Monash Fodmap. (n.d.). https://www.monashfodmap.com/about-fodmap-and-ibs/.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, January 6). How to add more fiber to your diet. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983.
Silver, N. (2021, June 1). Can you USE Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) to TREAT Acid Reflux? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/dgl-for-acid-reflux#takeaway.