Rousseau said happiness is all about a good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion. Some people then are born happy. For most others, good digestion is all about good food practices. A few precious slips and they are back to heaviness, bloating, and heartburn, the usual symptoms of poor digestion.
So if you aren’t part of the first group, it’s time to ask yourself the following questions: are you eating the right foods? Are you taking the right herbs? Are you following the right routine? In short, are you doing everything you can to help this complex multi-step process?
Note: When we say right, we mean that which is right for you, not just anything known to improve digestion. For instance, ginger can improve your digestion if you tend to feel full longer but worsen it if you are prone to heartburn and heat rashes.
1. Eat Natural Foods
No matter what your excuse is (strapped for time, just this once, just when I’m stressed, I digest everything), refined carbs, sugary treats, and trans-fat-filled foods are not right for you. They may have some nutrients but not enough to justify the calorie load and definitely not enough to keep your gut bacteria happy.
Plan your meals according to your body type.
- Light and Quick: Eat warm, filling, moist, sweet, sour, salty, moderately spicy foods.
- Slow and Steady: Eat more warm, light, dry, spicy, mildly astringent, and mildly bitter foods.
- Intense: Eat more cool, filling, dry, sweet, bitter, astringent, mildly spicy foods.
Choose whole plant foods, grass-fed dairy, organically farmed poultry, and wild-caught fish which have following nutrient groups, and you’re good to go.
Fiber to Keep Yourself Regular
Fiber comes in two types, soluble (anything you could dissolve in water) and insoluble (fruit peels, grain husk). Soluble fiber increases nutrient absorption, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stools.
- Soluble fiber: carrots, apples, apricots, flax seeds, sunflower seeds
- Insoluble fiber: okra, apple with peel
Tip: When you feel bloated and gassy, eat more insoluble fiber and cut down on prebiotic soluble fiber (onions and bananas). Avoid insoluble fiber if you have a diarrhea attack.
Prebiotics and Probiotics for a Healthy Gut
Your gut is teeming with bacteria, some of which help in digestion, immunity, and weight management. These are the so-called good bacteria. Feed them with prebiotics (some soluble fibers) and probiotics (fermented food).
- Prebiotics: Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, apples, oats, and flax seeds.
- Probiotics: buttermilk, yogurt (diluted for slow and steady and intense metabolic personalities)
Tip: Beware. Bad habits like smoking, boozing excessively, or staying sedentary can increase the number of harmful bacteria.
Healthy Fats to Keep Off Inflammation
In the right amount, good fats (especially omega-3 fats in nuts, seeds, and fatty fishes) increase your satisfaction after a meal, transport the nutrients, and prevent inflammation in the digestive tract (gastritis is an inflammatory condition). Examples of fats good for all body types include ghee, flax seeds, sunflower seeds.
Tip: The devil lies in the dosage. No matter how good a fat is, you need to watch the amount.
Herbs to Digest Better
Ever noticed the bowls of mouth fresheners they serve with your food bill at an Indian or Pakistani restaurant? They are also efficient digestive aids. Common herbs for good digestion include cardamom, coriander, fennel, haritaki, and triphala.
Tip: One good way to have the edible digestive herbs is to use them as condiments. Or make a tea with them.
Enough Water to Keep the Juices Flowing
Most people go by the standard 8 glasses of water a day, but let your thirst signals guide you. Drinking water when you are not thirsty or right after a meal don’t help. And you don’t need to depend on only water. Herbal teas and juicy fruits (apples, grapes) will do just as well.
Tip: Begin your day with a glass of hot water (tepid if you have an intense personality). Drink warm water through the day.
2. Follow a Routine
Do you usually feel hungry around noon every day? Well, that’s your biological clock (circadian rhythm) telling you it’s time to eat. If you take the cues from your biological clock, you’ll see there’s a right time for everything from sleeping to eating. The times vary only slightly for each metabolic personality. Lunch should be the main meal of the day and definitely had between 10 am and 2 pm. Have the last meal of the day before it gets dark. It allows your body to accumulate whatever it has absorbed through the day and prepare for rest.
- Light and Quick: You need to eat several times in a day to avoid your energy from dipping. Keep the snacks small and made of easily digestible energy-yielding foods. Eat a small breakfast between 6 and 8 in the morning. Follow it up with a small mid-morning snack of fruits and nuts between 8 and 10 am. Eat a well-cooked, balanced lunch between 12 and 2 pm. Snack again between 2 and 4 pm. Eat a small dinner between 5 pm and dusk.
- Slow and Steady: You can live well on just two square meals in the day since you conserve energy well. On top of that, you are prone to feeling full. Overeating can quickly lead to lethargy, sluggishness, and eventually obesity and metabolic disorders. Have a small breakfast around 8 am. Keep a gap of three or four hours and eat your lunch between 11 am and 2 pm. End with a small dinner between 5 and 6 pm.
- Intense: You need three good meals a day to keep you charged through the day. Eat a small breakfast between 6 and 9 am. Have a big lunch at 12. Eat a small dinner at 5 pm or before dusk.
Remember, eating at the right times will not really help unless you readjust your entire schedule. Staying awake beyond 10 pm can make both light and quick energy-predominant and intense energy-predominant people hungry and affect their sleep. Fix your sleep routine as well.
3. Eat Slowly, Eat Mindfully, Chew Well
It’s not just what you eat, it’s also how you eat it. If you are guilty of eating on the go, watching TV or reading while eating, or gulping down food in a hurry, stop. Digestion begins in the mouth as soon as your food gets mixed with saliva and creates a food bolus. So to absorb all the nutrients your food is offering you, chew it well to break it down and allow the digestive juices to act evenly on it. Wait for it to reach a porridge-like consistency before you swallow it. Chewing well needs you to be slow and thorough with your food. Eating slowly also helps you control food portions. In any case, if you are mindful of what you are eating, you can’t overeat, not even if you are enjoying the food. Savoring the smell, texture, taste, and aftertaste of each morsel makes you feel satiated sooner. Avoid distractions.
4. Stay Active
Staying active is good not just for your bones and brain health but also your digestion, especially if you have a predominantly slow and steady energy. In addition to staying active through the day, take a 15-min short walk after your main meals. It can get the food moving smoothly through the digestive tract, keep your blood glucose levels balanced, and regularize your bowel movements. New research points out that exercise can increase good bacteria in your gut, which in turn can improve your metabolism. Yoga asanas good for digestion include leg lifts and peacock pose.
5. Manage Stress
No matter what your metabolic personality, stress can have adverse reactions on your digestion. You have probably experienced it already – recall the nausea before a test or the heartburn when worried. Your gut has an intricate and complex network of nerves (enteric nervous system) that gives different signals when under stress than in normal circumstances. Chronic stress can also trigger inflammation in your digestive tract. This is why indigestion and bloating are common concerns in people with depression and anxiety. This is also why you shouldn’t eat when stressed or in the throes of any negative emotion. Since daily stress is a given, spend some dedicated time to unwind and relax yourself through deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, and other activities.
Seek Help When It’s Serious
Occasional symptoms of indigestion are normal for almost everyone. But if the symptoms below have persisted for a long time, showing up every now and then, it is possible you suffer from a digestive disorder already. A diagnosis is required since gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) have overlapping symptoms.
- Bloating after a meal
- Excessive belching
- Irregular bowel movements, constipation or loose stools
- Poor focus
- Heartburn and acid reflux (together with the other problems or independently)
GERD and gastritis, a digestion problem more common to intense metabolic personalities, can be cured with a proper diet and supplements. IBS, which is seen mainly in people with an imbalance in the light and quick energy, too can be managed. Flare-ups can also be prevented with herbs like turmeric, ginger, and fennel, which can even supplement conventional medicines. But alongside those symptoms, if you also experience the following symptoms, you may have IBD, a disorder caused by an imbalance in the intense functional energy.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Bloody or black stools
- Inflammation in the joints
IBD is more serious and trickier as it is a structural disorder often induced by an immune system malfunction. It requires diet modification, conventional medicine and, sometimes, even surgery. You may also take herbal supplements containing aloe vera, licorice, and turmeric to reduce the inflammation. Ashwagandha and guggul are also being studied for their immunomodulatory effect on ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, the two types of IBD.