Many people struggle with digestive issues from time to time, but if you find yourself habitually suffering from an upset stomach, gas, heartburn, nausea, indigestion, or constipation, you may want to make some key changes to your diet so you can boost your digestive system performance.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase your digestive capability is to closely monitor the foods you’re eating. The modern Western diet, loaded with refined carbohydrates, sugars, and high-fat, low-fiber foods with harmful additives, has been linked to the increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity.
The standard Western diet is typically lacking in the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that help power and support all of the body’s organs. In addition, this inferior diet puts a large strain on your digestive system because harmful food additives can stress stomach function since they are difficult to break down and process. In contrast, scientific evidence suggests that a diet high in vitamins and nutrients can help to protect against digestive disorders.
What About Fiber?
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), nine out of ten Americans aren't getting enough in their daily diet.
"Fiber can be confusing, "explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN. "I think many people have experienced tummy trouble when they ate too much fiber and it overwhelmed their digestive system. With a simple strategy of introducing fiber slowly, they can receive all the health benefits without any discomfort."
Fiber is incredibly critical to digestive function. Soluble fiber (which can be dissolved in water) helps absorb water and promotes healthy bowel movements, while insoluble fiber (which cannot be dissolved in water) essentially “scrubs” your digestive tract, keeping digested food moving. Prebiotics, a type of beneficial dietary fiber, helps feed the friendly bacteria in your gut which in turn leads to a healthier digestive system. Fiber can be found in many plant-based foods such as oats, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables. Unfortunately, meat and dairy products contain no fiber at all.
Hydrochloric Acid is Key
If you struggle with your digestion, you might be suffering with the effects of low levels of hydrochloric acid (known as HCL) in your stomach acid. HCL is responsible for breaking down and digesting the food that you eat.
Gastric acid is normally produced within your stomach lining, which is specially formed to be resistant against the powerful acid. This acid is largely made up of hydrochloric acid that has a very low pH. The presence of hydrochloric acid makes it possible to break down proteins and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. HCL is also a critical part of your immune system, keeping infections and diseases at bay.
However, it is possible to be deficient in hydrochloric acid, a condition referred to as hypochlorhydria. This condition makes digesting proteins and other foods very difficult and can lead to symptoms such as nausea, bloating, cramps, or an upset stomach. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to improve your digestion and find relief from these painful symptoms.
Foods that are naturally high in zinc, such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes can help restore proper levels of hydrochloric stomach acid. Additionally, steering clear of processed foods and white sugar as well as fatty and fried foods can help improve your digestive process. Fill your diet with organic fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods to help keep your stomach acid and gut bacteria healthy and thriving.
Enzymes are Amazing
Enzymes are proteins that serve as biological catalysts to accelerate chemical reactions. These powerhouse proteins have been used by humans for centuries in baking, brewing, and in the production of alcohol and cheese. Our ancestors used enzymes such as amylase, protease, and lipase without having an understanding of the biological resonance that these biomolecules can unlock.
The chemical reactions that enzymes catalyze are critical for cellular function and whole-body health. Enzymes and coenzymes form nearly 100,000 chemicals that allow humans to see, hear, feel, move, digest their food, and think. Every cell in our body depends on the reactions catalyzed by metabolic enzymes. Digestive enzymes can be naturally produced in our pancreas and allow important nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body and utilized as energy for our cells.
The Bottom Line
Beneficial changes in your diet and lifestyle can be a huge factor in optimizing your digestive health. You can promote your own best health by filling your diet with fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean, plant-based proteins. And when you manage your stress levels with calming practices along with adequate amounts of exercise, you can experience your own best digestive health.
Jenny Perez is an herbal educator, researcher, and writer who has been immersed in the field of nutrition and botanical medicine for more than 20 years. Jenny has created curriculum, content, and educational materials for Quantum Nutrition Labs, Premier Research Labs, the American Botanical Council, and Bastyr University’s Botanical Medicine Department where she was Adjunct Faculty, Herb Garden Manager, and Director of the Holistic Landscape Design certificate program.