New opportunities, new year, new beginnings. There's something refreshing and promising about starting a new year, and what lies ahead. Beginnings stir hope and imaginative dreams, goals, and aspirations about the future. Whether you are just beginning your gut healing journey, or if you are in "maintenance mode" from the progress you have already made with your digestive health, my tips below will help foster a healthy (or healthier!) GI tract. As you read the list, give yourself kudos for what you already implement, and consider a new change that you can realistically add to your list of healthy habits in 2019 and beyond!
1. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods. Foods in their natural state usually provide more fiber and less sugar, which will help foster healthier gut flora than processed food.
2. Consider eliminating dairy for 14 days as an experiment. Most milk products are a source of lactose and casein, two compounds found in dairy which are difficult for the body to digest. Each dairy product varies in its content of lactose and casein, so if you notice an improvement in your digestion after removing dairy, consider slowly reintroducing low-processed dairy options, one at a time, to assess your tolerance. Dose and frequency of consumption are also important factors with dairy tolerance.
3. Drink most of your water in between meals, not with meals. Adequate stomach acid is important for proper nutrient absorption from food, so drinking the majority of your water around mealtime will help prevent dilution of crucial stomach acid for healthy digestion (and elimination!).
4. Take the time to chew your food. Be present when you eat and avoid rushing while eating. Swallowing large intact food particles will inhibit nutrient absorption and place a larger burden on your digestive tract than necessary.
5. Avoiding snacking after eating dinner. Stomach motility is reduced at nighttime, so avoiding late night snacking will set you up for a better night's sleep, and better elimination the next day.
6. Add more flavonoids to your cuisine! Flavonoids have been shown to help foster a healthy GI tract. Some good flavonoid sources include: broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, red grapes, apple skin, blueberries, dark chocolate (the darker the better), green tea, and rooibos tea.
7. Space out your meals. Separating your meals and snacks by at least a 3-hour window will help the migrating motor complex to take effect. These naturally-occurring "cleansing waves" in your digestive tract occur only in between meals, so spacing out your meals and snacks appropriately will help prevent bacterial buildup in the small intestine, which can help prevent bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.
8. Eat fiber wisely. Adequate fiber from natural dietary sources (not fiber pills and powders) is important for healthy gut flora, but too much of a good thing isn't necessarily better. A general rule of thumb is to aim for about 15 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. If you need a 2,500 diet for your energy demands, a general fiber target could equate to about 38 grams of fiber per day.
9. Consider drinking a warm beverage on an empty stomach in the morning. This can help activate a bowel movement before eating breakfast. Warm lemon water, rooibos tea, and 100% peppermint tea are some of my personal go-to options.
10. Try eating papaya. This tropical fruit contains papain, an enzyme which enhances digestion and can help lessen reflux. This is one of my favorite fruits, yum!
Brain-Gut Health - Overwhelming evidence supports the strong relationship between gut and brain health. Consider implementing a "top down" approach to your gut healing game plan.
11. Think positively. You can't have a healthy gut if you view the glass of life as half empty.
12. Eat more cold-water, fatty fish for omega DHA and EPA for brain (and gut) health. Some of my personal favorites include: halibut, cod, herring, sardines, and salmon.
13. Get enough sleep for brain and gut recovery. 7-9 hours per night is the optimal window of sleep for most people. In general, the more demands you put on your body, the more sleep you need.
14. Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. Caffeine is a neurostimulant and can overactive the nervous system in the GI tract. This past spring, I decided to cut out all caffeine sources from my diet and my digestion has benefitted greatly from it. Even my energy level is better sustained without caffeine! If you decide to nix the caffeine too, be sure to progressively wean off over a 14-day period so you don't experience withdrawal symptoms.
15. Engage in prayer and mediation. These activities help initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is imperative for healthy digestion (think of the phrase "rest and digest"). On a personal note, the mornings I take the time to pray to God (connecting with my Creator) and implement deep breathing exercises with mental imagery (connecting with my body), my digestion is always better - 100% of the time.
16. Laugh. It really is the best medicine!
17. Surround yourself with positive people (see tip #11 above).
18. Get in regular, daily physical activity that you enjoy. A study found that exercise helps increase the diversity of gut flora. You can read more here.
19. Enjoy life, and get fresh air every day!
Did any particular tip above inspire you to make a proactive change in the year ahead for your digestive wellness? If so, I'd love to hear, so please let me know!