Diet for ongoing digestive health

Published February 22, 2015

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Your digestive health is often a reflection of what you put into your body. If you place emphasis on a diet rich in fiber and essential nutrients, coupled with good eating habits, it’ll help the digestive process to work well. On the other hand, eating poorly can increase the risk of digestive problems.

Here are some diet tips to ensure ongoing digestive health at every age:

  • Focus on wholefoods – Focus on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, legumes, and raw nuts and seeds. These foods usually always contain higher levels of nutrients than packaged and processed foods, helping to ensure your body, including the digestive system, functions optimally.
  • Include foods high in fiber – Fiber encourages the passage of material along the digestive tract and helps ensure regular bowel movements. Adults should aim to consume approximately 30g of fiber daily, which is found in plant foods. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains,1 such as brown rice, spelt, rye, barley, oats and quinoa.
  • Drink plenty of water – Water is important for digestive health as it helps to dissolve some important nutrients, encourages the passage of waste through the digestive system and helps soften stools.1 Most adults should aim to drink about 2L of water each day. Fruit, vegetable juices, tea and soups also count towards your daily water intake.
  • Limit sugar intake – Diets high in sugar may slow the transit of bowel content through the digestive tract and increase bacterial fermentation in the gut.2
  • Moderate alcohol intake – Consuming excessive alcohol may have negative effects on digestive health as it can inflame the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to symptoms of heartburn.1
  • Regulate caffeine consumption – Coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks, like alcohol, can irritate the stomach and lead to symptoms of indigestion and heartburn in some people.3
  • Include probiotic-rich foods – Probiotics are good bacteria that help populate the good bacteria in the digestive tract to balance gut flora and support digestive health. Some fermented foods contain probiotics and should be incorporated into a healthy diet. These include yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.4
  • Eat prebiotic foods – To support the growth of good bacteria in the gut, include foods that are rich in prebiotics such as FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides) and GOS (galactooligosaccharides). Prebiotic-containing foods include bananas, leeks, garlic, onions, asparagus and soybeans.4
  • Moderate fat intake – Include sources of omega 3 essential fatty acids from fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, and moderate intake of saturated fat from animal products as it can make the digestive system sluggish and may aggravate digestive problems.1
  • Choose foods that support healthy digestion – Some foods have a beneficial effect on digestion, for example:
    • Ginger may help relieve nausea and flatulence
    • Fenugreek seeds may soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract
    • Peppermint may help to relieve digestive discomfort
    • Pineapple and papaya contain digestive enzymes, which can support digestive processes

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