Ask Canadians to rate their overall health and they tend to have a pretty good idea of how they would answer. But ask them to rate their digestive health... and some would be left scratching their heads.
What does healthy digestion look like? This isn't something we typically talk about, even with our closest friends and family members... and for many Canadians, not even our doctors. It's no wonder we can't spot healthy digestion when we see it.
If you're suffering from sluggish digestion (also known as constipation), take a look at your diet and lifestyle. There could be some areas for improvement.
Note that if you have digestive issues that last longer than two weeks, talk to your doctor. You will want to get that looked at to make sure there isn't anything else going on. Also keep in mind that this is general advice and for individualized advice, speak to a dietitian one-on-one.
Here are my five tips on what to eat to promote healthy digestion:
1. Get 20-30 grams of fibre every day
Most Canadians are only getting half of the fibre they need in a day. Your digestive system needs fibre to help push waste out. Fibre essentially supports your body's natural "detox" and keeps your digestive tract functioning well.
To get more fibre, try to include some of the following fibre-rich foods at each of your meals and snacks:
Vegetables: broccoli, pumpkin, collard greens, brussels sprouts and artichokes, sweet potatoes (with skin), peas and corn
Fruit: dried fruit (apricots, raisins), berries, pears, apples, oranges
Whole grains: bran cereal, farro, teff, millet, oatmeal, barley, whole grain bread
Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, split peas, chickpeas
Nuts: almonds, pistachios, pecans
Seeds: flax, hemp, chia, pumpkin
Here are a few of my favourite fibre-rich recipes to get you started:
Trail Mix Breakfast Cookies contain psyllium fibre, a type of soluble fibre, along with whole-grain oats, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit.
Coconut Chia Puddingcontains chia, which is rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre.
Shawarma Salad Plate contains lentils, plenty of vegetables and whole-grain pita.
2. Prioritize soluble fibre sources
Soluble fibre is a type of fibre that absorbs water to form a gel. This type of fibre can help with both constipation and diarrhea. Soluble fibre also traps LDL cholesterol in your blood, which helps to lower your bad cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease. As if that weren't enough, soluble fibre also helps control blood sugar levels for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
You can get soluble fibre from fruits such as apples, pears, strawberries and oranges. Barley, oats, brussels sprouts and beans are also rich in soluble fibre.
3. Drink 8-10 cups of fluid a day
We hear it all the time: your body is mostly water. Not only do you need plenty of water for overall health, fluids also help flush your body of waste — another natural way to detox safely.
Aim for 8-10 cups of fluids every day. This should be mostly water but can also include juices, milk, soup and other beverages at room temperature. Just keep an eye on added sugars and caffeine and try to keep these to a minimum.
To make your water taste better, try my recipes for Fruit and Herb-Infused Water.
4. Get probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics are a hot topic for good reason. These good bacteria can help crowd out the bacteria in your digestive tract that get in the way of healthy digestion.
Foods rich in probiotics:
Prebiotics are foods that fuel the probiotics so they can thrive.
Foods rich in prebiotics:
- whole-grain bread
5. Eat regularly (and get your other habits more regular)
Your digestive system should work like clockwork if you're keeping your other habits consistent.
Try to eat regularly throughout the day — every four hours or so is a good guideline. Include fibre-rich foods in each meal and snack along with a source of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, beans or nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds.
It's also best for your overall health and digestive routine if you get up and go to bed at the same time each day.
Make time for some regular exercise most days of the week. Choose something you enjoy and do it with a friend — you're more likely to stick with it!
Managing stress is another step you can take to improve your digestive health and your overall health. Include time for friends and family in your week, but also schedule in some alone time to recharge. Yoga and meditation are fantastic stress-relievers worth trying.
If you've practiced these five steps and you're still having trouble with constipation, talk to your healthcare provider about laxatives that can provide dependable and effective relief. You can also get more tips on how to boost your gut health from Canadian Living.
How do you take care of your digestive health? Share in the comments below and join the conversation on Facebook!
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