A healthy diet doesn’t do you much good if your organs aren’t digesting your food properly. Performance nutrients like proteins and carbohydrates rely on digestive enzymes to break down your food, and fuel your workouts. Compromised digestion can come from a variety of things, factors in your control and otherwise. Whether the process causes discomfort or is just slower than it should be, there’s a scientific explanation and a path to improvement. With a few supplemental habits, you can adjust your routine and help your organs get the most out of what you’re eating.
A whopping 74 percent of Americans suffer from some kind of digestive issue or gastrointestinal discomfort, according to a Fox News survey. That can mean diarrhea, gas, bloating or just general abdominal pain.
Chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease occur from an unknown origin and resist treatment, and certain intolerances, like lactose and gluten, are primarily genetic. But a majority of other cases are influenced by the increasingly poor quality of the foods we eat, according to Cell Science Systems. As demand for certain foods increases nationwide, industries try to speed up the manufacturing process and prioritize mass distribution over quality. These practices can lead to contaminated soil, spoilage, and toxic chemicals ending up on our pantry shelf.
Toxins like these can cause white blood cells to interact with your gut which leads to inflammation, swelling, or irritation in the intestines. But a majority of the time, as soon as the irritating food is eliminated, the digestive issues subside. Avoiding these triggers can be as easy as taking a second look at your diet and finding better options.
Digestive enzymes naturally occur in the body and are produced by the pancreas, but we don’t make nearly enough, according to BodyBuilding.com. The rest we consume through food or through oral supplements to keep our digestive tract moving. Foods like papaya, pineapple, mango, leafy greens, avocado, and sauerkraut are full of these vital enzymes.
Fiber can be your greatest asset or biggest downfall when it comes to your digestion. Fiber is classified as a “non-nutrient” because it isn’t absorbed by the body at all, according to Muscle and Performance. It’s ingested and passes through the intestines completely in tact. We need it in our diet because it serves as a cleaning agent, helping to detox the organs of buildup so we can properly absorb vitamins and minerals. But fiber has its limits. Too much fiber can lead to stomach pain, constipation, and embarrassing gas.
The healthy breakdown of food isn’t all about the food itself. There are steps you can take between meals to prep your body for the nutrients ahead of time.
Apple cider vinegar is the latest health and fitness craze, but it’s not all gossip. Though the taste takes some getting used to, there are endless benefits to this acidic additive. Drinking a tablespoon a day helps balance your pH levels, promotes healthy digestion, aids heart health, detoxifies your organs, breaks down fat in your midsection, fights toxic bacteria, strengthens immunity, protects body tissues, and even slows the aging process, according to Barrier Island Organics.
Another natural remedy for a happy tummy involves two simple ingredients: water and lemon juice. Agni is the metabolic fire that kicks off your digestive system when you’re first waking up, according to Healthline. The sour lemon taste has been shown to induce the agni like the revving of an engine. Sipping on some warm lemon water in the morning not only gets your body ready for upcoming meals, but it also counters weight gain and can clear up your skin.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color and has been used as a medicinal herb for generations, according to Healthline. Turmeric fights inflammation and chronic diseases, slows aging, improves brain function, and can even treat depression. The best turmeric supplements contain curcumin and black pepper, which makes the supplement that much more effective. Thankfully, if you’re not a curry fan, the turmeric is conveniently sold in tasteless pill form.
Ginger supplements belong to the same family as turmeric and can have similar effects: boosting digestion and brain function. But there’s something to ginger that’s unlike anything else. The plant-based compound contains bioactive ingredients that can heal muscle soreness, soothe female menstrual and pregnancy-related pain, and even cure the common cold, according to Healthline. If you want to add to your morning lemon water, ginger is an effective ingredient to help start your day off on the right foot.
Probiotics are a not-so-natural remedy and by many accounts, could be considered more pharmaceutical. Probiotic supplements are referred to as “good bacteria” that aid healthy digestion with foods that normally cause you trouble, but not everyone’s body calls for them, according to Harvard Health. A good example is when those with lactose sensitivity take a probiotic ahead of time when they have a hankering for ice cream. While probiotics can be the best course of treatment for an unbalanced digestive tract, they can be harmful for people without any kind of deficiency. Our bodies naturally produce digestive bacteria and disrupting this intestinal environment can have its consequences. It’s always recommended that you consult a physician before you start taking any kind of probiotic, because they are closer to drugs than supplements.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle means not only eating whole, natural foods, but also enjoying what you eat. Enjoying what you eat means making sure that everything goes down smoothly. What one person can digest without a problem may cause a number of issues for you so it’s important to nail down what your body likes and dislikes. With the wide array of nutritional options available, your paths to a well rounded diet are endless, no matter your limitations. Whether it's swapping out fruits and vegetables, or throwing in some natural remedies, doing what it takes to promote a happy tummy should always be a priority.
Take it from me
I’ve been lucky in the fact that my digestion has never really been a problem. A really cheesy burger or giant scoop of mac & cheese might stir my stomach at first, but generally I don’t experience any issues. I did cause myself a bit of discomfort in the beginning of my health journey by eating way too much fiber. I worried about macronutrients, focusing on carbs and fats, and accidentally let fiber intake fall to the wayside. With a closer look, I realized I was eating way too much on a daily basis and causing myself unnecessary side effects. I naturally eat fibrous foods because I love fruit and dense carbs like oatmeal so I have to go out of my way to keep my intake down.
Just because I don’t have naturally occuring problems, doesn’t mean prevention isn’t important. I’m very routine oriented, so adding a million new steps to my morning routine was more exciting for me than overwhelming. I drink warm lemon water as soon as I wake up, followed by a quick turmeric-curcumin tablet. Before I leave the house for the day, I choke down the dreaded apple cider vinegar shot. It’s not always tasty, but knowing I’m doing everything I can to look and feel my best is worth it.