Digestion and Diet: Overcoming Your Tummy Troubles
Digestion is dependent upon many items beyond the foods you choose to eat and can have positive or negative effects on your digestion. While important, diet is only one piece of the puzzle. Food sensitivities, food intolerances, stress, medications, deficiency of certain enzymes, genes, and gastrointestinal conditions all affect digestion and should be considered.
A universal diet for improved digestion does not exist and is individual to each person. If you know a certain food is hard for you to digest, then don't eat it even if it is a recommended high fiber food or a food recommended to improve digestion. Generally, a fiber intake of 25 g to 35 g each day is recommended to improve digestion. Fiber functions to prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Additionally, fluids are critical for digestion at amounts of a minimum of 2 to 3 liters daily preferably from water. Coffee is recommended for some people with constipation since caffeine stimulates the colon. Probiotics and fiber supplements may assist digestion, but the effects vary from person to person.
Triggers are foods, chemicals and beverages which evoke symptoms of constipation and diarrhea leading to overall digestive discomfort. Other triggers may involve certain medications, genes, lack of digestive enzymes, food intolerance and conditions such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease. Some triggers are controllable and some are not and identifying your triggers can help you to avoid them
Stress occurs in a variety of ways and affects digestion. Minimizing stress and dealing with it appropriately are the best ways to improve digestion. Constipation results with busyness and stressful situations that cause you to forget or delay bowel movements. When this occurs, less water is available to allow for softer stools and further dehydrates the stool making it more difficult to pass. On the other hand, some types of stress cause the opposite effect and increases transit time leading to diarrhea. Stress such as giving a speech or meeting an important deadline can contribute to gastrointestinal distress. Examples of stress-reduction strategies include yoga, breathing, psychotherapy, massage and exercise and should be utilized to help improve gut function.
Exercise improves digestion for some people. Exercise speeds transit time, according to a study in the May 1985 "Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition." However, another study points to mixed results in the December 1989 journal "Gastroenterology" in which exercise improved digestion in five people and slowed transit time in nine others. Overall benefits of exercise far outweigh the negatives, so it would be unhealthy to decrease exercise in order to improve digestion.
Food sensitivities may be contributing to issues with digestion. A food sensitivity involves an immune response from your body in response to an antigen food or chemical. The body responds by eliciting symptoms of bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation and a variety of other digestive symtpoms. Identification of the offending food helps to decrease painful symptoms and improve digestion.
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About the author
Andrea Johnson, MA, RD, CLT is a dietitian specializing in diet therapy for food sensitivities in order to help reduce painful symptoms associated with IBS, migraines and fibromyalgia. Andrea also uses food sensitivity diet therapy to optimize weight loss efforts and enhance sports performance. To learn more and receive free nutrition tips, visit http://www.renewal-nutrition.com.