So you load up on smoothies, make sure to eat your greens, and limit sugar for special occasions (yes, a Ben & Jerry’s binge on a random Tuesday night totally counts as “special”), but you still have digestive issues? I’m not surprised: 61 percent of Americans reported experiencing at least one gastrointestinal problem in the span of a week, according to a study of over 71,000 people. Whether it’s heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea, digestive drama is something that often goes unexplained or untreated.
Of course, if you experience symptoms that persist or feel abnormal, talk to your doctor about a root cause and treatment plan. But since so many of us experience a random stomach ache or some indigestion here and there, I polled nutritionists for their tips on dealing with the occasional digestive issue and how to support digestion overall. Read on for nutritionists’ secrets for optimal digestion and better gut health (bye, bye bloat!).
“My 2 top wellness weapons for better digestion are:
Hydration: I aim to drink 60+ ounces a day. It helps to prevent constipation and bloat, and keeps me feeling more energized. Sometimes, I drop frozen berries in my water for a little flavor (they also make great “ice cubes”)
Taking a probiotic. Probiotics are a huge part of my wellness routine. They promote the growth of the good bacteria in the gut, which promotes motility, meaning it helps keep you regular. A women’s probiotic is specifically beneficial because it also works to help combat UTI’s and yeast infections.” — Brigitte Zeitlin, Registered Dietitian and Founder of BZ Nutrition
“Before each meal, I do a few rounds of deep breaths (for about a minute) to trigger my parasympathetic nervous system, known as the ‘rest and digest’ nervous system, which helps us digest food properly. This also reminds me to practice mindful eating throughout the meal, which not only supports digestion, but also guides you to become more aware of what you’re eating, why you’re eating, how you’re eating, and how you feel as a result of eating. All of that information about your eating habits, beliefs, thoughts, and experiences with food helps you better understand what’s best for your unique body, so you can feel fully confident in how you’re nourishing yourself.” — McKel Kooienga, MS, RD, LDN, Author and Founder of Nutrition Stripped
“Keep moving! Getting in steps throughout the day (instead of sitting for eight hours straight) helps food move through the body and keeps you regular. Set a reminder on your phone to get up and move every hour or so.” — Becca McVicker, MS, RD, LD, CPT
“You are not what you eat, you are what you digest! Before most meals, I take a digestive enzyme supplement. Digestive enzymes help break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but they also support optimal nutrient absorption and can help reduce gas and bloating. I also aim to eat a predominantly plant-based diet rich in fibrous, whole foods, because they help build good bacteria. For example, I love adding frozen cauliflower and avocado to my morning smoothies.” — Megan Roosevelt, RDN, Founder of Healthy Grocery Girl
“As a women’s health dietitian who counsels people with hormone-related disorders, I talk a lot about gut health, which includes supporting digestion. Optimizing gut health is one of the many keys to keeping hormones happy and healthy. An eating routine consisting of a variety of foods can help diversify your microbiota, which is wonderful for your digestion and overall health.” — Valerie Agyeman, RD, Women’s Health Dietitian, and Founder of Flourish Heights
“The more lemon water you can drink, the better, especially first thing when you wake up. I squeeze fresh lemon in warm water because of its alkalizing effect on the body and its ability to help to neutralize toxic buildup. It’s also an Ayurvedic practice, which sets the day up for success with healthy eating. Plus, the fresh smell of lemon lifts the senses, which is a wonderful way to start the day.” — Cindy Kasindorf, Holistic Nutritionist and Founder of Remedy Organics
“Our digestion actually begins with the smell of the food, whether it’s cooking or steaming on a plate in front of us. Our bodies start responding and preparing to digest from our livers to our stomachs, so it’s really important to eat as slowly as possible. Good digestion improves our nutrient absorption, and we don’t want to waste all the good foods we are eating. My other favorite ways to help get digestion back on track are:
- Starting my day with lemon water or diluted apple cider vinegar
- Adding a multi-strain probiotic to my plan
- Taking a few minutes before meals to be mindful (prayer and deep breathing)
- Eating five colors a day along with combining my macros”
— Cara Clark, Certified Sports & Clinical Nutritionist and Author
“My tip for better digestion is something most people forget about doing, especially when they are extra hungry or rushing: chewing. Chewing food is so important to the digestive process. When we chew our food well (about 32 times before swallowing), it gets broken down into smaller pieces, making it easier to digest and absorb nutrients. Saliva contains certain digestive enzymes to improve the digestion of carbohydrates, and gets released when chewing.” — Mary Ellen Valverde, Licensed Nutritionist MS, CNS LDN
“If I’m having any kind of GI issues, I tend to opt for ginger. I like having tea which helps with digestion, and sometimes I make a ‘shot’ of fresh ginger blended with orange juice. Other foods that will help are probiotics like yogurt or other fermented foods. And water! Many people forget to drink enough water during the day.” — Shana Spence, MS, RDN, CDN, Founder of The Nutrition Tea
“While a lot of factors play a role in good gut health, one of the key factors is fiber. Papaya is loaded with fiber, as well as nutrients like lutein and vitamin C, and contain an enzyme called papain, which helps digestion and the breakdown of proteins. All of these nutrients aid with bowel regularity and help prevent constipation and bloating, making papaya an ideal food for digestive health.” — Tejal Pathak, Registered Dietitian, Clinical Practitioner, and Education Specialist
“Practice the five F’s to healthy digestion: fully chew (digestion begins in your mouth), fiber (aim for 30g of fiber a day), fluids (we need about half our body weight in ounces per day), friendly bacteria (which help keep digestive tract healthy), and fitness (exercise helps keep you regular). Also, eat foods with ginger and peppermint. They help calm and soothe the gut for better digestion and less bloating.” — Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, Author and Daily Harvest Nutritionist
“By chewing more (and more mindfully) you’re likely to swallow less air which can contribute to bloating and burping during meals. Also, you might have heard that eating adequate fiber (25-30 grams per day) helps support healthy digestion, but just a reminder, when you increase your fiber consumption, you also need to increase your water intake. If you’re not used to consuming high-fiber foods, take it slow and work your way up to avoid overloading on fiber. While supplements are not the direct answer to GI or digestion issues, they’re good for temporary relief. When it comes to bloating and excess gas, I’m a big fan of Hilma’s Gas Relief blend made from ingredients like caraway seeds, fennel, and peppermint leaves.” — May Zhu, RDN, LDN, Founder of Nutrition Happens
“Digestive bitters have been used for hundreds of years to help prepare the body to digest and assimilate food. Taking bitters can be the difference between feeling content and feeling bloated after meals. For years, I watched my patients and loved ones struggle with digestion, so I formulated a bitters tincture that combines full-spectrum hemp extract with organic botanicals (like dandelion root, bitter fennel, ginger, etc.) to decrease bloating and support the digestive tract.” — Dr. Kristi Wrightson, ND, Registered Dietician and Naturopathic Doctor
“A few of my tips for improving digestion are:
Eat high-fiber foods: among many other health benefits, fiber can help support digestive health and regularity. Try beans, lentils, nuts, oatmeal, whole grain products, fruit, and vegetables with the skin.
Stay hydrated: adequate hydration helps support digestion as your body breaks down the food that you have eaten. It’s also especially important to focus on getting enough fluids in as you increase fiber in your diet to make sure your digestion stays regular.
Add fermented products to your diet: fermented foods (also referred to as cultured foods) contain healthy bacterial strains that can support and promote a healthy gut and digestive tract. A few of my favorite cultured products to include in my own diet are kefir and greek yogurt with live and active cultures.
Get active: a sedentary lifestyle can cause digestion disruption, so an easy way to support healthy digestion is by staying active.” — Lauren Twigge MCN, RDN, LD
Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments or routines. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.