Disorders of the digestive tract comprise a spectrum of gastrointestinal and hepato-biliary diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people in the United States. The emotional burden on people living with digestive diseases and their families is beyond measure. If you suffer from a gastrointestinal condition, you should know that there are ways to improve your digestive health and, consequently, your quality of life.
Gastrointestinal disorders are a growing problem
Digestive health issues are a growing problem in the United States, and research by the Foundation of the American Gastroenterological Association’s (AGA) indicates that seven out of 10 people experience digestive health issues. Nearly half of all Americans report that digestive problems negatively affect their day-to-day lives and can even be fatal.
Symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders
In addition to the emotional toil, if you are suffering with gastrointestinal health issues, you are also likely struggling with your weight and frequently experience irregularity, nausea, bloating, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea, heartburn or gas. Worse, digestive conditions can also disrupt your sleep patterns and prevent you from working, exercising or socializing with friends.
Guidelines for digestive health
Through simple lifestyle changes, you can achieve optimal digestive health and reduce digestive discomfort. In conjunction with World Digestive Health Day on May 29, the World Gastroenterology Organization (WGO) has set forth the following new guidelines to help you achieve gastrointestinal health. They include:
1. Eat small, frequent meals. To achieve optimal digestion, the AGA and top nutrition associations around the world recommend eating 4 to 5 small meals per day without increasing overall caloric intake.
2. Include foods rich in fiber. Fiber is important for the health of the digestive system and can be found in fruits, raw vegetables, whole grains and cereals, nuts, and beans.
3. Consume fish 3 to 5 times per week. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that can improve digestive abnormalities by stabilizing cell walls, reducing inflammation and restoring balance. Try some new summer seafood recipes.
4. Reduce intake of fried, fattening foods. Cutting back on greasy, fried foods that are high in fat and hard to digest will reduce your stomach’s workload.
5. Incorporate fermented dairy products into your diet. Certain probiotics, or the good bacteria that is found in dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese, may improve intestinal function and overall digestive health and benefit health conditions such as gastroenteritis, irregularity, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.
6. Select lean meats. Leaner cuts of pork, chicken and turkey that contain less fat may improve digestive comfort.
7. Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids are needed to alleviate and prevent constipation and ease digestion of foods through the digestive tract. A good way to make sure you are getting enough fluids is to drink a glass of water with every meal. If you aren’t hip on plain water, try vitamin-fortified flavored water.
8. Don’t rush eating. Eating slowly and chewing food properly encourages a “full” feeling, which prevents the overeating that can upset the digestive tract.
9. Exercise regularly and abstain from smoking. While most people know that exercise offers overall health benefits, most people don’t know that it’s good for your digestive tract, too. Daily physical activity improves the natural rhythm of the digestive system and assists in moving food through the digestive tract.
10. Maintain a healthy body weight. According to the AGA, a Body Mass Index that indicates obesity as well as unintentional weight loss may have a negative impact on digestive health.