Keeping your digestive system in top working condition comes with many benefits, such as:
- Converting what we eat and drink into energy — for your mind and body
- Helping your immune system — so you can fight illness and infection
- Healing — so you can recover from injury
But there’s more reason to maintain a healthy digestive system: According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, up to 42% of digestive diseases are preventable. While we can’t change some factors (like our genetic makeup), we can stick to a few lifestyle habits that can help us manage our digestive health.
Smart strategies include:
- Lose excess weight. Obesity can raise your risk of developing Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or some cancers — including stomach and colorectal cancer. But losing weight may reduce the symptoms of some conditions and prevent others from progressing.
- Eat well. Include lean meats and fish, fibre, pre and probiotics and drink plenty of water. Avoid high-fat foods and limit caffeine, alcohol and sweetened beverages.
- Get regular exercise. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise every week.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can cause harm to all areas of your digestive system.
- Manage stress. Stress can trigger the symptoms of some conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Passing gas and other digestive embarrassments
Schoolyard jokes aside, a poor digestive system is no laughing matter. If you’re tired of being uncomfortable (and embarrassed) because of burping, bloating or passing gas, here’s what you need to know.
Change what you eat. If chugging carbonated beverages and snacking on high-fat foods are daily rituals, you may want to consider modifying your diet.
- Milk and milk products such as cheese and ice cream contain lactose — a common sugar that many people have difficulty digesting.
- Onions, artichokes, pears and some soft drinks contain fructose, another sugar that can be tough to digest.
- Dietary fiber, found in beans and wheat bran, can help digestion but it also tends to produce intestinal gas.
So watch what you eat and mind your portion sizes.
Change how you eat. When it comes to excessive gas and bloating, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. If you wish to avoid heartburn or reflux:
- Eat and drink slowly.
- Steer clear of large meals.
- Refrain from eating within two hours of bedtime.
Mind important digestive signs
Not listening to your body’s feedback can be downright dangerous so don’t ignore these important signs. The following symptoms may indicate a potentially serious (yet possibly treatable) digestive problem:
- Difficulty swallowing and pain in your chest
- Persistent heartburn (reflux)
- Unintentional weight loss
- Blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal pain that awakens you at night
- Bloody diarrhea
- Painful bowel movements
- Stomach pains that get better or worse after eating
Looking for recipes? Check out our recipes for delicious and nutritious meals and snacks.