By EatingWell Editors
Digestive problems—from constipation to lactose intolerance—affect up to 70 million people, according to the National Institutes of Health. Modifying your diet to treat a digestive problem requires a lot of trial and error and should be done in conjunction with your health-care provider. Still, making a few simple dietary changes (e.g., eating a healthful diet rich in fiber and making sure to drink plenty of fluids) often can go a long way in improving your digestive health. The nutrition experts at EatingWell recommend following these guidelines for healthy digestion.
Fiber adds bulk to the stool and helps it move through the colon quicker, which helps prevent digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea. A fiber-rich diet may also play a part in lowering your risk of colon and rectal cancer. Shoot for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day—most Americans only get half that—by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans. If you have trouble getting enough fiber in your diet, consider a fiber supplement. [Note: Eating high-fiber foods is a healthy choice for most people, but they can exacerbate symptoms of a few digestive conditions. If you’ve ever received medical treatment for a digestive problem, check with your health-care provider before you start loading up.]
Liquids lubricate the colon and soften stool so it’s easier to pass, helping to prevent constipation. Aim to drink at least 8 cups per day. Since it’s calorie-free, water is an excellent choice, but most beverages—such as milk and juice—are about 90 percent water, so they count too.
Too much fat slows digestion, which can lead to heartburn, bloating and constipation. What’s more, research suggests that a diet high in saturated fat may increase your risk of colon cancer.
Drinking too much alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and relax your lower esophageal sphincter—the valve that prevents stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus. This can cause bleeding or heartburn. If you drink, do so in moderation—no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. Alcohol is also dehydrating, which can worsen constipation.