Eating Well for Digestive Health
If you're like most people, you may have gas, constipation, or heartburn every now
and then. These symptoms are so common that many people just live with them. You may
be able to prevent many of these problems simply by making better food choices.
Eating to prevent gas, bloating, and flatulence
These uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing symptoms can be caused by swallowing
too much air, eating foods that make a lot of gas, or having a reaction to a food
that your system has trouble digesting. It’s normal to pass gas 18 to 20 times a day.
If flatulence or bloating becomes more of a problem, try these tips:
To keep from swallowing too much air, don't drink carbonated beverages. Don’t drink
through a straw, and, in general, eat and drink more slowly. Rather than gulping,
savor each mouthful.
Don't chew gum, especially gum that contains sorbitol. The air you swallow while gum
chewing may cause gas. Sorbitol and other artificial sweeteners cause flatulence in
The protein in milk is hard for many people to digest. This is a condition called
lactose intolerance. If milk products give you gas, try cutting back on how much of
them you eat or drink to see if the symptoms go away. You can use lactose-free dairy
products instead. The protein in grains such as wheat and rye are also hard for some
people to digest. Talk with your healthcare provider if you think you might have problems
with these foods. You may need a blood test to see if you have celiac disease.
Some people are sensitive to other foods, including FODMAPs, gluten, and wheat. FODMAP
stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
These are a type of sugar that the small intestine does not absorb well. Sometimes
you can change your diet to limit the amount of these foods you eat, and see if your
symptoms get better. You can talk specifics with your provider.
Limit foods that commonly cause gas. These include cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage,
Eating to prevent heartburn
Everybody gets occasional heartburn. If you have heartburn often, especially if it
wakes you up at night, you could have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Talk
with your healthcare provider about frequent heartburn. Try these tips to help prevent
Stop smoking and only drink alcohol in moderation. That means no more than 1 drink
a day for women and 2 for men.
Stop eating at least 3 hours before you go to bed.
Eat smaller meals more often.
Don't have foods that are known to cause heartburn. This includes fatty foods and
foods and beverages with caffeine, chocolate, and peppermint.
Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches.
Eating to prevent constipation
Just about everybody gets constipated every now and then. It's not usually considered
a problem unless you're having bowel movements fewer than 3 times a week. Before reaching
for a laxative, know that the most common cause of constipation is your diet. Other
culprits include dehydration, too little physical activity, and overuse of laxatives.
Try these tips to get more “regular”:
Add high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains to your diet. Too
many low-fiber foods such as cheese, eggs, and meat can cause constipation. Aim to
get 25 to 31 grams of fiber in your diet each day. Some high-fiber cereals offer more
than half that amount in just a single serving.
Not getting enough fluids is another cause of constipation, but some fluids are better
than others. Your best bet is to drink water. Caffeine, colas, and alcoholic beverages
can actually dehydrate you and make constipation worse.
Get some exercise every day. Walking 30 to 45 minutes a day. It will help with your
constipation. It will also improve your mood and your fitness level.
Ask your healthcare provider if any of the medicines you’re taking might be causing
constipation. Ask if there are any alternatives.
In rare cases, constipation may be from a serious problem, such as colon cancer. This
is especially true for people older than 50.
More eating tips for better digestion
No matter what your digestive health issues are, you’ll probably benefit from choosing
whole foods over processed foods. Processed foods are foods that have been changed
by food companies before you eat them. Whole foods are foods that are eaten in their
natural state, like an apple or tomato.
Processed foods often have a lot of added (and unwanted) fat, sugar, and salt. A lot
of their original nutrients may be lost as well. For instance, whole grains have their
outer shells removed to become processed grains, such as white flour. As a rule, whole
foods are better for your digestive health and your overall health. Here are simple
swaps to make:
Choose brown grains such as brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal over white grains such
as like packaged pasta and white rice.
Choose whole fresh fruits and vegetables over canned fruits and vegetables.
Don't have processed junk foods, desserts, sodas, juices with added sugar, canned
soups, and snack foods.
Shop around the outside perimeter of your grocery store to find the whole foods.
Most digestive complaints don't cause long-term problems. But if you notice any unusual
symptoms that don’t go away, call your healthcare provider.