How to Help Digestion

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Oct 20 2023.

Couple going for a walk.

A fully functioning digestive system is key to good health, but it isn’t necessarily guaranteed. Certain medical conditions and prescription medications can affect your gut microbiome, triggering side effects like bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. 

Though there’s no magic cure for digestive problems, healthy lifestyle changes can make a positive difference. To learn more, we connected with several experts, including Nyssa Correa, Ph.D., a holistic functional medicine practitioner, Krutika Nanavati, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant, and Omaira Ferreira, FDN-P, HHP, a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner. 

In this article, we highlight some of the simple things you can do to help your loved one’s digestion and improve their general well-being. 

Why Is Good Digestion Important?

Good digestion is important because it’s how your organs and cells get nutrients from the food and drinks you consume. Your body uses nutrients for energy, growth, and cell repair. But if you have digestive problems your body can’t use them efficiently, increasing your risk of health problems. 

Everyone experiences digestive issues occasionally, but if your symptoms continue for weeks or even months, it’s important to get checked out. This is particularly true for older adults, who are more likely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies

What Are The Signs of Poor Digestive Health?

The easiest way to identify digestive health problems is to look at your stool. After having a bowel movement, take a few moments to analyze the color, shape, size, and consistency.

“Loose stools, blood in stools, mucus in stools, and floating stools can all indicate that something may be awry with your digestive system,” explains Dr. Correa. “Even before that, regular bloating or stomach pain after eating can be a sign that something is wrong.” 

Nanavati agrees, adding that “regularity” is another thing to consider. “Regularity and comfort during bowel movements are critical indicators of a healthy digestive system,” she says. “Experiencing constipation, diarrhea, or discomfort during bowel movements, may indicate digestive problems.” 

How to Help Digestion - A Step-By-Step Guide

Digestive problems can negatively affect your quality of life, but there’s plenty you can do to keep them from getting worse. This step-by-step guide is a great place to start!

Step One: Be Intentional About the Food You Eat

Good digestive health starts with smart food choices. 

“Be intentional about what you are putting into your body,” says Dr. Correa. Think specifically about what this particular food is going to do for you and how it is going to nourish you.”

Likewise, “pay attention to how your body reacts to certain foods,” Nanavati says. “If you notice discomfort or digestive issues after consuming specific foods, you may have an intolerance or sensitivity. Consider keeping a food diary to track your symptoms and identify potential triggers.” 

Recommended Reading: How to Keep a Symptom Journal

Step Two: Slow Down 

Most Americans spend an average of one hour and 17 minutes eating daily. That breaks down to about 25 minutes per meal and for busy people, it’s often less. Unfortunately, eating too quickly can affect your digestion.

Rather than eating as quickly as possible, “slow down and chew your food properly,” Dr. Correa says. “People often chew just enough to swallow when you really want to make sure that you have properly ground down what you’re eating. You might think digestion happens in your stomach or gut, but it begins with chewing. Your saliva contains enzymes that help break down your meals. So, take your time and chew properly. This eases the burden on the rest of your digestive system and helps extract as many nutrients as possible.”

Adds Nanavati, “try avoiding distractions when you’re eating. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, and focus on your meal. When you’re focused, you’re less likely to overeat, which stresses your digestive system. If you’re present in the moment and paying attention, you’re also more likely to properly chew your food.”

Step Three: Do Some Light Exercise After Each Meal

After your food digests for 30-60 minutes, get up and move around. Light exercise prompts peristalsis, the involuntary constriction, and relaxation of the muscles in your digestive tract. Exercise also increases blood flow to your digestive tract and improves the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut. 

You don’t need to join a gym or lift weights to receive these benefits. “Eastern modalities are a wonderful way to aid digestion,” says Dr. Correa. “I regularly encourage my clients to take yoga or participate in daily qi gong. At the very least, try an easy walk after a meal. I stress the word easy –– no marathons please!”

Nanavati also emphasizes the importance of exercise. “Engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking, jogging, or cycling, can help stimulate your digestive system and promote regular bowel movements.”

Step Four: Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is good for your skin and brain, but it’s equally beneficial for your stomach and intestines. 

“Drinking enough water throughout the day helps keep your digestive system functioning optimally,” explains Ferreira. “Aim for at least eight cups (64 ounces) of water daily and adjust based on your individual needs and activity levels.” 

For the best results, drink “room temperature water or a warm, caffeine-free tea,” says Dr. Correa. “I suggest green tea without sugar. If you want sweetener, raw, unfiltered honey is ideal.”

Carewell Tip

Good hydration assists all of your bodily systems. It’s especially important for digestion because it helps soften the stool and facilitate its passage through your digestive tract. 

Step Five: Follow Good Eating Habits

Improving digestion is a multi-step process. Nanavati recommends focusing on three things, in particular:

Eating at Regular Times

Try to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time each day. This can be challenging if you’re very busy, but it’s worth making the effort. Going long periods in between meals can cause you to eat too much or too quickly. Alternatively, sticking to a schedule keeps your blood sugar stable and engages your metabolism.

Consuming Moderate Portions

Have you ever noticed that your stomach hurts after big meals, like Thanksgiving dinner? This is because your digestive system has to work much harder to break down all of that food. 

Sticking to moderate portions at mealtimes improves digestive efficiency and reduces your risk of bloating, heartburn, and cramps. 

Always Including Dietary Fiber

There’s a reason that dietary fiber and “regularity” are often mentioned together. Eating foods with dietary fiber bulks up and softens stool, making it easier to pass. 

“Consuming fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains promotes regular bowel movements and overall digestive health,” Nanavati says. “On the contrary, consumption of processed foods, high-fat foods, and excessive caffeine can potentially impair digestion. I advise all of my clients to maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods to ensure optimal digestive health.”

Want to increase your fiber intake? Try adding beans, broccoli, or lentils to your next meal. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults get 25-30 grams of dietary fiber daily from food, not supplements.

Step Six: Try a Specific Diet to Promote Healthy Digestion

Ferreira says that everyone has unique nutritional needs, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for improved digestive health. Still, she recommends two meal plans that have a positive impact on many people. These diets include:

The Mediterranean Diet

“This diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats, like olive oil,” Ferreira explains. “It also includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy, while limiting red meat and processed foods. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can support overall digestive health.”

The Low FODMAP Diet

“This diet is often recommended for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or those who experience digestive discomfort,” Ferreira says. “FODMAPs are certain types of carbohydrates that can be difficult to digest for some people. This diet involves temporarily avoiding high FODMAP foods like certain fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and sweeteners. After a period of elimination, specific FODMAP groups are gradually reintroduced to identify individual triggers.”

Step Seven: Other Things That Can Help Digestion

Good digestion relies on various factors, but small lifestyle changes can make all the difference. Nanavati recommends keeping the following things in mind:

  • Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts in your diet

  • Properly chew your food into smaller pieces 

  • Take a probiotic. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support a healthy gut

  • Limit your intake of processed and high-fat foods

  • Identify and avoid trigger foods that cause you digestive problems

  • Engage in stress-reducing activities, like meditation and deep breathing exercises

Have Questions About Digestion? We Can Help!

Many family caregivers do the grocery shopping and meal prep. However, it’s normal to have questions or concerns if your loved one has a chronic medical condition or unique nutritional needs. 

Our Care Specialists regularly answer questions and make product recommendations. Don’t be afraid to reach out! We’re available 24/7 and accept inquiries via phone and email. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to today.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.