A nutritionist's 10-step guide to healthy digestion

Suffering from poor digestion can be a miserable experience. You may be experiencing symptoms of bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or gas, which can make life very uncomfortable.

There are many reasons why your digestive system (which includes your stomach, intestines and liver) may be misbehaving, and if it persists you should see your doctor. But adjusting your diet could help get your gut back in good digestive health and prevent unfortunate relapses.

Nutritionist Henrietta McGourty provides some tips:

1. Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly

Eating slowly can help prevent overeating by allowing our stomach to catch up with our mouths, providing that feeling of fullness earlier. Chewing food thoroughly makes it smaller as it goes through our digestive tract and so easier for our bodies to process and less likely to cause blockages.

2. Boost beneficial bacteria by eating probiotics

Probiotics, which are bacteria commonly found in natural yoghurt, are thought to restore the natural balance of your stomach. Probiotics are one of your body’s ‘good bacteria’ types which support your body’s natural processes. To multiply the probiotics in your system, feed your probiotics with ‘prebiotics’, which are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut.

3. Drink plenty of water throughout the day (around 2 litres) and sip slowly

The average person’s body is comprised 65 percent of water and the average person loses 3-4 litres a day. Every process within the human body requires water and while most food will also replace some water, you should drink a further two litres to replace the water lost throughout the day. Drinking this slowly and steadily throughout the day will ensure that your digestive system is constantly lubricated and helps prepare it for processing food.

4. Identify any trigger foods to digestive upset by keeping a daily food diary

Keeping a food diary can help you keep identify the foods that are causing your stomach havoc. If you notice a flare up every time you eat chocolate, for example, it could be that you have developed an intolerance.

5. Avoid eating late at night before going to bed

Digestive processes and the types of foods you are eating late can have serious implications on your sleep cycles – possibly causing you to wake up more frequently or have more difficulty falling asleep to begin with. With disrupted sleep comes the ensuing tiredness and poor food choices the following day. If this sounds like you, then aim to have any main meals about two hours before going to bed and if you are still hungry just a small snack half an hour before going to bed.

6. Limit high sugar foods and highly processed foods

By filling up on high sugar foods and highly processed foods you are less likely to be eating the fresh, nutrient-dense seasonal produce that will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for good digestive health.

7. Try not to eat fruit outside of mealtimes

Fruit is digested quickly so doesn’t provide long-lasting fullness and can ferment in the gut causing gas and belching. It’s better to avoid these acidic foods until your stomach is in better health.

8. Avoid or limit the amount of spice in your foods

For some people spicy foods can also cause heartburn, stomach pain or diarrhoea and it is best to avoid them if you are already suffering from any of these symptoms. When your stomach is upset it’s best to eat bland foods such as plain chicken and steamed (not raw) vegetables.

9. Increase the amount of fibre in your diet slowly over a period of time 

Fibre can help to loosen stool so it is good for anyone suffering from constipation. It also makes you feel fuller for longer, so will help to prevents overeating which can cause blockages. Fresh vegetables and wholegrain cereals such as rice and pasta are a good source of fibre.

10. Cut down on high fat foods

As with all foods – it’s about getting the balance right – our bodies need a certain amount of fatty foods, as fat is responsible for transporting the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. However, fatty foods are harder to digest and can cause stomach pain and heartburn – some people also find that fatty food can be a trigger for some of their digestive symptoms.

Last updated Monday 4 December 2017

First published on Friday 19 June 2015