1 - Drink up!
Drinking 1½ litres of water a day is a cheap and effective way of improving your digestion and raising energy levels. Try not to drink too much just before, during or after eating though, as you will only risk diluting your digestive juices.
More than 20 minutes before or after eating is the best bet for effective drinking!
2 - Avoid tobacco, coffee, sugar and alcohol
Avoiding coffee, sugar and alcohol is particularly important if you are constipated, as they upset the gastric secretions and deaden the response of the bowel when used long term.
Foods that will help instead include:
- Short grain brown rice, cooked with lots of water and chewed well
- Figs, raw or cooked
- Dates, raw or cooked
- Prune juice
- Carrot juice (why not add carrot juice to your favourite smoothie such as this delicious Carrot and Mango Smoothie recipe)
3 - Whatever you eat, chew it well
Although it's also important to consider what you are eating, paying more attention to how we eat is crucial if you're looking to improve your digestion, and something many of us are guilty of not doing enough!
One of my all-time favourite top tips is to make a conscious effort not to bolt down your food - so simple, yet effective! If it hardly touches the sides as it goes down, the chances are the digestive system won’t be ready for it and all sorts of mayhem will break out.
Try chewing each mouthful 20 times for a while and surprise yourself with how much better your digestive tract feels.
4 - Sit down and sit up
Yes, it may sound silly; but what I mean is make sure you sit down to eat, rather than rushing to the shops in your lunch break with a snack in your hand, or jumping up all through dinner to fetch things for other people.
So sit down, and make sure that you are sitting up with your shoulders back rather than slumped over your meal, as this makes it easier for the stomach walls to move and mix food up with the digestive enzymes. Cramping up your stomach (which is situated under the ribcage) is a great way of successfully causing indigestion.
Once you’ve finished your meal, give yourself five minutes to start digesting, rather than rushing off at once. This again will make the digestive process much more effective and less painful.
5 - Exercise regularly
Even if you're only partaking in gentle exercise, moving more can help to effectively stimulate muscle activity and assist in the unique, wave-like muscular contractions throughout the gut called peristalsis. Yoga, for example, is a good option if you feel you need a helping hand as it helps to gently strengthen hidden muscles and increases mobility without being beyond anyone’s ability.
To give your bowel more individual attention, massage gently in a clockwise circle around your belly, going up the right hand side and down the left, gently but firmly. Massaging in lavender oil, using a cream or oil base, is also helpful (and nice for the nose too).
6 - Try some bitter herbs
Bitter herbs could be the best thing your gut has ever experienced! A bitter taste on the tongue stimulates the production of digestive enzymes in the stomach, not to mention the correct balance of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid).
If you are producing the right amount of stomach acid then you are more likely to break down your proteins properly and keep bugs such as Helicobacter pylori at bay. The production of stomach enzymes also triggers the rest of the digestive tract into action, so your liver and pancreas will wake up and take notice, meaning better absorption of food, less likelihood of food intolerances, and fewer cravings.
Extracts of bitter herbs such as Centaurium or Yarrow are therefore traditionally recommended for those suffering from acid reflux, acid indigestion and heartburn. Bitters are known to work very quickly. They should be taken before each meal, although they may be taken afterwards if necessary. Take them until your digestion has been working well for several weeks. You can return to them whenever necessary.
First published on 26/05/15, updated on 06/11/18