By Lauren O’Connor, MS, RDN, RYT
Improving your digestion is just as much about how you eat, as it is what you eat. So slow down, take your time and follow these guidelines (and enjoy the recipe below).
Eating slowly is best. You are not on a race to finish first. Take time to chew and enjoy your food. According to MedlinePlus, an online service of the US Library of Medicine, eating too much and too fast increases your risk for indigestion. The habit of eating too quickly can also lead to weight gain because your body becomes less sensitized to signals of satiety.
According to experts, improper food combining is one of the primary causes of gas, bloating, heartburn and upset stomach. Think of the typical Thanksgiving meal. My husband refers to this as the “butter” holiday, but lest not forget the excess of sodium and sugars, too. Considering the large assortment of side dishes accompanying a rich roast turkey w/ gravy and stuffing, followed by a tasting of various desserts, it is far too easy to go back and forth, between rich and savory to overly sweet, nibbling here and there, even after the meal.
Keep it Simple
Some of the most, tasty dishes require only a few ingredients. Enjoy lightly steamed veggies with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of your favorite seasoning. (Don’t fear the fat, in fact healthy fats help absorb heart-healthy, cancer-preventive nutrients – including beta-carotene and lycopene – from your fruits and veggies. And it makes your salads more tasty. Just be sure to keep it minimal.)
It takes longer to digest proteins than carbs, keep these foods within a manageable intake. Check out MyPlate Guidelines for good balance. Or keep it simple by limiting your protein to up to ½ cup for beans and chopped tofu (or the size of an iphone 4 for chicken, fish or lean beef) and filling the rest of your plate with fruits/vegetables (including plenty of leafy greens – low in calories but high in nutrients and dietary fiber). See below for my tips on including healthy fats* and my recipe below.
Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods
Your plant foods, especially dark leafy greens contain plenty of heart-healthy fiber that keeps you regular. Include plenty of water, too. Adequate fiber and water help prevent constipation and other digestive issues such as Diverticulosis, in which pockets form in the colon and can disrupt your system. Symptoms are not always present, but may include cramping, bloating and/or rectal bleeding. According the National Institute of Health – National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse, eating a fiber-rich diet may help relieve symptoms of Diverticulosis.
Drink water throughout the day
Plenty of water not only keeps you hydrated, but also transports important nutrients to your cells. It helps flush out toxins as it keeps things flowing. While most would agree to drink 8 cups of water a day — generally a good measure, the Institute of Medicine actually recommends 13 cups per day for men and 9 cups a day for women. Remember water losses occur daily through breathe, perspiration and sweat.
Keep an eye on your portions
Eating too much can cause bloating and lead to upset stomach, heartburn and sluggishness. Watching your intake helps you stay in control of what and how much you eat. Use food to nourish. Surely enjoy each bite, but don’t overeat. We tend to register fullness later than we think. It can take as long as 20 minutes just to begin digesting food, according to Megrette Fletcher, Med, RD, CDE, author of Discover Mindful Eating. Thus, it’s a good idea to be mindful, chew slowly and take a rest between bites and courses.
Limit your fat intake
Excess fat can lead to indigestion as it delays gastric emptying and thus causes bloating and discomfort. So stick to small portions of fat. That’s a teaspoon or two, a small drizzle of oil, up to an ounce of cheese, a loose handful of nuts (ie: approx. 16 almonds or 8 walnut halves or 20 pistachios) or 1/4 medium avocado. *Tip: Cut cheese or avocado into smaller pieces to increase the flavor distribution in your salads.
Here’s my heart-healthy, fiber-rich Chickpea, Avocado Quinoa salad (Serves 1)
- ¼ medium diced avocado
- ½ cup sliced strawberries
- ¼ cup chickpeas, canned, low sodium
- ¼ cup cooked quinoa
- 1-2 teaspoons olive or grapeseed oil
- ½ lemon (juice)
- 1-2 cups leafy greens
Toss avocado, strawberries, chickpeas, quinoa with olive oil and lemon juice. Serve over a bed of leafy greens.
This low-sodium salad is under 400 calories with 10g fiber and 6g protein. Avocado and minimal oil contribute to heart-healthy fats, that help you digest plant-based nutrients such as lycopene and beta-carotene.