Digestion is dependent upon many items beyond the foods you choose to eat and can have positive or negative effects on your digestion. While important, diet is only one piece of the puzzle. Food sensitivities, food intolerances, stress, medications, deficiency of certain enzymes, genes, and gastrointestinal conditions all affect digestion and should be considered.
A universal diet for improved digestion does not exist and is individual to each person. If you know a certain food is hard for you to digest, then don’t eat it even if it is a recommended high fiber food or a food recommended to improve digestion. Generally, a fiber intake of 25 g to 35 g each day is recommended to improve digestion. Fiber functions to prevent both constipation and diarrhea. Additionally, fluids are critical for digestion at amounts of a minimum of 2 to 3 liters daily preferably from water. Coffee is recommended for some people with constipation since caffeine stimulates the colon. Probiotics and fiber supplements may assist digestion, but the effects vary from person to person.
Triggers are foods, chemicals and beverages which evoke symptoms of constipation and diarrhea leading to overall digestive discomfort. Other triggers may involve certain medications, genes, lack of digestive enzymes, food intolerance and conditions such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. Some triggers are controllable and some are not and identifying your triggers can help you to avoid them
Stress occurs in a variety of ways and affects digestion. Minimizing stress and dealing with it appropriately are the best ways to improve digestion. Constipation results with busyness and stressful situations that cause you to forget or delay bowel movements. When this occurs, less water is available to allow for softer stools and further dehydrates the stool making it more difficult to pass. On the other hand, some types of stress cause the opposite effect and increases transit time leading to diarrhea. Stress such as giving a speech or meeting an important deadline can contribute to gastrointestinal distress. Examples of stress-reduction strategies include yoga, breathing, psychotherapy, massage and exercise and should be utilized to help improve gut function.
Exercise improves digestion for some people. Exercise speeds transit time, according to a study in the May 1985 “Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.” However, another study points to mixed results in the December 1989 journal “Gastroenterology” in which exercise improved digestion in five people and slowed transit time in nine others. Overall benefits of exercise far outweigh the negatives, so it would be unhealthy to decrease exercise in order to improve digestion.
Food sensitivities may be contributing to issues with digestion. A food sensitivity involves an immune response from your body in response to an antigen food or chemical. The body responds by eliciting symptoms of bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation and a variety of other digestive symptoms. Identification of the offending food helps to decrease painful symptoms and improve digestion.
Andrea Johnson, M.A., is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified LEAP Therapist specializing in food sensitivities, nutrition counseling, health writing and teaches as an adjunct instructor for online nutrition courses at the University of Montana College of Technology.
Prior to her most recent career path, she worked with the local WIC nutrition program and blogged for a health supplement site. She has built upon her experience beginning her career as a clinical dietitian for 3.5 years. During that time, she was a contributing author in the Journal of Renal Nutrition for her research on the effects of protein supplementation in dialysis patients. It was also during her clinical years where she developed a strong understanding of gastrointestinal disorders, which provided the ability to assist with editing and contributing to the “Diverticulitis Digest Cookbook.”
Ms. Johnson has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Appalachian State University and a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
This is her seventh year practicing as a dietitian and is very pleased with how her career is evolving. For the past 13 years, she has kept abreast of current research and continuing education, which has allowed her to provide the most up to date and reliable nutrition advice.
She is a member of the American Dietetic Association and the practice groups of Integrated/Functional Nutrition, Nutrition Entrepreneurs, and Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. Most recently, Andrea has become a certified LEAP therapist, which allows her to specialize in food sensitivities, which can be involved in a wide range of conditions such as IBS, fibromyalgia, migraines, gastritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and more.
To contact Andrea with questions or to make an appointment, call 406-370-5322.
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