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Home/Blog/How to Improve Digestion: Best Foods, Drinks & Supplements

How to Improve Digestion: Best Foods, Drinks & Supplements

By Dr. Josh Axe

January 20, 2023

You’ve heard it before: A healthy gut and digestive system is the foundation of overall health. 

How can you help improve your digestion? When it comes to enhancing your gut health and taking care of your digestive system, eating the right things and avoiding the wrong ones is priority number one.

By focusing on a nutrient-rich diet first and foremost, plus taking certain supplements for your gut that support a healthy microbiome, you can greatly enhance your ability to digest foods without experiencing issues like occasional gas and bloating.

What Is the Digestive System?

The digestive system describes a group of organs and tubes spanning from the mouth to the anus. The entire system can be up to 30 feet long (or about 10 meters). Digestion takes place throughout this system and all along the gastrointestinal tract. It begins as soon as you start chewing something — and even as you imagine yourself eating, which stimulates saliva production.

The digestive system includes these organs and “accessory organs”:

  • Mouth

  • Esophagus

  • Pharynx (throat)

  • Stomach

  • Small intestine

  • Large intestine

  • Rectum

  • Anus

  • Salivary glands

  • Liver

  • Pancreas

What are the main roles of the digestive system? The digestive system is constantly working and has many essential functions which keep us alive, including:

  • Breaking down foods into smaller particles, such as glucose, amino acids and fatty acids.

  • Producing enzymes and other substances that aid in digestion. 

  • Absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream so they can be sent to cells and used for energy.

  • Eliminating waste.

Stages of Digestion

Digestion begins inside of the mouth, where food is chewed and mixed with saliva, then continues through the stomach and intestines, where food is broken down further to allow nutrients to be absorbed. Waste products that aren’t needed are then eliminated.

The process of digestion can be divided into these main stages:

  • Ingestion: Stage in which food is mixed with saliva that contains digestive enzymes.

  • Propulsion: Food is chewed and partially digested food, then propelled down the esophagus and into the stomach through a process called peristalsis.

  • Digestion: Stomach acid and enzymes mix to continue breaking down nutrients. Partially digested food is then passed into the small intestine where it is further broken down by enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver. This stage is where most of the nutrient absorption occurs. In the large intestine, water and electrolytes are absorbed. 

  • Elimination: Once the food has been broken down and the nutrients have been absorbed, the remaining material is passed into the large intestine and then eliminated.

How long does digestion take?

What most of us think of as “digestion,” which occurs in the stomach, takes place for an average of two hours. However, the entire digestive process takes a lot longer. On average, food takes about two to three days to pass through the digestive system fully. 

How long it takes for food to be digested depends on what you’ve eaten, including how much food, the specific ingredients, and the combination of nutrients you’ve consumed. Even an individual's age and overall health impact how quickly digestion occurs. For instance, certain circumstances can also slow down or speed up the movement of food through the gut.

For example, diets that are high in fiber, protein and healthy fats cause you to feel fuller for longer because they take a greater amount of time to break down than sugary, refined foods. Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but protein takes the longest to be fully broken down. 

How to Help Improve Digestion

Now that you know how digestion occurs, let’s look at the best foods for digestion, drinks and supplements that support gut health, plus unhealthy foods to avoid.

Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new diet or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation. 

1. Best Foods

What are some superfoods for your gut? These include foods that are unprocessed (in their natural states), full of essential nutrients and unlikely to cause negative digestive effects.

It's worth noting that everyone's gut is different; some foods may be beneficial for one person but not for another. Generally speaking, some of the best foods for digestive health include:

  • Fiber-rich foods: Foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can help keep the digestive system regular and prevent constipation. They also act as prebiotics, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which is important for maintaining a healthy balance of gut microbiota.

  • Fermented foods: Probiotic (or fermented) foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, are rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that can help to repopulate the gut with healthy microorganisms. Eating probiotic foods can help improve overall gut health and promote a healthy immune system.

  • Leafy greens: Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli are high in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for gut health. They also often contain high levels of folate, and can help to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

  • Ginger: Ginger has been shown to help reduce occasional bloating, steady the stomach and promote abdominal comfort. It also has beneficial  properties that can help to promote overall health. 

  • Omega-3 foods: Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to a healthy response to inflammation and promote an overall healthy gut. Nuts, seeds, free-range eggs and grass-fed beef also contain omega-3s, although fish (or omega-3 supplements such as fish oil) is the best source.

2. Best Drinks

  • Water: Drinking enough water to stay hydrated is essential for maintaining proper digestion and relieving occasional constipation. It helps to keep food moving smoothly through the digestive system and also helps to flush out toxins.

  • Tea: Herbal teas such as ginger, peppermint and chamomile can help to soothe the stomach and reduce occasional bloating. They also have antioxidant properties that can help to promote an overall healthy gut.

  • Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented tea that is rich in probiotics. Drinking kombucha can help to repopulate the gut with beneficial microorganisms, which can improve overall gut health and support healthy immune system function.

  • Coconut water: Coconut water is hydrating plus a good source of electrolytes such as potassium, which can help to regulate hydration and promote regular bowel movements.

  • Bone broth: Bone broth is made by simmering bones and connective tissues, which are full of minerals and collagen protein. Collagen can help support the integrity of the gut lining and also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

  • Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera juice contains compounds that can help to reduce irritation in the gut. It also has a laxative effect that can help to fight occasional constipation and promote regular bowel movements.

3. Best Supplements

How can you promote your gut health and digestion with help from supplements? Try taking the supplements below, which support a healthy gut and gut lining, healthy microflora, and elimination:

Multi Collagen Protein

Collagen supports gut health because it contains amino acids that aid in gut and gut lining health. Other benefits of supplementing with Multi Collagen Protein include supporting healthy joints, ligaments, skin and hair. If you’re specifically seeking digestive support, try out Multi Collagen Protein Gut Restore capsules which also feature probiotics.

Probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to populate the gut with “friendly” microorganisms, thereby promoting overall gut and immune system health and functions. Probiotics are available in supplement form and can be found in fermented foods, too. We like SBO Probiotics supplements, which contain hardy microbial strains that are capable of making their way to the right place in the gut. Try our SBO Probiotics Gut Restore formula to help reduce occasional constipation, gas, and bloating and support healthy bowel transit time and elimination.

Fiber/Prebiotics

Prebiotics, which are found naturally in high-fiber foods such as grains and vegetables, and are non-digestible carbohydrates that feed healthy bacteria in the gut. They can be taken in capsule or powder forms to help with elimination and maintenance of healthy gut flora. They’re especially beneficial when combined with probiotics since the two work together to maintain a balanced microbiome. You’ll find prebiotics in our SBO Probiotic formulas for this reason.

Digestive Enzymes

To complement the enzymes that your body naturally makes, you can take digestive enzyme supplements to assist in nutrient absorption and elimination and to help relieve symptoms of flatulence, abdominal distention, and discomfort. Ancient Nutrition’s Digestive Enzymes capsules are formulated with fermented mushrooms, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics for widespread gut-related benefits.

4. Worst Foods to Avoid

Some foods can be difficult to digest because they are made with highly processed or synthetic ingredients or because they can negatively impact the gut. Among the worst foods for gut health include:

  • Highly-processed foods: Processed foods often contain added sugars, sodium and preservatives, all of which can contribute to inflammation and disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome.

  • Foods with refined and trans-fats: Foods that are high in saturated fats, such as fried foods and many vegetable oils, can slow down digestion and cause stomach discomfort. They also tend to be processed, high in calories, and can lead to weight gain and other issues.

  • Sugary foods: Too much added sugar can feed the types of microbes in the gut that we want to avoid. It’s best to enjoy fruit instead and avoid sugary drinks, desserts and packaged snacks.

  • Dairy products: While some people can digest dairy well, not everyone can. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and ice cream can be difficult to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. They may experience symptoms such as temporary bloating or gas after consuming dairy.

  • Gluten-containing foods: Foods that contain gluten, such as wheat, barley and rye, can cause problems for people with gluten sensitivity. They can negatively impact the gut lining and more.

  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners can cause temporary gas and bloating, while also disrupting the balance of the gut microbiome.

  • Acidic and spicy foods: Spicy foods can cause some people to experience temporary heartburn and indigestion. However, for those who can tolerate spicy foods, they’re otherwise typically healthy.

Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat DirtEssential Oils: Ancient MedicineKeto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.

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