Let’s not be shy about this: painful or excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation happen to all of us. If we’re lucky, these kinks in the digestive works are infrequent and passing. But when altered digestive function becomes a regular occurrence, it can start to seem normal. Chronic symptoms of impaired digestion are not healthy, and the discomfort they cause isn’t something you just have to live with.
Painful or excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are signals from the body that something isn’t right, and when they go unaddressed, a variety of other health problems can result, from nutrient deficiencies to depression. There is no single universal cause or condition underlying these symptoms for everyone. But there are three safe, simple, and effective tips that anyone can try today to help improve digestive function.
Beans and grains contain enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid that can prevent food from being broken down and nutrients from being absorbed. Soaking beans and grains in water and discarding the soaking liquid before cooking can reduce the amount of these anti-nutrients and may reduce gas and bloating.
Plenty of different methods for soaking different beans and grains offer various claims of superiority—I like to keep it simple. Soak your dried beans and grains in filtered water overnight. When you’re ready to cook them, drain, rinse, and cook in fresh water. If you still have gas and bloating, next time try adding a tablespoon or so of lemon juice or whey from the top of your yogurt to the soaking liquid, or extend the soaking time.
The bonus with this method is that soaked beans and grains have a much shorter cooking time than their non-soaked counterparts.
The friendly bacteria in our guts are crucial to healthy digestion and many other aspects of health. Drinking alcohol, taking antibiotics, and eating an unbalanced diet are just a few of the factors that can reduce the populations of friendly bacteria and encourage the propagation of unhealthy bacteria. Eating cultured and fermented foods full of probiotics can help to restore the friendly populations and the digestive and overall health that they enable.
Making your own fermented foods, like Spicy Fermented Carrots is surprisingly simple. You can also purchase live fermented foods. Yogurt, kefir, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, and kombucha that contain live cultures can be found in the refrigerated sections of many grocery stores.
Just as important as what you eat is how you eat. If you consistently eat in a state of stress, rushing, worry, or distraction, your body may be too focused on these other concerns to put its efforts toward digestion. Taking the time to thoughtfully prepare and mindfully enjoy eating your meals helps to enable healthy digestion.
Instead of eating while you’re driving, pull off into a parking lot under a tree and roll down your window, or better yet, find a park with a picnic table. Instead of eating lunch at your desk while looking at the computer screen, turn your chair around and look out the window, or better yet, enjoy the company of a coworker while you eat. Instead of eating dinner while watching television, set a proper place for yourself, light a candle, and play some music softly—even if it’s just for you. Those few extra minutes to focus on your food can add up to years of better health in the long run!