As the debate about what's healthy to put into our bodies rages on—often confusingly—it can be easy to feel like giving up altogether. But there's one relatively straightforward thing everyone can do to improve their overall health: maintain proper digestion. Better yet (hippies rejoice!), it's easy to do this in completely natural ways. Here are five tips for a healthier tummy.
1. Eat real food
Yes, it's somewhat obvious, but with the exponentially-expanding list of preservatives, GMO ingredients and other chemicals seeping their way into our grub, it can be trickier than you might think to eat real food. Does this mean your only solution is to build a greenhouse with vented air filtration? Not at all (though that does sound cool). Start small—try to include a side salad with as many meals as possible, ideally made from local, farm-fresh veggies and simple, organic dressings. These greens will help digest whatever else you're munching on, while providing vital (and tasty) nutrients to your body.
2. Start your meal with something bitter
Speaking of that salad, why not throw some bitter greens like dandelion and arugula in? These can rev up your digestive track to further help with stomache problems.
3. Supplement with probiotics
It's hard to argue with something that literally breaks down to mean "for" (pro) "life" (biotic). Less appealing is what probiotics actually are; while the definition is sometimes debated, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines them as "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host"—and often, these live organisms are (yes) bacteria.
Despite the fact that imbibing bacteria sounds less-than pleasant, it's believed probiotics could help with improving not only digestion, but the immune system as well. These can be really powerful, so if this is your first swing at the probiotics game, start small and keep it simple. You can make a conscious effort to include probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut in your diet, but we recommend heading to the health food store to select a bottle of the stuff to keep in your fridge and sip once a day. These come in all sorts of flavors and are a super quick and easy way to keep your digestive gears turning in sync.
4. Calm and soothe your digestive tract
There are all sorts of ways to treat an inflamed digestive tract, and many of us likely have some degree of this condition, simply due to the chemically-evolving foods we're consuming. Foods like fresh ginger are helpful, and there is a laundry list of herbal supplements that can serve as treatments. Just remember to have a conversation with both a holistic specialist and your pharmacist if you take any medication, as some of these supplements can coat your digestive tract, preventing the absorption of chemicals (I know this the hard way way; I suffered a seizure after a heavy dose of marshmallow root blocked my anti-convulsants). Inflammation is a common and easily treatable digestive complaint, but be sure to stay well-informed of the best way to go about it.
5. Avoid drinking while eating
This one's fairly straightforward: Water dilutes digestive juices, rendering them less effective. Additionally, cold drinks are particularly bad for digestion, as they further slow down digestion and can lead to cramping as well.
Taking these steps can make a significant difference, and the crazy thing is—you might not even realize you're feeling less-than-stellar until you make a change.