Food has changed a lot over the last century. In the not so distant past, people preserved foods with natural methods like fermentation, curing, and sun drying. Now, food manufacturers use nearly six thousand different additives and chemicals to process and preserve food. The problem with processing is that it strips food of important enzymes, fiber, minerals, and vitamins necessary for good health. Regular consumption of processed foods contributes to a number of health problems including digestive issues such as abdominal bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Real Foods vs. Processed Foods
Real foods have a shelf life, and they mold or spoil over time. Processed food is any food that has been changed from its natural state. Processed foods include real foods that have been altered for longer shelf life like lunch meats, frozen meals, quick oats, and flavored yogurt. Processed foods also include junk foods that contain very little nutritive value like many snack chips and baked treats.
Processed Foods and Digestion
Because many processed foods lack enzymes and fiber needed for proper digestion, they take a long time to pass through the system, causing problems like bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel. Certain sweeteners added to processed foods can also contribute to poor digestion. One artificial sweetener, sorbitol, cannot be digested at all, and many people have difficulty digesting fructose, a natural sugar added to many processed foods. Reading food labels helps consumers learn the levels of processing for foods and ingredients added. Basically, if you’re looking for constipation cures, eating a cleaner, less-processed diet can help enhance the digestive process and boost overall health.
Related: Healthy Fast Food Choices
Other Ways to Improve Digestion
In addition to limiting processed foods in the diet, people can make these changes to improve digestion:
Eat More Fiber
By keeping food moving through the digestive system, soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water) fiber help ensure regularity and reduce abdominal bloating. Fiber helps slow digestion so more nutrients are absorbed, and it adds bulk to stools and softens them for easier passage. Good sources of soluble fiber include apples, pears, blueberries, beans, and oats. Good sources of insoluble fiber include fresh vegetables and whole grains.
Too many fatty foods overwhelm the stomach and delay emptying, causing bloating, discomfort, acid reflux, and heartburn. To lower fat content, replace fatty beef and pork with fish, chicken, or turkey. Trade whole-fat dairy products for low-fat or non-fat versions, and replace butter and margarine with healthier fats like olive oil or coconut oil.
Add Probiotics to a Daily Routine
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria similar to those found in the human gut. Taking a daily probiotic or eating foods that contain probiotics like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, help improve bacterial balance in the gut and normalize digestion.
Water helps ensure regularity and softer stools. People should aim for 64 ounces of pure water every day and even more when exercising. Clear urine throughout the day is one way to tell if water intake is adequate.
Exercise improves blood flow to organs and stimulates muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, which makes the digestive process quicker and more efficient. Whether walking, cycling, swimming, or playing sports, 30 minutes of daily exercise does wonders for digestion and overall health.
While they may taste good, processed foods wreak havoc with the digestive system by making it sluggish and inefficient. Limiting processed and fatty foods and integrating fiber-rich foods and probiotics into the daily diet can help. Adding plenty of water and daily exercise to the mix keeps the digestive system in tip-top shape.