GIA’s Top 10 Digestive Habits to Avoid or Adopt

Digestive health is affected by age, genetics and personal habits — all the more reason to know the ways in which you can improve your daily eating routine and digestive lifestyle. Here are 10 of the worst digestive health habits and why they are so bad for you:

1. A lack of fiber in your diet causes constipation and irregularity, as well as high cholesterol and blood sugar. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adult men should consume 38 grams per day while adult women should consume 25 grams per day. Some simple ways to add more fiber into your diet are to increase your daily intake of fruits (not peeled or juiced), vegetables (leafy greens and broccoli), whole grains and legumes (peas, lentils and beans).If you really want a fiber boost, psyllium (plant) fiber is readily available in powder form. Just a teaspoon each day can get you well on your way to getting the fiber your body needs.

2. Not adhering to your body’s natural processes will most certainly result in constipation. Resisting bowel movements because of inconvenience creates a back up that can be difficult to correct at a later time. Chronic constipation also causes or exacerbates hemorrhoids.

3. Laxatives are not normally necessary for those with healthy digestion, and can become addicting with prolonged or regular use. Next time, instead of reaching for the chemical bowel stimulants, consider other healthy habits, and let your body right itself.

4. Having regular colonoscopies can not only substantially reduce the risk of dying from colon cancer, but can help doctors identify other digestive issues such as ulcers, tumors, areas of inflammation or bleeding and colon polyps. Most doctors suggest scheduling regular colon screenings every 10 years beginning at age 50, but based on your personal risk you may need to have one every five years. Check with your doctor to be sure.

5. Eating or drinking too much or too fast in a single sitting is a habit that can easily be modified. Consuming smaller portions at more frequent times throughout your day, as well as taking the time to chew and swallow your food, will make a big difference. Not gulping down liquids during meals will decrease bloating, even if it is just water. When you fill up your stomach with food and beverages, the overflow can travel back up into your esophagus, causing painful reflux. Drink water and other liquids throughout the day to maintain hydration, but remember to limit your drinking at meal times.

6. When you are sleeping, or lying down, the food and liquids in your stomach can more easily flow back into your esophagus, causing heartburn. Allowing your stomach time to digest before going to bed can decrease the risk of late-night heartburn, so you should avoid eating a few hours before bedtime.

7. Frequently consuming more than modest amounts of alcohol can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and ulcers. Continuing to drink alcohol also hinders your body’s ability to heal ulcers.

8. Chewing gum is commonly associated with swallowing air. A substitute for gum chewing is to drink flavored water during your day, which can decrease gas formation and its accompanying feeling of bloating.

9. Drinking soda may give you a feeling of fullness, but it also causes bloating and can result in acid reflux. Again, flavored or plain water is a good alternative as well as many other noncarbonated beverages.

10. Cigarette smoking has numerous well known negative health effects, but in digestion smoking promotes the formation of ulcers, increases heartburn symptoms and is associated with an increase in esophageal cancer. Avoiding cigarettes is always the best option.