Maintaining a healthy digestive system provides a bridge between the foods you eat and the rest of your body -- it absorbs nutrients from your food, and also helps you eliminate toxins through your stool. Diet plays a key role in digestive health, and healthy foods can promote healthy digestion while harmful foods threaten your digestive health. The best way to ensure your digestive system stays healthy is by eating a well-balanced diet that is low in refined, processed foods and rich in nutrients.
Obtaining the Right Nutrients
To obtain the right nutrients from food, the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding processed foods and sugar, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis and getting plenty of fiber. It is also important to eat moderate portions and healthy snacks throughout the day, drink plenty of water and limit caffeine and alcohol. Eating slowly will aid the digestive process and help you avoid indigestion and acid reflux. Exercising regularly and keeping stress levels to a minimum are also good for digestive health.
Dietary fiber is not digested in the stomach or the small intestine. Instead, it reaches the colon virtually unchanged. It bulks up the stool, preventing build-up and constipation and also provides nourishment for the beneficial bacteria that live in the colon. Dr. Frank W. Jackson, M.D. recommends 25 grams to 35 grams of fiber each day. Foods rich in fiber include fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and whole grains -- relatively unprocessed, plant-based foods.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that reside throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Their job is to prevent build-up of pathogens and aid in the digestive process. According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, probiotics may also be helpful for easing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Raw foods are an important part of a healthy digestive system diet because they are rich in enzymes. Proponents of raw food diets claim that the enzymes in raw food promote healthy digestion -- however, as the NYU Langone Medical Center points out, your stomach digests the enzymes in raw foods, rendering them ineffective. However, consuming some raw foods -- particularly fruits, veggies and nuts -- benefits your health, because you'll get the full nutritional value of the food and avoid nutrient loss sometimes caused by cooking.
Foods to Avoid
You don't have to cut your favorite junk foods out of your diet 100 percent of the time, but you should consume them just once and a while, as a treat. Low-fiber foods -- such as white bread, rice and pasta, as well as candy and other sweets -- don't offer digestive benefits, and might even contribute to constipation as part of a low-fiber diet. In addition, red meats and processed meats threaten your digestive health and increase your risk of colon cancer.
- The Cleveland Clinic: Healthy Eating for the Digestive System
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Health benefits of taking probiotics
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Do Raw Food (Living Food) Diets Promote Good Health?
- Jackson/Siegelbaum: High Fiber Diet
- Harvard Medical School: Red Meat and Colon Cancer
- vegetables image by dinostock from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.