If you’re one of the 70 million people affected by digestive problems you probably know that diet plays a role in how you feel. While optimizing your digestive health typically takes trial and error — and the guidance of a health-care provider — there are some helpful changes you can make to your diet that often improve your digestive health. Here are six expert tips.
1. Hike the fiber hill. Americans only get 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day. This is half of the recommended intake (which is 20 to 35 grams) — but don’t start eating all this at once unless you want to clear out an elevator. Increase fiber levels in your diet gradually, and be sure to get enough fluids (about 8 cups a day) at the same time you eat fiber-rich foods in order to soften the fiber during transit.
2. Fabulous high-fiber fruits. Eating a variety of fruits is a great way to get more fiber. Try including these top three fruits — each supplies 3-plus grams of fiber per serving — in your daily intake: pears (up to 5 grams per 1 medium), raspberries (4 grams per 1/2 cup) and apples (4 grams per 1 medium).
3. Have trouble digesting milk? Try yogurt. Research suggests that many people who are not able to properly digest lactose, the type of sugar in milk, can tolerate yogurt with live active cultures. Yogurt is relatively high in lactose, but the bacterial cultures used to make it produce some lactase, the enzyme needed to digest the sugar. Great news for those who are lactose-intolerant and looking for good sources of calcium!
4. Read for secret (lactose-containing) ingredients. Although milk and foods made from milk are the only natural sources of lactose, milk derivatives are often added to prepared foods, including bread and other baked goods, processed breakfast cereals, instant potatoes and soups, margarine, lunch meats, salad dressing, candy and powdered meal-replacement supplements. If you can’t tolerate lactose, be sure to read labels carefully.
5. Water, water, everywhere. Drink more fluids to prevent constipation. Water, particularly when you consume it with insoluble fiber in foods like cereal grains, which hold onto the water, helps soften waste, resulting in less strain.
6. Good bacteria for your gut? Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria found in the gut that help us digest foods and fight harmful bacteria. They also include live, active cultures used to ferment foods, such as yogurt. Interested in getting the potential benefits offered by probiotics? Mix a cut-up banana into a cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt — with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal on it — for a midday snack or turn it into breakfast and add some granola. Try different kinds of yogurt to see which one works best for you.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)