Digestive issues happen to all of us — and it's never a pleasant experience. At best it's an uncomfortable annoyance. At worst, it makes you feel puffy, cramped and lousy during the day, and disrupts your sleep at night.
Some digestive distress can be fixed simply by eating more slowly, as consuming too fast can cause you to gulp down air along with your food. Certain culprits, like carbonated drinks and gum chewing, can also increase the amount of gas in your system.
Other root causes may be more complex. Certain medical conditions, such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can play a big role. (If you've been dealing with chronic or severe digestive issues, check in with your doctor.)
As a functional medicine practitioner, I always try to address issues holistically before turning to medication. Below are 11 lifestyle tweaks that have worked well for my patients.
Avoid Certain Triggers
Aside from carbonated drinks, your diet may include some more subtle sources of digestive disturbances, such as:
• DAIRY: If you notice adverse effects when consuming dairy, it might mean that your body doesn’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme necessary to break down the sugar in dairy products. If that's the case, it's best to avoid.
• GLUTEN: Whether you’re severely allergic or just mildly sensitive to gluten, this protein (present in wheat, barley and rye) is a gas producer. Ditching gluten can significantly reduce problems.
• ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS: For many people, sugar substitutes like sorbitol and xylitol trigger gas, cramps and even diarrhea. If you must sweeten your food or beverages, switch to whole-food sources like honey or blackstrap molasses.
• CHEWING GUM: As with eating or drinking quickly, chewing gum encourages swallowing too much air, leading to an uptick in gas. In addition, many chewing gums are made with artificial sweeteners, making them a double whammy of gas creation.
Add Fiber-Rich Foods (Slowly)
This is a little tricky: Many good-for-digestion, fiber-rich foods like beans, certain veggies (think Brussels sprouts and broccoli) and some fruits (especially berries) can also contribute to gas production. Whatever you do, don't dump them from your diet with hopes of cutting gas — because all that fiber is exactly what your gut needs to keep digestion (and numerous other functions) on track. Just introduce them gradually to give your gut time to adjust.
Take A Digestive Enzyme
Among the simplest strategies for reducing gas are digestive enzymes, which help your body break down and digest protein, carbohydrates and fats. They also help reduce symptoms of gas and bloating.
Pick the Right Probiotic
Choose probiotics with the bacterial strains bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, which studies have shown to be among the most effective for gas reduction. Shop our Essential Probiotic, which is packed with 50 billion live cultures (including those two).
Consider an Elimination Diet
Consider trying an elimination diet like THE WELL Cleanse — when you take out certain foods step-by-step, you can determine which ones might be triggers for your digestive issues. We recommended working with a Health Coach when undertaking an elimination diet; a complimentary health coaching session is included when you purchase THE WELL Cleanse.
Go Easy On The Sweet Stuff
When it comes to sugar, be it the awful processed corn syrup, the cane stuff or even the sugar found in the sweeter whole fruits, like melons or mangoes, lighten up on it. Sugar of all kinds can encourage bacterial overgrowth and gas. (These tips can help you conquer your sugar cravings.)
Prep Your Beans
Soak beans overnight and slow-cook them in a slow cooker to help reduce some of their gas-inducing oligosaccharides. You can also look for pre-soaked and sprouted beans in the store.
Skip Water With Meals
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking water with meals can dilute stomach acid, which can be a gateway to gas since it interferes with the breakdown of nutrients in your stomach.
Sprinkle On The Right Spices
A number of spices, known as carminatives, promote healthy digestion while adding fantastic flavor, so pour them on! Among the better-known are: fennel seeds, mint, parsley, basil, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, dill, garlic, ginger, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, onion, oregano, pepper, rosemary, saffron and spearmint.
Drink Your Bitters
Digestive bitters are blends of plant extracts, often in an alcohol base, and make a great complement to heavy meals. The bitter taste can boost your digestive response and enhance the secretion of your body's digestive enzymes. Add a few drops of bitters, like these from Urban Moonshine, to your water before meals helps boost digestive action while taming gas, bloating and constipation.
Move Your Body
Physical activity can be effective in reducing bloat. Head out for a walk or run, or take a yoga class. Certain yoga poses have proven benefits for digestive issues, including downward dog, twists, malasana (yogi squat) or apanasana (a.k.a. wind-relieving pose: lie on the back and hug knees into the chest, either at the same time, or alternate one leg at a time). Try this yoga sequence to improve your digestion.