How to Keep the Gastrointestinal System Healthy

The right foods can ease digestive function.

The right foods can ease digestive function.

Your digestive system is composed of several complex parts that work in symphony to process the food you eat, absorb nutrients and excrete waste matter. The gastrointestinal system consists of the stomach, small intestines and large intestines, as well as other organs, including the liver, gallbladder and pancreas, that produce or store digestive fluids. Keep these organs healthy and facilitate normal digestion by eating the right foods and avoiding those that overburden the gastrointestinal system.

Eat more whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals. Replace white rice with brown rice and other grains, such as barley and quinoa. These foods are high in dietary fiber, which aids digestion. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the gastrointestinal tract that slows digestion, allowing optimum nutrient absorption. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to waste matter, aiding bowel movements.

Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your daily diet. These foods are rich in essential fiber and also contain vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. For example, vitamin B-1, also known as thiamine, is needed to help your body digest carbohydrates and produce energy.

Drink at least six to eight glasses of fluid every day. Your digestive system needs water to facilitate all the processes that break down the food you eat. Water is also needed to help dissolve fats and soluble fiber, allowing them to move through the intestines easily.

Reduce your consumption of processed foods. Many convenience and packaged foods are high in salt, sugar and fats and low in essential fiber, minerals and vitamins. They may also contain artificial colorings, preservatives and flavorings, chemical substances that can irritate the lining of the digestive tract and overburden the liver, which filters toxins from the blood.

Avoid foods high in hydrogenated or trans fats and deep-fried foods. These include cookies, baked goods, frozen dinners, fries, onion rings and doughnuts. Also, limit foods high in fat. These foods slow down the digestive system, increasing your risk of constipation, heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Add low-fat yogurt, kefir and onions to your diet. These foods are high in probiotics, which enhance the growth of healthy bacteria that naturally exist in the intestines. These beneficial bacteria colonies help your gastrointestinal system digest food and absorb nutrients. They may also help to support your immune system by stopping the growth of harmful bacteria in your body.

Get regular physical activity. This helps your digestive tract process food better. It also helps you maintain your body weight. Being overweight makes digestion harder.

Tips

  • Eating a high-fiber diet helps your body have healthy bowel movements; however, if you eat too much fiber, it can actually cause constipation or diarrhea. Introduce fiber to your daily diet slowly and be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • It is important to get both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oatmeal and fruits, while insoluble fiber is found in many grains and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables have both kinds of fiber in varying amounts.
  • Healthy fats are part of a balanced daily diet and necessary for general health. Eat foods that are high in good fats -- for example, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Warnings

  • If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, Crohn's Disease, lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity or any other illness that affects digestion, consult your doctor or nutritionist about what foods can help keep your gastrointestinal system healthy.
  • Additionally, if you have diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease, consult a doctor or nutritionist about the best diet plan for you.
 

About the Author

Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.

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