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6 Ways to Deal With Poor Digestion During Self-isolation

Take care of your digestion. It will help you feel better during self-isolation.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a hot topic worldwide. Besides it's fast spread, mortality rate, and global economic devastation, the COVID-19 crisis might leave another mark - poor digestion. Staying inside, might encourage one too many trips to the fridge, and cause a disruption in normal digestion. Food can be an inappropriate anti-stress therapy and it's easy to overeat when spending so much time at home.

If you experience bloating, gas, or constipation, you are not the only one. Various digestive symptoms have become an integral part of the modern lifestyle. Especially now, during a global pandemic, since most of the time we are stuck at home. We have less physical activity than usual and we usually choose food high in sugar and fat. 

Luckily, the right choice of foods will have a positive impact on digestion and improve your overall sense of well-being. There are also other tips that can help your digestive system function more efficiently. 

1. Chew Your Food

Don't just chew enough to swallow.

Chewing is one of the most functional aspects of digestion. The process of chewing stimulates certain reflexes that drive activity in the gastrointestinal system. Also, your saliva plays a huge role in breaking down food. It prepares the food in your mouth so that your stomach has an easier job. In your stomach, solid food is mixed with the saliva, so it pasees smoothly through your intestines. 

Chewing your food properly can result in smooth digestion and faster nutrient absorption [1]. Take your time while eating!

Chewing is an important step in the process of digestion

Figure 1: Chewing is an important step in the process of digestion. 

2. Choose Unprocessed Food

As we already mentioned in one of our blogs “Diet and Longevity, is there a link”, Western diets are characterized by high caloric density, high intake of meat (especially red meat), saturated fat, low intake of fruits, vegetables, and even fiber. It's shown that consumption of a Western diet has been linked to an increased risk of developing digestive disorders. 

Processed foods rich in trans fats have been associated with developing an inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). They also have negative effects on heart health. Besides trans fats, any fatty food makes you prone to constipation [2, 3, 4].

Also, studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can increase the number of bad bacteria in the gut [5, 6].

By eating a diet low in trans fats, refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners you can easily improve your digestion and reduce the risk of developing gastrointestinal issues.

Fast food is high in trans fats.

Figure 2: Fast food is high in trans fats. 

3. Don't Forget About Healthy Fat: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Intake of healthy fats improves the absorption of some fat-soluble nutrients and helps you feel full after the meal. The best known among healthy fats are the omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential for your body to function properly. However, your body can’t produce them by itself but must get them from food. Fatty fishes are the best sources of omega-3s. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring and sardines are high in omega-3s [7].

 Omega-3 fatty acids aid absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.

Figure 3: Omega-3 fatty acids aid absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Constipation is usually caused by low fluid intake. Water intake creates softer and bulkier stools, allowing them to pass more easily. You can also increase your water intake by eating fruits and vegetables that have a high water content, such as watermelon, peaches, cucumber, or tomatoes [8].

Drinking plenty of water prevents constipation

Figure 4: Drinking plenty of water prevents constipation. 

5. Eat More Fiber

It is well known that fiber has a positive impact on your digestion. A high-fiber diet aids movement of foods through your digestive tract. It is very important to balance intake of both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, since they have different benefits for digestion. Insoluble fiber isn't broken down in the gut, however it can soften stools, making them easier to pass. On the other hand, soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. This could help prevent stools from being too watery. Good sources for insoluble fiber are whole grains, nuts, fruits and veggies; while soluble fiber is found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, and legumes [9]. 

 Fiber keeps the digestive tract flowing.

Figure 5: Fiber keeps the digestive tract flowing. 

6. Exercise

Gyms are closed and it’s not recommended to spend much time outside. But there is always a way. There are many online workout programs that can help your home exercise routine. 

Exercise stimulates your muscles and helps you strengthen the digestive tract, therefore reducing risks of constipation and bloating [10]. It might positively impact your mental health as well. Even a short walk can help food travel faster through your digestive tract. Let’s be creative and help our bodies.

Exercise has also been shown to alleviate gas and stomach cramps

Figure 6: Exercise has also been shown to alleviate gas and stomach cramps.

Takeaway

Processed foods can be a comfort during a global pandemic, but are not a great choice for gut health. Eating more fiber and drinking plenty of water, as well as avoiding processed foods, can result in better and faster digestion. 

We are all staying at home these days, and are not in the usual rush, so take some time and chew your food properly, and develop an exercise routine. These things will help your physical and digestive health, and contribute to a positive mental attitude (which is crucial during quarantine). 

We are all in this together! Let’s do our best and stay strong.

References:

[1] Keller, J., & Layer, P. (2014). The pathophysiology of malabsorption. Visceral Medicine, 30(3), 150-154. 

[2] Popkin, B. M. (1999). Urbanization, lifestyle changes and the nutrition transition. World development, 27(11), 1905-1916.

[3] Dixon, L. J., Kabi, A., Nickerson, K. P., & McDonald, C. (2015). Combinatorial effects of diet and genetics on inflammatory bowel disease pathogenesis. Inflammatory bowel diseases, 21(4), 912-922.

[4] Ananthakrishnan, A. N., Khalili, H., Konijeti, G. G., Higuchi, L. M., de Silva, P., Fuchs, C. S., ... & Chan, A. T. (2014). Long-term intake of dietary fat and risk of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Gut, 63(5), 776-784.

[5] Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., ... & Kuperman, Y. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), 181-186.

[6] Suez, J., Korem, T., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Segal, E., & Elinav, E. (2015). Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges. Gut microbes, 6(2), 149-155.

[7] Zivkovic, A. M., Telis, N., German, J. B., & Hammock, B. D. (2011). Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health. California agriculture, 65(3), 106.

[8] Boilesen, S. N., Tahan, S., Dias, F. C., Melli, L. C. F. L., & de Morais, M. B. (2017). Water and fluid intake in the prevention and treatment of functional constipation in children and adolescents: is there evidence?. Jornal de Pediatria (Versão em Português), 93(4), 320-327.

[9] McRorie Jr, J. W., & McKeown, N. M. (2017). Understanding the physics of functional fibers in the gastrointestinal tract: an evidence-based approach to resolving enduring misconceptions about insoluble and soluble fiber. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(2), 251-264.

[10] Moses, F. M. (1990). The effect of exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Sports Medicine, 9(3), 159-172. 

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