As you get older, your digestive system may not work as effectively or quickly as it used to. With age comes an increased risk for various digestive issues like heartburn, IBS, ulcers, and dysphagia.
Fortunately, as is the case with many health concerns, making modifications to your diet as you age can help support a healthy digestive system.
Digestive Health Tips
1. Stay at a Healthy Weight
Carrying excess weight increases your risk for heartburn and indigestion, so staying at a healthy weight for your body type is crucial. The 3 main factors that affect your weight are diet, exercise, and genetics.
2. Look Over Medications
Some medicines can cause adverse side effects related to digestion, including gas, bloating, constipation, heart burn, and alterations in the healthy bacteria in the gut. Talk with your doctor to see if any of the medications you’re taking could be negatively impacting your digestive health.
3. Recognize Trigger Foods
Keep a journal of what you eat so you can identify specific foods that cause digestive issues. Common irritants include spicy foods, dairy in excess amounts, legumes, and alcohol.
4. Chew Thoroughly
Chewing properly and thoroughly helps break down foods into more easily digestible pieces. Chew slowly and steadily, and don’t take another bite of food until you’ve swallowed. If eating slower is difficult, set a timer for 20 minutes at least that much time to eating your meal.
5. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Eating 3 large meals a day can slow down your metabolism and the digestive system. Instead, aim for 4-5 small meals spaced throughout the day.
6. Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
Maintaining good oral hygiene is important to preserve the ability to chew foods thoroughly. Floss and brush regularly, along with visiting the dentist on an annual basis or as recommended.
7. Stay Hydrated
Older adults have a greater risk for dehydration due to side effects from various medications, decreased activity levels, and occasionally memory issues. This presents a challenge when it comes to digestion because fluids are what allow the body to properly process fiber. Everyone’s necessary fluid intake is different, but make it a point to always have water with you that you can sip throughout the day. It’s also important to incorporate hydrating foods into your diet like watermelon and other fruits.
8. Increase Fiber Intake
Unfortunately, most people in the US aren’t eating enough fiber which can lead to a myriad of digestive issues, as fiber helps our bodies process food through our system efficiently.
Fiber can be found in plants-based foods, including whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Men 50 years and older are recommended to consume 30 grams of fiber daily, while women are encouraged to consume 21 grams.
9. Supplement Gut Bacteria
A healthy digestive system has to have healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics are live bacteria cultures that supports gut health by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. Common probiotics to look for on ingredient labels include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces and sourced yogurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, soft cheeses, and generally fermented foods. Probiotics also come in supplemental form.
Probiotics should be complemented with prebiotics, which are essentially the energy source for probiotics. Prebiotics are carbohydrates than cannot be digested and supplied from asparagus, bananas, oatmeal, legumes, and other fiber sources.
10. Get Active
Being active decreases the risk of constipation, particularly as aerobic exercise promotes the contraction of intestinal muscles and facilitates bowel movements.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week.