- Find out what causes slow digestion
- Discover 7 simple ways to speed up digestion
- See the 4 types of foods that speed up digestion after eating
- Learn what specific foods you can eat to speed up digestion
Do you suffer from sluggish bowels or often experience gas, bloating, or indigestion? If you do, you may need to speed up digestion. Often, symptoms like gas and bloating are due to slow digestion. When digestion of your food slows, what you eat isn’t breaking down fast or completely enough.
(Now, you don’t want food to pass too quickly through your system – that would be equally as bad as slow digestion and can be a sign of illness.)
Here are a few tips including 8 simple remedies you can use to speed up digestion for better health and relief from digestive discomfort.
What causes slow digestion?
Slow digestion can occur for many reasons:
- You have a medical condition called gastroparesis, or delayed emptying of the stomach. It can occur due to damage to your vagus nerve that’s connected to digestion, stomach flus (viruses), hypothyroidism, narcotics, some antidepressants, and chronic diseases including Parkinson’s disease.[i]
- Frequent laxative use, or overuse, can slow waste movement through your gut, causing a condition often called lazy bowel syndrome, sluggish gut, or slow gut.
- Restricted eating or excessive fasting can weaken bowel reflexes. Studies show fasting, even up to 3 days a week, can be an excellent way to promote good health, however, the key here is not to overdo it.
- Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
- Anesthesia is well known to slow bowel movement.
- Irritable bowels also often slow the digestion.
- Extreme stress.
- Lack of fiber.
The last two, a lack of fiber and water, are the most common causes. Regardless of the cause, however, if digestion slows too much, you need to speed it up.
How to speed up digestion
While slow digestion can (literally) be a real pain, there is good news. You can speed up digestion after eating simply and affordably.
You can go for a walk after you eat to stimulate the muscles of digestion, or just exercise regularly. Research shows exercise encourages the movement of food through your system.[ii]
You need to stay hydrated for good digestion. Water aids in the breakdown and digestion of food. It activates fiber, helping it pass through your system. Water keeps your stools soft.[iii]
Completely chew your food
Chewing is the first step to breaking your food down for digestion. The more thoroughly you chew, the easier digestion will be. Your stomach and intestines are designed to break down large chunks of food. The enzymes and acids work best when you’ve chewed your food.
How long should you chew? Well, grandma may have said 34 times and you should always listen to grandma. The best answer is probably, once the bite has lost all texture.
Manage your stress
Research shows stress slows the speed of digestion in your stomach.[iv] Find a way to relax and you might find digestion settles down and everything starts moving along.
Take probiotic supplements
Probiotics play a key role in digestion. These bacteria live in our gastrointestinal tract and help us break down the food we eat. Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidum support digestion at different stages of digestion.[v],[vi]
If you’ve taken antibiotics, contraceptive pills, or commonly suffer from stomach upset and experience sluggish bowels, probiotic supplements can help restore proper digestive function.
Get plenty of fiber
There are different types of fibers. Insoluble fiber doesn’t break down in the digestive tract, giving substance to stool, helping to clear out the colon. Soluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through the intestines, softening stool for easier passing and slowing the absorption of sugar and cholesterol.
You might also hear the term prebiotic fiber – this is soluble fiber. It feeds the probiotics in your gut, helping to sustain healthy levels of your natural intestinal probiotic bacteria, which keeps digestion moving.
Supplement with digestive enzymes
Your pancreas produces digestive enzymes needed for digestion. As you get older, you produce fewer.[vii] It’s why gas, bloating, and constipation become more and more of a problem for older folks. Research indicates that supplementing with digestive enzymes support the breakdown of your food, relieving symptoms of indigestion.[viii] Better yet, your body gets the nutrients it needs and removes waste faster.
Eat the right foods that speed up digestion
Processed, refined foods loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients lack fiber, probiotics, enzymes, and other essential nutrients needed for digestion. They strain the digestive system and can cause constipation. For proper digestion, you need to eat the right foods.
Foods that speed up digestion can be generally divided into four groups: probiotic-rich foods, fiber-rich foods, those foods that soothe the digestive tract, and foods rich in enzymes. For the best health, it’s recommended to incorporate all of them into your diet – you don’t have to eat them all every day but making them a regular part of your diet goes a long way to healthy digestion.
Tempeh. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh offers a quality vegan source of probiotic strains.
Sauerkraut. It may be an acquired taste, but sauerkraut, made from fermented cabbage, contains a diverse range of beneficial probiotic strains, making it an ideal source of probiotics to support digestive health.
Natto. Fermented soybeans give this popular Japanese dish a potent dose of probiotics in a small serving, especially strains of Bacillus. It is often eaten plain or topped with soy sauce and kimchi, or served over rice.
Miso. Miso itself is a Japanese seasoning, commonly known as the base for miso soup. Made from soybeans, salt, and a type of fungus called koji, all ingredients are fermented together producing a rich source of probiotic bacteria to boost your digestive health.
Kimchi. Korea’s version of fermented cabbage, kimchi may include other vegetables such as the Korean radish. All ingredients are fermented together creating a probiotic-rich food, often with a little bit of a spicy kick.
Kefir. This fizzy, fermented milk drink features a host of Lactobacillus cultures that break down the lactose in milk, making it an excellent drinkable source of dietary probiotics.
Apples. Apples are a great source of the soluble (prebiotic) fiber pectin. When you eat an apple, pectin passes through your small intestine to be broken down in the colon by the probiotic bacteria there. As a soluble fiber, it keeps your stool soft to support regular elimination. Research also shows pectin soothes inflammation in the colon, helping to relieve gas, bloating, and generally irritable bowels.[ix]
Beans. You knew beans have great fiber content, but they’re also an excellent plant-protein full of vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids that support healthy intestinal function.
Beets. This deep red root delivers a high amount of fiber with every serving. The beet is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, specifically magnesium and potassium, two electrolytes that keep the intestines active and the bowels moving.
Fennel. The use of fennel to support digestion goes back to the ancient world. In addition to its fiber content, research shows fennel helps to soothe and smooth the activity in the digestive tract, easing gas, bloating, indigestion, and irritable bowels.[x]
Oats, and other whole grains. As a whole grain, oats can’t be beat for helping to speed up digestion. A rich source of fiber, oats also supply magnesium, potassium, and a host of other essential minerals. Other superb whole grains include spelt, farro, and quinoa.
Prunes. Perhaps too well known for their laxative properties, prunes offer high-quality dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While a prune’s fiber feeds probiotic bacteria and softens stool, sorbitol, a natural sugar in prunes, draws water into the colon to speed digestion and keep you regular.
Foods that soothe the digestive tract
Ginger. An ancient remedy for upset stomach, research shows ginger encourages gastric emptying, moving food through the stomach faster and into the intestines for further digestion.[xi]
Peppermint. Here is another digestive aid from antiquity. While they took it then because it worked, today researchers believe its positive effect comes from its oils that relax the muscles of the intestines for easier digestion.[xii]
Papaya. This tropical fruit contains papain, a powerful enzyme. Papain specifically breaks down tough proteins, aiding digestion. Research shows it helps relieve digestive problems and ease common symptoms of poor digestion like bloating, constipation, and heartburn.[xiii]
Pineapple. Eating fresh pineapple supports digestion due to an enzyme that digests protein called bromelain. Generally recognized as safe by the US FDA[xiv], bromelain combined with pineapples fiber can help speed up digestion and soothe the stomach.
Sprouted foods. Sprouting releases the enzyme potential of whole grains and seeds like almonds. It also reduces the impact of phytic acid, a chemical in the outer layer of grains that inhibits digestion and absorption of nutrients in food.
Speed up digestion and elimination after eating – or overeating
The simplest way to speed up digestion when you eat is to eat a balanced meal of raw foods rich in fiber, probiotics, enzymes, or with soothing properties. In addition to nutritious foods, making sure to add any of the other seven simple remedies will help keep your digestion moving at a good, healthy pace.
Of course, sometimes that can be hard with busy schedules and meals-on-the-go. Alternatives to keep your digestive process moving along could include probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements. These fill the gap when your diet can’t.
[ii] Kim YS, Song BK, Oh JS, Woo SS. Aerobic exercise improves gastrointestinal motility in psychiatric inpatients. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(30):10577–10584. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i30.10577
[vi] Guyonnet D, et al. Fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 improves gastrointestinal well-being and digestive symptoms in women reporting minor digestive symptoms: a randomised, double-blind, parallel, controlled study. Br J Nutr. 2009 Dec;102(11):1654-62. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509990882. Epub 2009 Jul 22.
[vii] Rémond D, Shahar DR, Gille D, et al. Understanding the gastrointestinal tract of the elderly to develop dietary solutions that prevent malnutrition. Oncotarget. 2015;6(16):13858-13898.
[viii] Wu Y1, et al. [Efficacy of compound digestive enzyme tablet for dyspeptic symptoms: a randomized double-blind parallel controlled multicenter clinical trial in China]. [Article in Chinese] Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2014 Nov 18;94(42):3326-8.
[ix] Lattimer JM, Haub MD. Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health. Nutrients. 2010;2(12):1266–1289. doi:10.3390/nu2121266
[x] Valussi, Marco. (2012). Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties. International journal of food sciences and nutrition. 63 Suppl 1. 82-9. 10.3109/09637486.2011.627841.
[xi] Hu ML, Rayner CK, Wu KL, et al. Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World J Gastroenterol. 2011;17(1):105–110. doi:10.3748/wjg.v17.i1.105
[xii] Khanna R, MacDonald JK, Levesque BG. Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2014 Jul;48(6):505-512. DOI: 10.1097/mcg.0b013e3182a88357.
[xiii] Muss C1, et al. Papaya preparation (Caricol®) in digestive disorders. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2013;34(1):38-46.