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How To Tweak Your Diet And Daily Routine If You Have A Sensitive Stomach

Living with a sensitive stomach can be a daily challenge, with avoiding discomfort requiring a delicate and careful balance. After all, according to research conducted at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, the average person makes approximately 200 food-related decisions each day, encompassing everything from meal choices to portion sizes and beverage selections.

While managing digestive issues may feel burdensome, you’re not alone in your struggle. Digestive concerns are responsible for millions of visits to doctor’s offices each year in the U.S. alone. As such, experts have pinpointed numerous ingredients and lifestyle habits that often trigger sensitive systems. Here, we’ll explore these common triggers and offer practical tweaks you can make to your diet and routine to maintain a happier, healthier digestive system.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Megan Hilbert, R.D., is a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching. Dr. Daniel Nuzum, C.T.H., Ph.D., is a naturopath who focuses on gut health.

1. Go Easy on The Coffee

If you’re like many adults, you adore your morning cup of Joe. However, limiting your coffee intake can benefit your sensitive stomach due to coffee’s acidity and potential to stimulate gastric acid production, which may exacerbate digestive issues, suggests Megan Hilbert, R.D., a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching.

If you’re willing to forego the java, Hilbert suggests you swap out coffee for green tea. “Green tea has many gut health benefits and antioxidant properties, along with energy benefits from small amounts of caffeine,” she says.

If not, consider reducing coffee consumption, opting for low-acid coffee and/or choosing half-caff drinks to minimize irritation to your stomach lining. Another strategy that can help is to drink coffee with a meal rather than on an empty stomach, which can help minimize its stimulating effects.

2. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

Many people respond poorly to artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols—such as aspartame, sucralose, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, and isomalt—which can be difficult to break down due to how they’re processed in the gastrointestinal tract, explains Hilbert. Often, these sugar-free sweeteners cause uncomfortable gas production.

Sweeteners like erythritol, for example, are often not fully absorbed in the digestive tract, leading to fermentation by gut bacteria in the large intestine. Research shows this fermentation process can produce gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort, particularly in people with sensitive stomachs.

Read More: 5 Possible Reasons Why You’re Craving Sugar

If this sounds like you, skip the artificially or alternatively sweetened cereals, yogurts, and granola bars and opt for natural sweetness instead. Think fresh fruit, unsweetened yogurt with honey, or oatmeal topped with seeds and berries.

3. Give Digestive Enzymes a Try

Those with uneasy digestive systems might try taking digestive enzymes with meals, as they can help break down food more effectively, easing the burden on the digestive system, suggests Dr. Daniel Nuzum, C.T.H., Ph.D., a naturopath who focuses on gut health.

Enzymes like amylase, protease, and lipase assist in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively, explains Nuzum. In doing so, they can reduce discomfort and bloating after eating, especially for those with sensitive stomachs or conditions like leaky gut syndrome.

Most often, digestive enzymes are taken before each meal. Because there are many types of digestive enzymes out there (each with its benefits and uses), it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate formulation and dosage for your specific needs.

4. Prioritize Whole Foods

Ditching processed foods is a great way to reduce your added sugar consumption and stabilize your blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for gut health and overall digestion. 

Read More: Your 2-Week Guide To Cutting Out Highly Processed Foods

According to Hilbert, blood sugar left high and uncontrolled for too long can damage nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to sluggish digestion. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is also essential for preserving proper stomach emptying, pancreatic enzyme production, microbiome balance, and inflammation control, adds Nuzum. 

Your move: Opt for whole grains like oats or quinoa instead of processed snack bars, pastries, and other packaged items that can contain sugar, additives, and preservatives capable of irritating the stomach lining.

5. Eat a Mindful Lunch

Lunch is the perfect time to take a break, yet many people eat their midday meal while working, a habit that can be particularly problematic for people with sensitive stomachs.

As such, many experts recommend avoiding distractions when eating (think eating at your desk or scrolling on your phone while you nosh), since eating while distracted can mess with your ability to focus on your hunger and fullness cues, possibly leading to you over-eat and ultimately face more GI issues by straining the digestive system.

“The more volume we consume, the harder it can be for our bodies to quickly digest that meal, leaving food sitting for longer in certain parts of our digestive tracts that ferment or push against the stomach lining, creating discomfort,” Hilbert explains. Instead, she recommends practicing mindful eating by chewing your food thoroughly (up to 20 chews per bite) and eating as slowly as you can.

6. Sub Water In For Sugary Beverages

Water and other fluids are needed to effectively push waste through the digestive tract, helping to prevent constipation and clear the gut of waste that can trigger stomachaches, according to Nuzum.

Both he and Hilbert recommend staying hydrated throughout the day with water or herbal teas to support healthy digestion and promote regular bowel movements. 

If your stomach often gives you trouble, avoid sugary sodas, carbonated beverages, and too many caffeinated beverages, which can all exacerbate digestive issues. For example, “carbonated beverages can introduce more gas into the digestive system, and the carbonation process also makes them more acidic, which can be hard for those with gastritis or GERD,” Hilbert explains.

7. Opt for Gut-Friendly Snacks

While sugary snacks and refined grains can be irritating to the gut due to how they “feed” harmful microbes (such as yeast and certain bacteria), whole-food options such as veggies with hummus or a small handful of nuts, raisins, and seeds provide sustained energy without causing digestive upset, according to Nuzum.

8. Consider Collagen Supplementation

Adding a daily collagen supplement to your routine is a simple way to soothe the gut lining and support tissue repair. Collagen, a type of structural protein, literally makes up the gut lining, so providing your body with plenty of it via supplementation can help the body reduce intestinal permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut) and improve overall gut function.

Most collagen powders are tasteless and can be taken any time of day. An added bonus: Collagen protein can also help slow down sugar’s absorption into your bloodstream and contribute to steadier blood glucose levels (which you now know is huge for digestive function).

9. Have a Light and Early Dinner

Aim to finish dinner several hours before heading to bed to allow ample time for digestion before laying down, says Nuzum. Once you plop down on the couch or in bed, your digestion slows down, which can lead to trouble sleeping or stomach pains, especially in folks with a sensitive stomach.

Focus on easily digestible foods at night that won’t weigh you down too much. Think steamed vegetables, soups, salads, and lean proteins like fish or poultry, recommends Nuzum. Go easy on very fatty meals, fried foods, and spicy foods, as they are known to be triggers for heartburn, which tends to spike at night.

10. Take a Post-Dinner Walk

Taking a stroll after a meal helps to stimulate digestive processes and improve transit time, which helps to regulate bowel movements, explains Hilbert. Walking can also increase the uptake of nutrients (including glucose) by your muscles, aiding in blood sugar control. An evening walk is a great habit for calming your mind, soothing a full stomach, and generally supporting a healthy metabolism, she says.

11. Sip on Tea Instead of Alcohol (Especially Close to Bedtime)

You might feel sleepy after having a glass of wine or a cocktail, but alcohol can wind up interrupting your sleep and irritating your stomach. High alcohol consumption is linked to gut irritation and increased inflammation, a higher risk of weight gain and obesity, and a slew of other problems, points out Nuzum.

Read More: Steal These Health Experts’ Nighttime Rituals For Better Sleep And Well-being

Consider swapping your nightcap for a soothing, caffeine-free herbal tea, such as ginger, chamomile, or peppermint tea, Hilbert suggests. Many herbal teas are known to help alleviate bloating and indigestion and make for a relaxing addition to your pre-bedtime routine. “For those who deal with stubborn gas and bloating, peppermint has been shown to help relax gut muscles and help a sensitive gut lining be less reactive,” she says.

12. Go easy on fermented foods

While fermented foods certainly have their health benefits, people with touchy systems should be mindful of eating too many, especially if fermented foods are new to them, Hilbert warns. 

“Fermented foods have been all the rage as we discover more about their beneficial effects for gut health,” she says. “But, for those with sensitive stomachs, too many fermented foods can contribute to discomfort due to increased fermentation in the gut.” She suggests having a little (think a quarter of a cup) at a time and testing your reaction.

13. Keep Stress At Bay

Stress can exacerbate digestive issues, so finding ways to manage stress levels is crucial, particularly if you’re frequently plagued by a sensitive stomach. This could include practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature. Stress-reducing activities support your system in part by helping to balance hormones (such as cortisol and serotonin) that affect digestion, says Nuzum.

Hilbert is especially a fan of yoga for digestion, noting that “gentle stretching can help reduce any trapped gas and improve circulation to the digestive system, which keeps digestive juices flowing to prevent sluggish digestion.”

14. Consider Taking Probiotics

If you’ve been improving your lifestyle habits (especially your diet, stress, exercise, and sleep patterns) to help stabilize your digestive system, a next step may be to take a daily probiotic supplement to replenish beneficial gut bacteria and support digestive health, suggests Nuzum. 

Look for a high-quality probiotic with diverse strains and adequate CFUs (colony-forming units) for optimal effectiveness. 

Key Takeaways on Managing a Sensitive Stomach

Living with a sensitive stomach requires a delicate balance to avoid discomfort, as the average person makes about 200 food-related decisions daily. Digestive issues are common reasons for doctor visits, and experts have identified ingredients and habits that often trigger sensitive stomachs. Practical tweaks to your diet and routine can support digestive wellness, including limiting coffee intake, choosing gentle and whole foods, managing portions, avoiding artificial sweeteners and alcohol, and trying supplements like digestive enzymes and probiotics.

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