Do things tend to get a little fetid at your house after mealtime? If so, you may want to adopt new eating habits. Chances are, even the most gastro-savvy among us have suffered temporary bouts of digestive distress, such as belching, excessive gas, stomach upset, or bloating. If your digestion is at times less than divine, the following steps will help smooth out those occasional "burps in the road."

Before a meal

  • Detox first: Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into warm water, and drink up before eating to hydrate your body and help stimulate digestion.
     
  • Ginger it up: A slice of fresh gingerroot topped with salt and fresh lemon juice, eaten about 20 to 30 minutes before a meal, will enhance your appetite and rev up your digestive system, says Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, author of The Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Beauty after Forty with Maharishi Ayurveda (MCD Century, 2004).
     
  • Go light at night: Make lunch your heaviest meal, says Lonsdorf. According to Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old Indian healing system, digestion is at its peak midday and weakest in the evening. "Plus, lying down to sleep a few hours later further slows metabolism and digestion," Lonsdorf says. Sleeping soon after a large or heavy meal can also lead to heartburn and acid reflux.
     
  • Focus: Gobbling your food while working, driving, reading, watching television, or otherwise multitasking is a surefire way to get indigestion. In contrast, the Ayurvedic practice of mindful eating reduces stress, prevents overeating, and encourages digestion. "Freeing yourself from other distractions reduces your stress level and helps you relax, which will help your digestive system do its job," says Lonsdorf.
     
  • Taste last: Let your other senses enjoy the meal before your taste buds have a turn. "Experiencing the colors, textures, and smells of your food gears up your salivary glands and gastrointestinal tract," says Petra Eichelsdoerfer, ND, RPh, MS, adjunct faculty at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.

During a meal

  • Chew slowly: To avoid gas and belching, chew small bites thoroughly. "Eating too quickly and gulping food or beverages can let large amounts of air into the stomach, which can cause bloating and distress," says Cathy Garvey, RD, of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.
     
  • Pinpoint the culprits: In addition to legumes (beans), gas-producing foods include dairy products (if you are lactose sensitive or intolerant), cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage and broccoli), and certain grains (particularly wheat). Garvey advises eating small quantities of these foods, then gradually increasing the amount as your body gets used to digesting them.
     
  • Know your enzymes: Natural enzyme supplements (Beano for legumes and Lactaid for milk products, for example) may help your body break down foods that cause gas. Check with your health care practitioner or natural products store to find out what may work for you.
     
  • Leave the leftovers: "Putting food back in the refrigerator after it has been cooked can seriously deteriorate the quality of the foods and their digestibility," says Lonsdorf. "Eating fresh food, freshly prepared, will enhance digestion and health."
     
  • Warm it up: Lonsdorf recommends warm foods and hot drinks when possible, because cold food is more difficult to digest. Agni is the Ayurvedic word for digestive fire. When you take in cold foods or drinks, you temporarily weaken your agni.
     
  • Get spicier: Add warming digestive spices to your food, such as fresh ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek, suggests Lonsdorf. A 2002 study found 2.5 grams per day of red pepper powder over a five week period helpful for treating functional dyspepsia (upset stomach). Gastric pain, fullness, and nausea scores among the red pepper group were about 60 percent lower at the end of treatment, compared with 30 percent in the placebo group (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2002, vol. 16, no. 6).

After a meal

  • Sip tea: A warm cup of tea after eating a meal encourages relaxation and digestion. Eichelsdoerfer recommends ginger-lemon or ginger tea to regulate digestive function. Chamomile and peppermint teas promote relaxation, too.
     
  • Relax: Stress affects digestion, so at the end of your meal sit quietly for a few minutes and savor the experience, says Garvey.
     
  • Apply acupressure: Press on the web of your hand between the first finger and the thumb. Do this on both hands to help stimulate the large intestine.
     
  • Walk: A leisurely stroll following a meal will help to stimulate metabolism and gently encourage the digestive process.

Health writer and nutritionist Vonalda Utterback, CN, enjoys proper digestion from her home in Longmont, Colo.