Healthy functioning of the digestive tract is key to multiple systems in your body. Energy, thyroid function, immune system functioning, autoimmunity, mood, metabolism, skin health, etc.
Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system lines the digestive tract? Therefore, proper functioning of your digestive tract is key for a healthy immune system, including auto-immune conditions.
Did you know that 80% of the body's serotonin is produced in the digestive tract? Serotonin is very important for mood and pain. Serotonin modulation medications such as SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants. In Canada, for men aged 25-44 and for women aged 45-64, anti-depressants are the most common prescriptive drug. For women aged 25-44, it is the second most commonly used only behind birth control pills. There are multiple studies being released on the importance of the digestive tract microbiome and our mood.
These are just a few of the many examples of how improving your digestion can improve your overall health. So what are the top 11 tips to improve your digestion?
1. Kick start your metabolism with breakfast
You can imagine that your digestive metabolism acts the same as a fire. When you start a fire, first you add kindling & newspaper to get the fire started, and then only after it gets going are you able to add bigger logs to the fire. Eventually, when the fire is really going, it’s so hot that it could melt a tin can!
Similarly with digestion, it is important to start your day with an easy-to-digest meal such as oatmeal with flax and blueberries, a fruit salad with hemp seeds, a nutritious smoothie, or quinoa with steamed kale and an egg. Then, once you get the fire started, you can add in foods that require more energy to digest such as meats, nuts, and beans during lunch or dinner.
Let’s look at this another way: have you ever tried to start a fire using logs? It takes long, long (long!) time to get a hot fire going. The same is true with digestion. If you don’t get your digestive fire burning strong first, then you are not able to fully digest the meats, nuts, and beans that you eat later on in the day. This can be experienced as heartburn, gas, bloating, food sensitivities, or lack of nutritional absorption.
2. Cook your meals at home
The smells and aromas released when food is chopped and cooked helps ‘prime the system’ by initiating the release of stomach acid and digest enzymes that are necessary for proper digestion.
3. Eat in a stress free environment
Create a nice environment for your mealtimes by sitting in a comfortable seat, turning off all stimuli (computers, TV, cell phone… except maybe some relaxing music), light a candle or dim the lighting, calm your mind, take your time, and enjoy your meal. Doing this can actually increase enzyme production by up to 70%! And you can get the whole family involved by creating a mealtime ritual that is relaxing, fun, and a time to connect.
4. “Prime the system” by starting your meal with bitter foods
To help increase enzymes so that your body is ‘primed’ to digest your meal, you can take 1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed with 2 oz water or by eating something bitter before your meal. Our favorite way to do this is to have a green salad before meals with bitter greens such as arugula, kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, and endive. You could even enjoy these bitter greens with an apple cider vinegar dressing! You can find our favorite in our recipe section.
5. Do not over eat: “Hari hachi bu”
This wise Japanese saying translates into “eat until you’re 80% full.” The Okinawans’ say this before every meal to remind themselves to eat only moderate amounts of food.
6. Chew each mouthful at least 31 times
The mouth is a very important part of the digestive process. Chewing breaks up the food into smaller particles and mixes it with saliva and digestive enzymes. These smaller food particles now have a larger surface area for the acid and digestive enzymes of the stomach and intestine to work on. This allows complete digestion of the food, which is important for preventing food sensitivity/allergies and to ensure maximum absorption of the nutrients.
7. Put your fork down between each bite
Doing this helps you relax and slow down, which is just what the digestive system needs so that your stomach and brain can agree on when you are actually full. When you eat a meal, the distension of the stomach sends signals to the brain stating just how full it is. The brain then releases hormones telling you that you are full. However, this signal can have a 15 minute “lag time”, so if you’re eating too quickly then your stomach may be too full by the time the brain gets the signal and releases the hormones that tell you to stop eating.
8. Avoid drinking a large glass of water with your meal
The water you drink during a meal can dilute stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which reduces digestion and absorption of nutrients. It’s best to avoid drinking water for at least 30 minutes before or after your meal.
9. Add fermented foods to your diet
Foods that have undergone the fermentation process, such as sauerkraut, ]kimchi, and kefir, have naturally high amounts of digestive enzymes and probiotics that are just waiting to get to work. Including these foods with larger meals, especially those with meat, helps reduce any discomfort or excessive fullness that often comes with eating harder to digest proteins.
10. Go for a gentle walk after your meal
The rhythmic movement of walking puts the body into parasympathetic mode (aka “rest & digest” mode), which is the best state for optimal digestion- 15 minutes is all it takes!
11. Address food sensitivities
If you feel that you’re doing everything right and are still experiencing symptoms of indigestion such as gas, bloating, cramping, lethargy, or intense food cravings, it would be worth your while to consider exploring whether you have a sensitivity to foods that you’re eating. Visit your naturopathic doctor for food sensitivity tests or other advanced lab testing.
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