… no stretch pants, or unbuttoning necessary
Do you find you avoid certain foods because they make you bloated, cause stomach aches, or make you super lethargic afterwards? Or more likely, do you find yourself feeling like this after a lot of meals and don’t know how to change that? These are signs that your digestive system isn’t working properly. There are different reasons for digestive upsets, including food sensitivities, slowed metabolism, imbalanced gut flora, low stomach acid, and most commonly, stress! Proper digestion is very important, otherwise our body is not able to extract all the incredible nutrients contained in our food. We can eat extremely well, (organic, local, juicing, etc), but if we are unable to digest properly, our cells unfortunately don’t reap any of the benefits that our bank accounts have generously provided.
Here are 5 tips to improve your digestion, and enjoy the foods you (want to) love:
1. Slow down while eating/de-stress! When our body is in a sympathetic (go-go-go) mode, our brain prioritizes cognitive and muscle function (to outrun a predator, play a high intensity sport, meet a deadline, etc)…not digestion. Digestion is prioritized, and therefore more effective in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). So, take some breaths, and eat consciously. Consciously eating also activates the first phase of digestion, where our brain signals the release of saliva (digestive enzymes).
2. Chew…. more than what feels necessary. Chewing is the second phase of digestion, and is a very important step in the process of digestion. Chewing mechanically breaks down our food into absorbable parts, and further stimulates the release of saliva from our salivary glands. Chewing, also forces us to slow down when we’re eating, and therefore we can better recognize when we are actually full. This is important in avoiding the discomfort that comes from overeating, and overburdening our digestive systems.
3. Stimulate digestive enzymes. While you are preparing your food, make yourself a little digestive concoction to sip on, to prime the system. This will give your body a bit of a head start, initiating the activation of digestive enzymes (phase 3, chemical breakdown) allows for a more thorough breakdown in the intestines. My 3 favorite ways to do this are:
· Apple cider vinegar. In a small glass, equal parts apple cider vinegar and water (~ 1oz each)
· Lemon water. A small glass of warm water and lemon (without honey)
· Digestive bitters. A small glass of water with 1 tsp of a digestive bitters formula
4. Minimize liquids. Don’t drink too much liquid before or while you are eating, as this will dilute the potency of your digestive enzymes! Hence the ‘small glass’ noted above.
5. Balance your raw and cooked foods. Raw fruits and vegetables are full of wonderful enzymes, but also contain some anti-nutrients that impair digestion of important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Oxalates and phytic acid (especially in fresh greens, nuts, seeds and whole grains), bind minerals, and prevent absorption in the intestines. Soaking our grains before cooking, and lightly cooking our vegetables, helps to neutralize these anti-nutrients, making the vitamins and minerals accessible for absorption.
Many digestive issues can be resolved by implementing some of these small shifts in our eating routine. If your digestive issues persist, there are likely other underlying causes that can be investigated. Here are some things you should consider, or potentially rule out:
· Thyroid function: Metabolism, and our ability to digest and eliminate food wastes, is related to thyroid function. Impaired function can lead to constipation, and feelings of constant bloating and discomfort.
· Allergies and sensitivities: If our body is reacting to certain foods, the digestive lining can get damaged due to the inflammation, caused by the immune response to the food. This inhibits proper absorption through the digestive tract, causes bacterial overgrowth as undigested food sits in the gut, results in nutrient deficiencies, and causes uncomfortable bloating and digestive upsets. If you suspect you have food sensitivities or allergies, it’s important to have your blood tested, and identify foods that you need to eliminate from your diet. These foods cause immune reactions that impair digestion, and therefore affect your ability to enjoy your other (innocent) foods!
· Low stomach acidity: Chronic use of proton pump inhibitors, or antacids for acid reflux can cause a lot of issues. Unfortunately, although they provide a short term solution, when used for longer periods, they can cause more harm than good. These quell our stomach acid, which is necessary for the activation of digestive enzymes, and allow for the digestion of proteins and fats. Impaired digestion leads to all kinds of other discomforts! See above on how to support the digestive process instead.
Try some of these seemingly simple tips to improve your digestion, and reduce the negative aftermath of meal time! Our digestive health is very closely tied to how we feel in our day to day. Impaired digestion leads to nutrient deficiencies, and this can cause many issues but most commonly fatigue. Improving digestion, means improved energy and sense of wellbeing. If you have any further questions, call 604-974-8999 to book a naturopathic visit with Dr. Brett Simpson.