Do you find you avoid certain foods because they make you bloated, cause stomach aches, or quite lethargic? 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 functioning 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 don’t reap 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:
- Slow down while eating – 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. When digestion is prioritized, it is 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 (think digestive enzymes).
- Chew…. more than what feels necessary – Chewing is the second phase of digestion and is a very important step in the process. Chewing starts the mechanical break down of food into absorbable parts and further stimulates the release of saliva from our salivary glands. Chewing also forces us to slow down when we are eating, and therefore we can better recognize when we are full. This is important in avoiding the discomfort that comes from overeating and overburdening our digestive systems.
- 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 favourite 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
- 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.
- Balance your raw and cooked foods – Raw fruits and vegetables are full of wonderful enzymes, but also contain some anti-nutrients that impairs the digestion of important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. These anti-nutrients, 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 them, making the vitamins and minerals accessible for absorption. Both have their positive attributes, and a balance of the two is best!
Many digestive issues can be resolved by implementing some of these small shifts in your 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 tied 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 by the inflammation that the immune response causes. 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. Allergy testing can help you to quickly identify the 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 or stomach pain, can cause a lot of issues. Although they can provide short term relief, long term use can cause more harm than good. These medicines quell our stomach acid, which is necessary for the activation of digestive enzymes that allow for digestion of proteins and fats.
These seemingly simple tips can improve your digestion and reduce the negative aftermath of mealtime! 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, a better sense of wellbeing, and the ability to enjoy foods you love!
— Dr. Brett Simpson, ND
To book a naturopathic appointment with Dr. Brett, visit our website at theiv.ca or give us a call at 604-974-8999.