I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying “you are what you eat”. It’s a great way to motivate us to eat healthier. However, a closer look let’s us know that you are not what you eat, you are what you digest, absorb and utilize. So no matter how perfect your diet is, if your digestion isn’t working properly, not only won’t you be able to absorb all the nutrients you think you’re feeding yourself but you’ll be setting yourself up for a host of digestive problems such as heartburn, dysbiosis (the proliferation of abnormal gut flora), IBS, etc. I have news for you folks… contrary to popular belief, gas, burping and bloating are not normal!
When Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut” he was really on the spot. Today, digestive disorders affect millions of Americans. That’s why digestion is foundational to Nutritional Therapy and is the first thing I address with pretty much every client I work with. It's also why I decided to enroll in Andrea Nakayama's Digestive Intensive through her Holistic Nutrition Lab. I am so excited to deepen my knowledge on the subject and be able to share it with my clients. I’d like to leave you with a few facts about digestion and several simple tips to help you improve yours.
Did you know that digestion actually starts with your brain? It starts when you start to think about what you’re about to eat. Digestion is also parasympathetic process. This means you must be in a state of calm and relaxation for digestion to work. If you’re on the run, stressed out, in an argument, you are in sympathetic mode. If you eat in this state, you’re behind the eight ball. All the complex parts of digestion just won’t work. It puts you in a state of fight or flight. When you’re in this state, your body thinks it’s in danger (from our hunter gatherer days) and digestion takes a back seat to other bodily processes designed to get us out of dodge.
So do yourself a favor and allow yourself to visually take in your meal, take a moment for gratitude, chew well (when your food is physically broken down properly, it takes some of the pressure off of other parts of your digestive system so it doesn't have to work so hard) and let your salivary juices start to flow. These juices in your mouth contain enzymes that start to digest carbohydrates. They also set into motion a chain of events in the rest of your digestive system to prepare for the food that is coming down the pike (they signal for the release of enzymes and hormones necessary to break down and absorb your food) . Here are few more simple tips for you try to help improve your digestion. Have some fun with it!
• Eat your meals sitting down. Take a few deep breaths to relax and calm your body and mind before you take your first bite. This helps you get into a parasympathetic state prior to eating.
• Try starting your meal with ½ tsp raw apple cider vinegar in ¼ to ½ cup warm water as another digestive tonic.
• Chew your food! It should actually liquify in your mouth before you swallow. A good rule of thumb is to chew your food 20-30 times as a goal.
• Drinking a small cup of broth with your meal aids.digestion. It’s soothing to your digestive tract, is full of minerals and helps us assimilate nutrients better. Sometimes, just the act of sipping some warm broth at the start of a meal helps me relax and get into that parasympathetic state.
• Include fermented foods with your meals. This could be a small glass of beet kvass, kombucha or water kefir, 1-2 tablespoons of fermented vegetables or sauerkraut or a dallop of creme fraiche to boost your ability to digest your meal. Fermenting foods makes their nutrients more bioavailable (your body doesn’t have to work so hard to make the nutrients available as the fermentation process has done some of the digestion for you). Start slow and build up your tolerance. You can also start with a teaspoon of the brine or “juice” from the kraut if you can’t yet tolerate the vegetables at first.
• Digestive bitters can also help boost HCL (hydrochloric acid in your stomach that helps you digest proteins) levels. They also stimulate the digestive system to produce digestive enzymes and secrete bile which helps you digest your fats.