Digestion is one of the most important processes in our body. The ability to digest food means we can absorb and assimilate nutrients that our body can’t make on its own. In turn, our whole body is affected by the state of our digestion because it not only affects our energy levels but it will also largely affect our mood and emotional state.
Before we move into tips and tricks for eating optimally for your digestion, here is the Coles notes version of how food moves throughout your body.
Digestion starts in the mouth, with the action of chewing telling your stomach that food is coming. Carbohydrates begin breaking down in the mouth, which is why it’s even more important to chew your grains and vegetables. From the mouth the liquid food substance travels into the stomach where protein enzymes and HCl break down protein while churning the mixture. When the mixture moves into the small intestine bile is release by the gall bladder to break down fats, and carbohydrates are digested here as well. The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed, through small microvilli all along the intestinal wall. The large intestine absorbs water back into the body and creates bulk to excrete.
Digestion is influenced by many things; by our mood, our stress level, the things we eat, the combinations of foods we eat, the way we eat, and even the environment we are in while we are eating can affect our digestion. If you consistently suffer from bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and alternating constipation or diarrhea there are some simple things that you can do to improve your digestion process.
The art of food combining can be incredibly beneficial to optimizing digestion while decreasing bloating and gas.
Eat fruit alone or 20 – 30 minutes before a meal. In my opinion this goes for any sugary food because sugar digests much faster than protein or fats and therefore if you eat fruit right after a meal it will cause a fermentation process to begin on the food that is trying to digest in your stomach.
If you are concerned with blood sugar than avoid fruits altogether or eat them with a vegetable or a fiber like chia or flax, something that will slow down the fructose spike on blood sugar. (But that’s another blog altogether.)
For optimal digestion, do not eat a protein dense food with a starchy food- this means that a steak sandwich is your stomachs worst enemy. Essentially proteins need an acidic environment (HCl) to break down while starches (carbohydrates) need an alkaline environment to break down. In order for this process to operate smoothly it is best to allow these two complex macronutrients to have their own stage time.
Fats slow down digestion. Which is great if you have blood sugar issues but for digestion it can be a little tricky. My recommendation is to eat your good fats for breakfast and lunch, the two meals that allow lots of digestion time and post activity. Fats do combine well with everything except fruit but still be cautious about the increased transit time they need to break down.
Vegetables are your friends. In my opinion you can eat vegetables with everything and in fact, I encourage it! Not only are basic vegetables straightforward to digest (exempting cruciferous veg) but also they are full of nutrients and enzymes that will be a helping hand to the digestive process.
Another key thing to remember is that water will dilute digestive enzymes, so if you feel the need to have a big chug of water do it a few minutes prior to eating or 30 minutes (minimum) after your meal.
Since chewing is the very first part of digestion it’s very important to chew chew chew! The enzymes in your body can only do so much while your teeth are way stronger and should be doing most of the work.
Supplements that can help you along the way
Stomach Digestion: Digestive enzymes will assist the stomach in breaking down food. Sometimes if you find you are belching quite a bit after meals, you may need to increase your HCl – through supplementation or by drinking 1 tsp apple cider vinegar prior to eating.
Intestinal assimilation and excretion: Probiotics are the number one thing I recommend for everyone. Probiotics are endlessly beneficial not only for the gut but also the immune system and the brain. They will help the intestines work better and excrete effectively.
Herbs for bloating and gas
Certain herbs made into teas can be soothing for a stressed or overworked stomach after a meal. Fennel will help sooth gas, peppermint will increase digestion, and chamomile will release a tense stomach. The warm water in the tea is very calming and can be beneficial for stomach pain.
Digestion is a daily process that can hugely impact our way of life. Little changes in our food combinations or supplementation protocol can be very beneficial if you have a weakened digestive tract. If these basic tricks do not sooth your troubled tummy feel free to book in for a nutrition visit with me or consult your local naturopathic doctor.