Written by Haley Parrent - Erika's fabulous coop student!
You may have heard you are what you eat. Unfortunately this isn’t the whole story. You are what you are able to digest and assimilate. You could eat the healthiest, nutrient-rich whole-food-packed diet, but if your digestion isn’t functioning optimally then it may all be going to waste.
Poor digestion may show up as gas, bloating, heartburn, cramping, an upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation. It can be a consistant problem, or it may show up only in certain circumstances. When you improve digestion, you improve the amount of nutrients you are absorbing and utilizing from your food; and the good news is, there are many easy and affordable ways to do so!
Here are 9 easy digestion boosting tips:
1. Apple Cider Vinegar: Drinking a glass of water with 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar 20-30 minutes before a meal may help to greatly improve digestion. It stimulates secretions of digestive juices and primes your system from the food you are about to take in. It also has great antibacterial, antiviral and anti fungal properties, BONUS! Opt for a raw and unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar with the “mother” or cultures still in it. It should appear cloudy and may have floating strands in it. This is normal and is a sign of a good quality vinegar.
2. Warm Water with Lemon: Drinking warm water with lemon before breakfast in the morning, or before a meal throughout the day helps to trigger your stomach to produce hydrochloric acid or HCl. HCl is responsible for breaking down proteins in our foods into amino acids, or the building blocks that our bodies need for growth and repair. Warm lemon water encourages the liver to produce bile which is an acid that is required for digestion and can also help to stimulate bowel movements if you are feeling backed up. Try adding some grated ginger or cayenne for flavour, warming properties and added digestive benefit.
3. Fermented Foods: fermented foods contain probiotics that help to build up the good bacteria in your gut. The good bacteria play a vital role in digestion, your immune system, your hormones and your neurotransmitters or brain chemicals. A healthy population of good gut bacteria helps to crowd out the bad bacteria and yeast. They help in the process of breaking down and assimilating various vitamins and minerals as well. Fermented foods include saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso paste, tempeh, kefir and yogurt.
4. Relax: The branch of our nervous system, called Parasympathetic, is responsible for “rest and digest”, meaning our digestive system fires up when we are relaxed. This is the ideal state to be in while eating, when your body has no other stressors to worry about. Avoid eating on the go, at your desk at work, or in other situations that do not allow you to focus on your food. Remove distractions, take some deep breathes and then dig in. Engaging in activities such as meditation, yoga, listening to music or walking can help you to get into a more relaxed state of mind and get digestion going!
5. Chew: Chewing your food adequately may be the simplest thing you can do to improve your digestion and overall health. Digestion begins in the mouth, and as we chew our food we secrete enzymes both in our mouth and throughout our digestive system. These enzymes are necessary to breakdown our food into the form that is usable for our body.
6. Drink plenty of water in between meals: Fluids promote healthy digestion by lubricating food waste so that it passes more easily through your digestive tract. Try drinking the majority of your fluids between meals, versus during meals - which can actually dilute digestive juices.
7. Avoid caffeine around meals: Drinking acidic caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea can cause your stomach to prematurely “dump” it’s contents into your small intestine. This means undigested food particles which can cause irritation, or in the longterm, damage to the intestinal lining. It also doesn’t allow us the time to break it down enough to turn the food into usable nutrients for our body. If you are going to consume caffeine, 20-30 minutes before or after the meal is better.
8. Herbal magic: No, not the fad-diet. Ginger, anise, fennel, cinnamon, peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary all have therapeutic benefits for digestion. They are soothing to the digestive tract and will help your digestion move along much more smoothly. Look for teas or tinctures with these ingredients or try adding them into your diet.
9. Bitters: The taste bitter stimulates secretion of digestive juices. Bitters (often known for their use in cocktails, such as Angostura) taken before a meal can help prime your digestive system. These can be picked up at your natural or health foods store. Also eating bitter foods can aid in stimulating the digestive system: Try adding in arugula, kale, dandelion greens, dill, sesame seeds, watercress, fenugreek, turmeric, parsley, cilantro, radish and horseradish.
If your digestion is really compromised, it may be of benefit to add in a concentrated, multi-strain probiotic supplement. The wider the range of strains, the better. Talk to your nutritionist for suggestions regarding options for probiotic supplements.