Gas, bloating, and heartburn – oh my! Poor digestion is unpleasant for anyone and good digestion is directly linked to better health, so here are some simple tips on how to improve digestion.
The concept of “we are what we eat” has never been more evident than with our digestive system. However, when our digestive system is not working in harmony we become victim to a whole list of unpleasant digestive ‘uglies’. Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, IBS, acid reflux, heartburn, and so many more digestive issues have become so common we have begun to consider them “normal”. In fact, some have become so normal that most of us don’t even notice that we are still dealing with them, as they have simply become an everyday occurrence.
Healthy Digestion = Proper Absorption = Optimal Health
The truth is that these symptoms are in fact not normal and can be alleviated by some simple habits and nutritional support. The ‘gut’ is a delicate ecosystem that relies on everything working in unison. When it is working properly, we are able to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health. If we consider that all of the cells in our body are continuously being regenerated, what we eat today, our body will literally become tomorrow. However, if you are unable to digest these nutrients you really aren’t getting all of the lovely nutritional benefits you deserve. So although “you are what you are”, you are mostly what you absorb. In a nutshell:
How to Improve Digestion
So what do we do? Here are some simple things to consider that can really help you with how to improve digestion:
1. Chew Your Food
Since mechanical digestion begins in the mouth, it is imperative that we chew our food adequately to start the digestive process. The saliva and enzymes present in our mouth not only begin digestion but also attack the bacteria in our foods. Not chewing our food thoroughly makes the process very hard on your stomach and intestinal system leading to gas, bloating, indigestion, and all those other uglies you can think of.
2. Eat Slowly
Think of digestion as a chain reaction; as soon as we smell or think about food, our body begins to prepare for the digestive process (step 1), and when chew saliva begins to help break down our food (step 2). If we eat quickly and don’t chew properly, we are rushing our bodies through steps 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. Consider your digesting a burning fire, and the food in your mouth a massive log – if we don’t chew and rush the process it will simply put the fire right out. Eating slowly will also help ensure that you are not overeating, by allowing the mind and the body to recognize when you are full.
3. Eat Regularly (but not constantly)
Eating regularly but not constantly helps support digestion as it provides the body with some “clean-up” and rest time. Every couple of hours your digestive system will move to keep things flowing in the right direction. Eating regularly helps keep the digestive tract on a schedule and prepared to work while eating constantly (and in large portions) will completely overwhelm it.
4. Avoid Eating Late
Limit eating meals late at night or before bed. If you are going to sleep, then your digestive system is going to sleep too! Eating close to bedtime not only puts stress on your digestive system while you are trying to sleep but can inhibit good sleep given your body is trying to stay active and keep digestion going.
5. Stay Hydrated
Keeping the body hydrated has multiple health benefits, but is especially beneficial to the digestive system as it helps promote good elimination. Hydration of the colon promotes peristalsis; the wave-like motion that keeps food flowing and moving in the right direction. When functioning normally, food moves through the digestive system every 24 hours, achieving 2 to 3 bowel movements per day – imagine that! As a rule of thumb, you should consume a minimum of 0.5 ounces of water per pound of body weight per day. The best practice is to ensure that you are drinking water throughout the day and not all at once. It is best to consume water between meals and limit liquids with meals as it can dilute digestive juices in the mouth and stomach required for the digestive process.
6. Cleanse the Diet
When you consume a refined, processed, or sugar-rich diet you are providing the body with an all-you-can-eat buffet of ‘bad’ bacteria. This kind of bacteria has a negative effect on digestion, impairs the process, and slows transit time; enter constipation. An overgrowth of bad bacteria will contribute to fermentation, yeast, and fungus overgrowth in the colon which can cause gas, bloating, constipation, impair absorption and can increase toxin absorption into the bloodstream.
7. Eat Whole Foods
Eating a diet rich in fresh, alive, good-quality foods will help ensure that you are eating a diet rich in enzymes and fiber. Boxed, canned, or packaged foods are low in enzymes and fiber and can add to a weakened digestive system. Fiber-rich foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans, while enzyme-rich foods include papaya, pineapple, sprouted foods, and fermented foods.
8. Proper Preparation
Eating fresh, whole foods is always the best option, however certain foods require proper preparation in order to ensure that can be easily digested. Raw whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds are all fantastic sources of fiber and can support digestion when properly prepared. These foods contain something called phytic acid, which is the natural intelligence needed to grow healthy plants. Phytic acid is present in the bran and hulls of these foods and prevents them from sprouting in your kitchen. However, this natural protective toxin can inhibit enzyme digestive function and interfere with the absorption of minerals. Soaking and sprouting these foods can help remove the phytic acid making them easier to digest. Canned versions have already been soaked, however, it is best to discard all of the liquid and rinse them very well before eating or cooking.
9. Move It
Physical activity helps support digestion by supporting the peristalsis motion of the digestive system. It also increases blood flow to organs and stimulates the digestive tract helping it work more effectively. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day at a minimum; walking, running, biking, or whatever your little heart desires will help.
10. Consume Probiotics Foods
Probiotic foods contain the ‘good’ bacteria that help nourish the intestinal flora. This good intestinal flora helps promote proper digestion, absorption, and regular elimination. The three most important varieties are lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium bifidum and streptococous faecium. Good examples of probiotic foods include yogourt (plain, organic, and natural), and fermented foods such as pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
11. Use Digestive Aids
Certain foods can serve as helpful digestive aids and support the process. Here are some natural ways to beat bloating and support digestion:
- Ginger: Fresh ginger root has a long tradition of being effective at supporting digestive distress. It stimulates the digestive system and eases the passage of food through the intestines. Plus it has anti-inflammatory effects!
- Lemon: Citrus can help to stimulate liver function and support digestive hydrochloric acid in the stomach further aiding digestion.
- Papaya & Pineapple: Although deliciously sweet, these fiber-rich foods are also rich in the enzymes papain and bromelain. These protein-digesting enzymes can help support digestion to ensure you beat the bloat.
- Bitter Greens: Help stimulate enzyme production and bile flow, which promotes the digestion of fats. Some tasty sources of bitter green include arugula, endive, broccoli rabe, dandelion greens, rapini, radicchio, and kale.
- Mint: Kills microorganisms that are associated with digestive issues, stop cramping, and soothes digestion. Sipping it in a simple tea is a soothing and calming way to enjoy its benefits.
12. Manage Stress
The relationship between the body and the mind is fascinating! The gut-brain connection is a complex system that is in constant communication. Those times when you are nervous, anxious, or stressed and you get butterflies in your stomach? That’s the gut-brain connection talking. Stress in the mental form can have a huge impact on your digestion. When you experience stress, not only may you not be reaching for the right foods, but your body goes into fight or flight mode – you are ready for combat, but the digestive tract suffers. When this happens the blood flow and energy to the digestive system are slowed down and therefore it will function poorly. Managing stress and ensuring that you are receiving adequate uninterrupted sleep will help support the digestive process! Every time you eat, ensure you are using tools to practice mindful eating to bring consciousness to the digestive process.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, these simple tips and tricks on how to improve digestion are something that you can implement into your everyday life to help you beat the bloat! It is important to remember that not all bodies are created equal; therefore not everyone reacts to foods the same way. Diet, life, and environmental factors can all affect a person’s digestive tract differently. If you are truly struggling with digestive issues, it’s best to work with a health professional that can help find the nutrition plan that works best for you.