Foods can either build you up or break you down, and one of the first things to be impacted by poor food choices is the gut. The gut or ‘GIT’ (Gastrointestinal tract) is the long tube that connects the mouth to the anus, or as my brother likes to call it, the ‘anoos’ – namely the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
In this day and age it is almost normal to suffer from gut related complications like constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, reflux, ulcers, and/or food sensitivities, but I can assure you it is not – and that is the good news!
Gut health spans a few important topics from the process of digestion, to how to choose the correct probiotic supplement. For my next few blog posts I am going to focus on getting you all of this information in an informative and summarized way, so that you might become the master’s of your own GIT’s!
There is a saying that states, “you are what you eat”, but this well-known saying has evolved to the more accurate, “you are what you absorb”. Digestion is the process of mechanically and chemically breaking down food, along with good bacteria and bad bacteria that live in our colons, this process is at the core of human health. Our digestive system is at the core of our bodies functioning, and what we put into that core is essential for overall health.
Below are some tips for improving the digestion and absorption of food, and although they may sound a bit generic they undoubtedly lead to a happier and healthier gut if practiced regularly. We work the brain through continuous learning, the heart through exercise, and the gut through implementing the steps below.
Tips for Improved Digestion:
Your teeth are responsible for the first part of digestion – mechanical digestion. Chewing food increases the surface area of our food, which leads to easier digestion and more nutrients available for absorption. Chewing is cost a cost effective strategy that you can implement today, and since we have no more teeth along the gastrointestinal tract it really does pay to take the extra time to chew. A general rule of thumb: chew until your food is liquid, which turns out to be about 20-30 chews per mouthful. If I were you though, I would ditch the counting once you get the hang of it, it can get a little tiring.
- Sit down when you eat:
Sitting down whilst eating allows blood to flow away from the legs and arms to the digestive system, which requires a huge amount of blood to breakdown food and absorb nutrients. Sitting down lets the body signal to the brain that the right conditions are available for the digestive process.
- Eat when you are hungry (and not according to a clock):
When we eat our stomach starts to produce stomach acid and enzymes to breakdown food, and unless we are hungry we won’t have those things ready to rock when we need them. So that hunger is a good signal to tell us that our bodies are ready for us.
- Eat foods high in fiber (the soluble and insoluble kind):
Soluble fiber acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid in your intestines and creating a slow-moving paste. This paste slows down digestion, which gives vitamins and minerals enough time to absorb through intestinal walls. Soluble fiber balances blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol levels. Examples of this type of fiber are oats, beans, peas, lentils and pysillium husk.
Insoluble fiber acts like a broom that sweeps through your intestines giving them a great clean and creating soft bulky stools in the process. Insoluble fiber is the tough fibrous part of plants that is difficult to chew and passes through your body intact, like the seeds and skins of fruit, and the outer bran of whole grains.
- Drink enough water (but not whilst eating):
Having a few sips of water during meal times is absolutely fine, but too much water during meals dilutes gastric juices who’s primary function is to start the chemical digestion of food via enzymes and acid, and kill harmful bacteria entering into the body via the food we eat.
Drinking enough water per day increases gut motility, which leads to better digestion. Most people will respond with a sheepish, “No” when asked if they drink enough water per day. I have found that drinking high quality spring water makes me drink more water per day, helping me to easily meet my daily quota.
- Exercise regularly
Exercise increases peristalsis – the muscular movement responsible for moving food along the GIT.
- Environment and Mood
- Eating in a calm and peaceful environment is really beneficial to digestion to prevent us from getting too distracted, and jumping up to go and do something which can send mixed messages to the body and slow down digestion. Also, when we are calm and restful whilst eating we avoid tapping into our ‘fight and flight’ mode reaction to everyday stressors. Fight or flight mode shunts blood away from digestion and into towards our arms, legs, and heart when faced with a threat. We haven’t evolved past this response, and our bodies now register stressors as anything from our phones going off to an email from a boss, causing the body to release adrenalin and impede digestion.
And of course, one can’t overlook the simple practice of getting your daily nourishment from a wholesome wholefoods diet consisting of as few processed foods as possible.
¼ cup coconut milk
½ a small cucumber, peeled and de seeded
1 small banana
1 tablespoon your favourite green shake mix
1 mint drops
Add any of the recommended smoothie toppings to turn your green smoothie bowl into a culinary powerhouse.
Put everything in a blender and blend on high.
Smoothies are an awesome way to start the day, and blended food is not just for babies and old people. Eating something blended is a great way of eliminating the mechanical digestion step and giving the your digestion a hand in the process.