One core principle in Naturopathic medicine is good health begins with the gut and no truer a statement is that! It's the digestive system that has the relentless job of modifying what we put in our mouth into absorbable nutrients which then provide us with everything we need to function optimally on a daily basis…..we hope!
Although it sounds all too easy I see more and more people struggling with digestive issues ranging from mild discomfort and constipation to more chronic conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Understanding exactly what is causing these problems can sometimes take some detective work however revisiting some basic principles around how and when you eat is a great first step towards improving digestive function and overall health.
So how do you tell if your digestion is not so happy?
For some it may be blatantly obvious however for many the signs and symptoms of digestive disharmony have been unfortunately accepted as normal. Learning to recognize some of the indicators that all is not well may help prompt you into making some small but simple changes that may see an improvement in your symptoms and digestive function. Some of the tell-tale signs include;
Burping, belching and indigestion within half an hour of eating,
Burning, pain or reflux in upper abdominal area either immediately after food or some time afterwards,
Feelings of uncomfortable fullness immediately after eating,
Nausea particularly after fatty foods,
Bloating, excess wind and pain,
Mucous and blood in stool
While most of these signs and symptoms are relatively benign, it is always important to check in with your GP regarding any changes in bowel patterns especially in regards to the appearance of blood in the stool. Correcting digestive function can be complex however sometimes the most simple changes can make all the difference. Ensuring you adhere to these basic principles of ‘digestive hygiene’ will go a long way towards promoting optimal digestion.
Eating on the run, while watching TV or flicking through your Facebook page prevents you from really enjoying your food and may contribute to overeating. When eating, choose a relaxed environment and just focus on eating ensuring you take the time to chew your food well. This allows your digestive system to do it's job and ensures correct communication between the gut and the brain signaling when you are full. Eating in a rush or while stressed and upset will almost certainly contribute to indigestion and bloating as the body will essentially shut down digestive processes in order to prepare for what it perceives as an imminent threat.
Avoid those foods or drinks you know don’t work for you
If you know you don’t feel good after eating a certain food then it is best to avoid it. Unidentified food intolerance's are a huge contributor to digestive upset with the most common offenders being gluten and dairy. Identifying exactly which foods are the problem can take some further investigation however aiming to reduce these two foods where possible can make a significant difference. Continued ingestion of problem food often leads to gut inflammation (more to come on that later) and is such a common factor behind many chronic gut and seemingly unrelated health issues.
Avoid drinking large amounts of liquids with your meals
Although this can be a hard habit to break, drinking large amounts of liquid with your meals can interfere with the correct pH levels of your stomach acid hindering digestive power. This can lead to reduced liberation of important minerals such as calcium from food, affect vitamin B12 absorption and hinder protein digestion. Ideally refraining from drinking 30 minutes either side of each meal will ensure digestive function remains optimal.
Include bitter foods with your meal
The bitter taste receptors on your tongue will actually signal to your pancreas and liver to release digestive enzymes and bile into the gut, both of which are essential for optimal digestion. Ever heard of ‘digestive bitters’? Well this is how they work their magic...taken before meals they help to stimulate the release of digestive enzymes and support optimal digestive function. Including bitter greens such as rocket, endive, dandelion greens and kale daily is a good start with most of these found in your mesclun salad mix. Adding a dressing made from apple cider vinegar (ACV) or lemon juice to your salad is also helpful as is taking 1/2 - 1 tsp of ACV in a small amount of water before your main meals.
Include foods naturally containing digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics daily
These foods will promote a happy and healthy digestive system by supporting the digestive process and providing beneficial bacteria and fuel to support their establishment in the gut. Such a huge area of interest at the moment, the importance of a balance of healthy gut flora (known as the microbiome) cannot be underestimated. Including fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, miso and kombucha will provide beneficial bacteria while food such as garlic, leeks, onion (not so ideal for IBS sufferers), under ripe bananas, dandelion greens and herbs such as 'slippery elm' will see healthy bacteria levels flourish.
Well that's all the basics of 'digestive hygiene' covered for this week...in my next blog learn more about the increasingly common syndrome known as 'leaky gut' and how this may be affecting you health.
Happy mindful eating everyone.....