Healthy digestion is more than just how your stomach and intestines break down and absorb food. Here are 14 tips for healthy digestion so you can avoid unpleasant symptoms like heartburn, gas and bloating. 1. Eat When You're Calm
Your mental outlook and stress level affect the way you digest food. According to the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, you could be eating an incredibly healthy meal, but if you are stressed out, you won't absorb the nutrients as if you were eating in a calm atmosphere. Even worse, the calories you are eating could just be stored as fat. Stress can even be from watching the evening news while you eat or having a conversation about the trouble you had at work. Try to keep meal times relaxed and keep to pleasant conversation and just turn off the TV.
2. Add Eye Appeal To Your Plate
Appearance of food will get your salivary glands generating saliva before the food reaches your mouth. Ever notice how food just seems more appealing if it is artfully presented on a plate rather than leftover globs in a Styrofoam take-out box? Saliva is the first physical part of healthy digestion as it mixes with the food in your mouth and begins to break it down before it enters your stomach.
3. Add Aromatic Herbs And Spices
Aromatic herbs and spices also trigger your taste buds to get saliva flowing. If you've been following my Herb of the Week posts on Fridays, then you'll also recall that many culinary herbs also have carminative properties which means they help digestion to avoid gas.
4. Chew Your Food!
Chewing your food well before swallowing obviously breaks it down to give your stomach an easier time. This also helps with portion control as your body has time to signal your brain that it is full. Try chewing each bite at least 20 times before swallowing and see how that changes the pace of your meal. Something else to consider is when you're eating a liquid meal like a smoothie or soup, swish each mouthful around a little to mix it with saliva before swallowing. I don't mean gargle with it, but subtle movements - don't be a weirdo when you eat.
5. Understand Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are found in the mouth, stomach and intestines. Certain enzymes are needed for each food group to break down food to the molecular level to absorb nutrients. Meats take the most enzymes to digest, so it makes sense to eat the main course before the salad. How unfortunate we do it backwards here in the U.S. You have a choice when at home to eat your meat first or at the very least at the same time as your salad. There are supplemental enzymes you can take with a meal to help with hard to digest foods, but that should be a temporary fix while you work to repair your system. Better yet, avoid the trouble foods while your body resets its ability for healthy digestion.
6. Proper Food Combining
Certain food combinations should be avoided as they are just about a guarantee for gas and bloating even in a healthy individual.
- Proteins and starches (sorry, steak and potato lovers)
- Starches and sweet fruit
- Proteins and acid (sour/tart) fruits
- Vegetables and fruits (maybe that kale and mixed berry smoothie isn't so great)
- Melons and anything else. Eat them by themselves if at all since they are so high in sugar.
What combinations work well:
- Proteins and vegetables (what I strive to do for my 3 main meals)
- Starches and vegetables (When I need to carb re-load)
- Sweet fruits and acid fruits (snack time)
7. Regulate Stomach Acid
If you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux or GERD, your body isn't creating enough stomach acid. I know this seems counter-intuitive, since anti-acids are usually prescribed for this complaint. The good news is there are natural methods to help you digest food better. First, you probably want to avoid the foods that give you these symptoms while you retrain your stomach to create the acid needed. One way to do this is to take apple cider vinegar with your meals. Another less stringent way is to drink kombucha with your meals.
8. Keep Your Gut Flora In Balance
Your intestines are home to beneficial bacteria that help break down food. It also contains bad bacteria. If this comes out of balance, you could have issues with digestion. Too much sugar, grains, foods you are intolerant too, antibiotics and stress can all get the bacteria out of balance. Probiotics are one way to get your gut flora back on track in addition to cutting out the trouble foods. It is best to take probiotics in between meals so they make it to the digestive tract. Prebiotics in the form of fresh veggies help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Like enzymes, probiotic supplements should be a temporary measure while the body is healing.
9. Stay Hydrated
A lot of times, hunger is really thirst. You must be drinking all day to stay hydrated. However, don't drink too much with meals as the water will dilute the stomach acid needed to break down food. Drink enough with meals to "wash it down " and wait 30 minutes after eating before drinking large amounts again. Staying hydrated helps your body create saliva and helps eliminate waste, the last physical step of healthy digestion.
Your body needs exercise for good health all around, even with digestion and elimination. Exercising increases oxygen levels in your blood which helps keep things moving through your body. Keep in mind tip #1 though and avoid eating under stress. This includes physical stress from a strenuous workout.
11. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight is taxing on all bodily functions, including digestion.
12. Avoid Overeating
Overeating can cause bloating. Pay attention to what you're eating and slow down and really chew your food. If you are eating nutrient dense food, then you shouldn't have trouble with portioning; you'll naturally feel satiated and stop eating. However, if you are eating nutrient poor (junk) foods, you are much more likely to overindulge which will wreck havoc in your digestive tract, not to mention the other down sides of eating those kinds of foods.
13. Avoid Bedtime Snacking
It is best to stop eating 3 hours before bed. Then, try to make it 12 hours between your last meal and first meal of the next day; breakfast. Breakfast is just that, to break the overnight fast. This fast gives your digestive system a chance to rest.
14. Foods to Kick Start Healthy Digestion
I liked this article about foods to add for healthy digestion, but if you don't feel like reading it, here's the list: chia seeds, coconut oil, ghee, wild Alaskan salmon, zucchini, bone broth and lacto-fermented vegetables. Yum yum!
In contrast, these foods are typically difficult to digest: dairy, legumes and cruciferous vegetables. Try eliminating these for a few days and see how you feel. If your digestive problems go away, you may need to add enzymes when you eat them. Or just avoid them altogether. It took me awhile to figure this out with my baby being super gassy at night, so much that she had difficulty sleeping well, but once I stopped feeding her broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, she slept all night! Totally worth avoiding those veggies until her digestive system has more time to mature.
Well, I hope you learned something to keep your digestive system working well and to teach your kids how to do the same. Healthy digestion helps you feel good and it helps your body absorb the maximum nutrients from your food.
With love, hugs and smiles,