How to Optimize Your Digestion
Why Is Digestion Important?
The quality of your whole body's health begins in the gut. Your digestive system is where food is broken down, and nutrients are absorbed. Both digestion and absorption can be impaired if the digestive system is not functioning correctly. Digestive health has a direct link to immune health, as about 70% of your immune cells are located in the gut; if gut health is off-balance, your immune system is more susceptible to disease. The gut-brain axis directly links digestive health and mental health. The digestive tract is lined with neurons, known as the enteric nervous system. This is where about 85% of the body's serotonin (the happy chemical) is produced. Needless to say, the health of the digestive system is crucial to the health of the rest of your body.
Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables
Consuming a variety of produce will allow a diverse microbiome within the gut. Your gut contains many different types of bacteria and they feed off different foods. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will help produce a diverse microbiome.
Eat Probiotics or Probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are a great way to bring healthy bacteria back into the digestive tract. But not all probiotics are created equal; since probiotics are living organisms, they die very quickly in the packaging and processing aspects. Finding high-quality probiotics and storing them in a dark, cool, and dry place is crucial. Another way to get healthy bacteria is through probiotic-rich foods such as saurkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables, etc. Kombucha can be a great option, but be careful about the large amounts of sugar added and opt for the lower sugar options.
Eat More Fiber
There are two types of fiber important to gut health. Both are equally important to the health of digestion in their own way.
Soluble fiber, which when passes through your digestive tract, absorbs water and fluids forming a gel-like substance. This feeds the good bacteria in the gut, also known as prebiotics.
Oat bran, black beans, Brussel sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, apples, etc
Insoluble fiber, which the human body does not break down during digestion. This adds bulk to the stools and keeps everything moving through the digestive tract.
Wheat bran, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, etc
Chew Your Food
The digestive process begins in the mouth, chewing, and saliva, which plays a prominent role here. The enzymes in your saliva start the breakdown of carbohydrates, and chewing breaks down your food into even smaller particles. Chewing also sends signals to your gastrointestinal system that food is coming. The longer you chew each bite, the easier digestion will be. Aim to chew about 20 - 30 times each bite before swallowing.
Eat at Regular Times
The body likes routine, and consistency is key. When you eat around the same times each day, your body starts to recognize the routine, then will begin to anticipate the food and prepare itself for digestion. Like a circadian rhythm, if you are waking up each morning at the same time for work, your body gets accustomed to this wake time, and eventually, your body naturally wakes up around that same time each day. Eating balanced meals at regular times can contribute to more balanced blood sugar as well.
Eat-in a Calm Environment
When you go to eat, avoid stressful environments. When the body is under stress, the energy is taken away from the digestion and put towards the stressor. Digestion is impaired when you are in a stressed state. Ideas for a calm environment include: sitting down while eating, turning off the tv or outside noise, taking a few deep breaths before eating, avoiding stressful situations during the meal, and avoiding technology. Work towards focusing your full attention on the meal you are consuming.
Soak Your Grains
Soaking your grains before consumption will help break down the difficult-to-digest phytic acid, a natural enzyme present in seeds, nuts, and grains. Phytic acid is known to block the absorption of nutrients such as zinc, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. It is best to soak your grains and nuts for 12-24 hours before cooking to prevent mineral deficiencies. The longer the grains are soaked, the nutrient bioavailability increases significantly.
Tune in to Your Body Cues
One of the most important things you can do to help digestion is to eat when you are hungry and to stop eating when you are full. Slowing down when you are eating will tremendously help with this process. It takes about 20 minutes for the body to communicate with your brain to tell you when it's full. This is also where nutrition comes in, so you eat balanced meals to keep you fuller for longer.
At-Home Practice: About 1/3 of the way through your meal, stop and set the utensils down. Take two breaths and check-in with yourself. Then repeat this 10 minutes later. Start with this one meal a day and observe any cues your body gives you.