Do you ever feel bloated after eating? Or perhaps suffer with reflux, diarrhoea and/or constipation.
There are many reasons why this could be and you can read more about IBS here, but let’s take a look at a few things that could help with your digestion.
USE YOUR SENSES
The first step in the digestive process is often overlooked, but it’s a really important one. Known as the cephalic phase, it’s triggered when you see or smell food. You are literally whetting your appetite.
When you start thinking about the lovely meal you are going to prepare, you are getting your digestive juices flowing. The enzymes in your saliva help you break down your food more easily, so, when the time comes, your body is actually ready to start digesting food before you have even cut the first slice – never mind actually put anything in your mouth.
It may sound an incredibly simple step – and it is – but these days we are often so busy that we don’t make the time to think about our food in this way. If you find you’re always eating on the go, or eating at your desk or having a TV dinner, this is a vital step you are missing out on.
Be mindful and try and spend a few minutes thinking about your tasty food before you eat it to get the digestive juices going.
CHEW YOUR FOOD
Do you remember as a kid being told to ‘chew your food’? Well, whoever taught you that was right! Chewing your food (the second phase of digestion) is key when it comes to good gut health. With proper chewing, you are mechanically breaking down the food into smaller pieces, so that there’s a greater surface area and the digestive enzymes can get to work more easily and do their job.
If you’re not chewing properly, it’s highly likely that you’re not digesting your food properly, meaning you won’t be absorbing the vital nutrients either. Not chewing also means the food you eat takes much longer to break down, and, as it hangs around in your digestive system, it can start to ferment, causing uncomfortable wind, gas and bloating.
- Chew your food enough so that if someone asked you to spit it out, they wouldn’t know what you had been eating. Another sign you need to chew more is if you start to see undigested food in your stools.
BALANCE YOUR STOMACH ACID
Sales for heartburn tablets are skyrocketing because so many people wrongly assume that their digestive troubles are because of too much stomach acid. What nutritionists like me find more frequently in clinic is the total opposite! Getting older, stress and some over-the-counter medications can make your stomach acid levels drop to the extent that you don’t produce enough to digest food sufficiently.
Why is this important? The stomach acid you produce not only kills any bacteria in the food you are eating, it also breaks down the protein in your meal. If you’re not properly digesting the protein element in food, it can start to ferment, creating gases that force up the esophageal sphincter muscle (a type of muscle flap) and what little stomach acid there is can escape. So the burning feeling, especially if accompanied by smelly gas, can be a sign your digestion isn’t working as well as it should be.
- One solution is to have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each main meal. It’s important you choose apple cider vinegar with ‘mother’
NB: There are however, some people who produce too much stomach acid and, if you try the apple cider vinegar trick and it makes things worse, you can neutralise the acid by taking a little bicarbonate of soda.
TAKE A DIGESTIVE ENZYME SUPPLEMENT
Digestive enzymes break down our food into nutrients so our bodies can absorb them. But as we age, we naturally produce fewer of these helpful enzymes.
- You can counteract this by increasing your intake of foods that are higher in digestive enzymes – eating pineapple or papaya before a meal can help.
- If you aren’t a fan of these fruits, taking a digestive enzyme capsule (available from health food shops), will give your system a gentle boost to help it do its job properly.
It’s important to space out your meals so the digestive system actually gets a chance to rest. This might require some self discipline, if you are used to snacking throughout the day.
- Allowing approximately 4 hours is a good benchmark to aim for, as this gives the body enough time to completely digest the previous meal and have a break before you put it to work again.
- Allowing a minimum of 12 hours overnight fasting may also be beneficial.
WALK IT OFF
When you walk shortly after you’ve eaten, magic starts to happen. A gentle walk lowers your blood sugar levels, so your body makes less insulin.
Taking a gentle stroll for 15 minutes after eating, helps with digestion and makes you less likely to store fat and gain weight. This is because a gentle walk increases the speed at which the food moves through the digestive system.
Go ahead and try these tips out for yourself and see if any of your symptoms improve. If you have been struggling with digestive problems for a while, book in for a complimentary call to discuss what might be going on in your gut.