Often said to have the surface area of a tennis court, your digestion is responsible for digestion of foods, absorption and assimilation of nutrients and elimination of waste products and toxins. It is also the site for a large part of the immune system and production of some neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) so has a large part to play in how we feel.
Digestion, the breakdown of food, involves mechanical action such as chewing and muscular actions in the stomach and intestines and chemical breakdown by digestive enzymes (released into the mouth, stomach and small intestine) and other digestive juices. If this process isn’t happening completely problems like bloating, gas, fatigue, skin problems, headaches, food sensitivities – to name a few – can happen, just showing that we need to pay great attention to what is happening inside us!
- Eating a diet rich in soluble fibre aids the passage of food through the intestines and soaks up toxins along the way so they can leave with your stools. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and well-cooked beans (with garlic and onions best) contain different varieties and are also the food source for your beneficial bacteria (probiotics), which crowd out the colonisation of the gut by unwanted organisms such as bacteria, parasites and yeasts. You can also take extra ‘good guys’ in the form of a good quality probiotic capsule, especially if you have digestive upsets and have taken antibiotics recently or long-term.
- Specific foods have therapeutic effects on the gut – linseeds can help to bulk out stools and protect the mucosal lining of the gut when soaked; papaya, pineapple and sprouted beans like alfalfa and mixed sprouts contains enzymes to aid digestion; cinnamon, cloves, garlic, rosemary, oregano and turmeric all have antibacterial properties and can help keep the gut clean of unwanted problems.
- Eating calmly and thoroughly chewing food make a real difference; stress can halt digestive muscles and levels of digestive juices and chewing calms us and breaks down food so we absorb most nutrients, undigested food doesn’t hang around and cause bloating or constipation and you are more likely to feel satisfied. Extra help can also be found by taking one or two digestive enzymes with a heavy meal – you can buy these capsules in health food shops.
- Although lots of water is needed for digestion, if drunk too near a meal it may also dilute stomach acid and decrease digestion. Strong peppermint tea can be drunk 20 minutes before a meal to encourage stomach acid production and a little liquid (non-sugary or caffeinated) can be sipped during a meal but full chewing should lubricate food in the mouth sufficiently. Drinking plenty of fluids between meals – an hour either side – supports your digestive and liver function.
- Get enough sleep – prolonged loss of sleep can put us in a stressed state that is not conducive to digestion. Our appetites may also be raised as our bodies signal the need for more fuel to combat tiredness; too much input can put a strain on the digestion.
Also see my article in the Mail Online about how ‘A healthy gut environment is the basis of good mental health’:
Always stressed? Your STOMACH could be to blame: Nutritionist reveals how the gut is your ‘second brain’ – and how looking after it can change your life.