I never gave much thought to the importance of digestion. I ate things I enjoyed and stayed away from things that bothered my stomach. Thanks to high school biology, I know roughly what happens to food as it passes through the digestive system and eventually makes its way out of the body, but that’s pretty much as far as my thought process went when it came to digestion.
Primitive, I know.
Studying holistic nutrition has made me aware of just how simple my take on the digestion process was and exactly how important it is to optimal health. Digestion is the process by which our bodies break down and use the nutrients from the foods we eat and get rid of what we don’t need. Without good digestion, the body will not get the vitamins and minerals necessary for proper function of the body systems. Not thinking much beyond “what goes in will eventually come out”, it never entered my head that digestion troubles can (and almost always do) lead to chronic illnesses such as:
- autoimmune diseases (my personal “favourite”)
- food intolerances
- hormone imbalances (Hello to almost every woman out there!!)
- chronic disease
- sleep troubles
- unhealthy weight gain or loss
- poor elimination and increased toxic buildup (can I just say that I never, ever envisioned giving so much thought and attention to going to the bathroom! Nor did I ever think I’d be asking questions about it to complete strangers!)
I have an autoimmune disease that I’m absolutely convinced was caused in part due to poor digesttion…and I always thought my digestion was just fine because I never got heartburn.🙄 Regardless of whether or not you have any of the issues above, you should start paying more attention to your digestion because…
PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE!
As luck would have it, there are very easy ways to improve how your digestive system functions. And not only are they easy, but they’re super effective!
- Make better choices. It’s that simple. Eating foods that are orgainc, non-GMO, free range and grass-fed will improve digestion. Processed foods, too much sugar, trans fats and fried foods wreak havoc on your digestive system, whereas real food (not made in a factory) is like medicine for it.
- Drink lots of water. Your goal should be to drink half your weight in ounces every day. Water helps to flush toxins from all over the body and prevents constipation, allowing your body to more easily eliminate those toxins (again with the bathroom thing!).
- Eat more (high quality) fibre. Fibre will pull water into the colon and help to soften and there, pass stool. It keeps everything moving through there and prevents stuff from getting stalled. Prebiotics are a type of fibre that help to feed the good bacteria in the gut which further strengthens the whole process.
- Manage stress. Stress slows digestion and that leads to inflammation, food intolerances and leaky gut. Meditation, spending time outside (forest bathing!), and practicing gratitude are excellent ways to lower and manage stress.
- Eat slower. Take the time to enjoy the actual tastes and textures of your food and chew every bite well. This not only gives your digestive system a jump start on breaking down the food, but also gives the digestive enzyme in your saliva (amylase) more time to work on the food, preventing bloating and indigestion.
- Make exercise a priority. I seem to make this point in a lot of my posts, but it’s so important to move your body – and good digestion is just one of many reasons! Exercising regularly will help get things moving through your digestive system and will lead to better elimination of the bad stuff (again, I say…).
- Increase your stomach acid. I’m guessing this might be counter to what most people think because we associate heartburn and indigestion with too much stomach acid. It’s actually often the opposite in that these symptoms can be a result of poor digestion due to a lack of sufficient stomach acid. HCl is what your body uses to digest protein and as we age, our levels of HCl tend to decline. If we can’t properly break down food in the stomach, it will sit there undigested and start to ferment, leading to a buildup of gas and pressure on the esophageal sphincter. This increases the likelihood of what acid you have in there to push through to the esophagus…hello heartburn! When we reach for an antacid to ease the heartburn, we’re making the problem worse because those pills neutralize acid…in the esophagus and the stomach. Rather than taking a pill, you can increase your stomach acid naturally by taking 1-2 tsp of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a little water before each meal, or add fresh lemon juice (from an actual lemon and not the bottle or that little plastic lemon thing!) to water and drink between meals.
As I keep reiterating in many of my posts, optimal health is largely affected by what you eat and how you eat it – with some lifestyle toons thrown in, of course. These changes won’t necessarily fix everything you have wrong in your body, but they WILL improve how your body digests and assimilates what you eat and WILL make you feel better. Another bonus is that they provide relatively fast results, which is not often the case with this kind of “medicine”. Make a point to try these suggestions because it will improve how your body digests what you eat and therefore improve the function of all of the body systems. Simple things that produce big results…and with all the things we deal with these days…
Simple is awesome.
Here’s a challenge for you: choose at least 4 of the suggestions above and do them everyday for two weeks. Then come back and tell me what you notice…betcha it might have something to do with going to the bathroom!