It can be puzzling when you are making healthy food decisions and are still experiencing digestive troubles. What many people are not aware of, is that it’s not just our food choices that affect our health, but how well our bodies are able to digest our food. Digestion is the process of being able to break down a food and in doing so, release and absorb all the benefits that food contains. The digestive process involves enzymes, enzymes that are released in the mouth when we chew, in the stomach after we swallow, throughout our gut and by the pancreas as well. Digestion is a very sophisticated process and like any sophisticated process it can be easily destabilised by foods, environmental stressors such as pesticides or household cleaning products, emotional stress and as a natural part of aging.
So how to do we maintain good digestive health?
1. Pay attention to your digestion
Is your body feeling comfortable after you eat?
If there is a part of your body expressing discomfort in the form of cramps in the stomach or bowels or if there is gurgling, bubbling and rumbling that follow eating, then there is something about eating that your body is struggling to cope with. Much of the time, these experiences are to do with not having enough digestive capacity to break down and properly absorb the food that is being eaten.
Foods that trigger a hot feeling in the chest may point towards a food intolerance, or a lack of protein, starch or fat digesting enzymes. Foods that trigger bloating, cramps and flatulence may point to a food that the body has become sensitive to. Foods that trigger stomach pains and bloating 40 minutes after eating can point toward a lack of fat digesting enzymes. Knowing the foods that trigger a digestive response can help you narrow down the food groups that upset your digestive system and help you to find an enzyme blend that can provide support, and help you digest those problem foods.
2. Chew slowly and mindfully
Chewing sends a signal throughout the body that eating has begun. In response to that signal, the body begins to secrete acids and enzymes in preparation for digestion. Rushing your food or eating too quickly will prevent your digestive process from working effectively and allow poorly digested food to move through the body before being sufficiently broken down.
Swallowing poorly chewed food triggers a series of digestive events that result in undigested food reaching your gut. In your gut, that poorly digested food becomes a feast for parasites and bad gut bacteria leading to gas, flatulence, cramping and bloating.
3. Reduce your intake of processed foods and refined carbs
Foods are structures, and digestive enzymes break down those structures to release nutrients, minerals and building blocks with which to build, heal and repair your body.
Most of our body’s natural digestive enzymes have evolved over millions of years to help us get energy and nourishment from the foods that were available. Our bodies have developed digestive enzymes for natural foods like fruit, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and fats as we are used to consuming these foods,
Refined and processed foods are novel foods to our digestive systems and so we do not produce any digestive enzymes that can break down the structures of processed and refined foods such as biscuits, doughnuts, waffles, sweets or crisps.
These refined and processed foods have a different structure to natural foods and offer little health benefit. They also require more digestive and detoxification effort from the body. Reducing consumption of these foods can relieve that burden and feel much better for your digestive system overall.
4. Fill up on fibre rich foods
Healthy fibres such as sweet potatoes, green vegetables, legumes and gluten free grains such as rice, quinoa, oats and buckwheat are an essential feature of healthy diet. A diet high in fibre will protect the health of your large intestine (colon), facilitate the release of waste from the body and feed healthy gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria can then do their work which includes regulating blood sugar, which in turn helps lead to fewer ‘sugar cravings’ and also helps to reduce inflammation in the body.
5. Introduce fermented foods into your diet
Fermented foods such a natural live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso provide digestive health benefit due to their high digestive enzyme and prebiotic content. They are also a potent source of critical nutrients like B vitamins. If that’s not enough of a reason to add fermented foods to your diet, they also increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria in the gut which has the effect of reducing bloating and flatulence.
6. Choose healthy fats
Fats are a beneficial feature of a healthy diet. Healthy fats are important for a number of essential processes in the body, particularly for brain health, hormonal balance, appetite control, skin health and the nervous system. Foods that contain healthy fats include coconut, olives, sunflower seeds, avocado and flaxseeds.
7. Replenish with digestive enzymes
Natural digestive enzyme production is very easily affected by stressors that are normal parts of modern life. Noise, movement, stress, speed and chemicals such as preservatives in food are aspects of the modern world that are difficult to avoid. In addition to this, our digestion is most efficient when we are in a relaxed state similar to how we would feel when we are three days into a beach holiday, surrounded by sea, sun and gorgeous scenery. This deep relaxed state is difficult to attain in our daily life when eating breakfast, lunch or dinner, which is why including a digestive enzyme supplement with each meal is such a great way to support a healthy digestive system.
Taking a digestive enzyme supplement will make sure that you are digesting food in the same way that you do when you are fully and completely relaxed, allowing all the nutrients in your food to be fully available for your body to use.
8. Limit sugar, dairy, gluten and alcohol
Sugar, dairy, gluten and alcohol are addictive foods that provide little to no health benefit and can create significant digestive burden to the body. These items can also make you feel full, which means you are less likely to eat healthy nourishing foods because your body is running on empty calories.
Moderation is key, and you may find that after a period of avoidance, your craving for these foods will vanish as your body adapts to a healthier more nutritious energy source: real and fresh whole foods.
9. Introduce key nutrients in your diet
Nutrients are essential for every cell and process in the human body. Some of these nutrients are manufactured by the body itself, and others need to be consumed. Zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamins A and E are just a few of these essential nutrients. To access them we need to eat and fully digesting the foods that contain them. If you are eating fresh, whole foods and experience any digestive issues, a digestive enzyme can help to deliver a dramatic improvement to your digestive experience and also your nutrient status.
10. Avoid eating when stressed
The human stress response is designed to do what was historically necessary - to escape or to fight a danger. As far as our body is concerned, when we are stressed, we do not need to eat and so it will turn off non-essential systems like digestion and upregulate our survival systems such as muscles, vision, hearing and energy. For this reason, anything eaten in a state of stress is likely to sit in your stomach for much longer than usual and ferment, causing heartburn, gas, flatulence and bowel problems. Avoid eating in a stressed state, or at least take some time to calm down before eating. A few mindful, deep breaths, bringing yourself back to the present moment with your food in front of you will be a habit your body will thank you for in the long term.
Be kind to your digestive system, and it will be good to you!