Why is proper digestion such an important aspect of health?
Our bodies take the food we eat and use it for energy, cell repair, and growth. This entire process is quite straight forward as most know we chew then swallow our food where it then goes to our stomach and further on through our intestines, passing our accessory organs such as the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder and lastly to our colon to be excreted. Through the process there are proteins called enzymes that cause biomechanical reactions to break down the food into their building blocks: Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The macronutrient levels from our diets may be vastly different between one another; for example diets such as Keto focus on high fat and proteins while other diets like the standard american diet is usually higher in carbohydrates. Though I’m not here to talk about diets as much as I am sharing the importance of macronutrients, micronutrients, and how we can properly assimilate them in our bodies to build a stronger, healthier you!
The health of our entire body relies on a healthy microbiome. Every bit of food we eat is utilized for rebuilding every cell in our body. We truly are what we eat.
Questions to ask when your choosing what to eat; Will this nourish me? Do I know all the ingredients in this dish? How was it grown and where has it come from? Is it worth the distress to indulge today?
A whole food based diet is going to be the most rewarding because it offers a large variety of nutrients for your body. A diet rich in processed foods can increase the risk of symptoms or conditions such as heartburn, gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), gastric ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and chrons disease. Sadly more than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders.
Read on for some helpful tips to promote a healthy & happy gut.
Being more aware and attentive to what and when you eat can not only help you avoid digestive discomfort but it can help you appreciate and enjoy your food so you can slow down and take in the full experience.
- Fluids: It is best to avoid any beverage containing high caffiene and/or sugar, as well as alcohol with meals. All of these will hinder absorbtion of nutrients. Sipping water is a better idea, however drinking too much during your meal will also hinder nutrient absorbtion and dillute stomach acid needed to break down foods.
- Take it slow: Eating slower and stopping before you are nearly full rather than gourging on a meal allows your body to prepare for digestion and gives your brains signals a moment to catch up and let you know if you’ve had enough.
- Eat with intention: Bring purpose to the table; mindfully eating brings connection to the mind and body. Smelling, tasting, appreciating, and thinking of the food we eat can help us ground and also allow us to be much more aware of how much we are eating. This can help when trying to cut down on foods or recognize patterns in our diet.
- Eat regularily: Often skipping meals can cause someone to be more likely to overeat and also set of a cascade of hormonal issues that may influence mental wellbeing, immune function, and energy levels. While fasting can be effective for some and done with proper knowledge and intention, it is important to meet the nutrient needs of our bodies to live optimially.
Many digestive discomforts can be supported by things we can access right outside in our gardens, farmers market, or local grocery store. Here are some simple whole foods and herbs that have been used for centuries.
- Ginger: This root has been traditionally used in India and China since ancient times. Ginger has been used across the world for the treatment of numerous ailments such as colds, arthritis, migraines, hypertension, and of course nausea. The chemical components in ginger such as gingerols and shogaols are known to help speed up stomach contractions helping with indigestion. It also may help reduce nausea, vomitting, and diarrhea. Ginger tea, whole ginger, candied ginger, and ginger supplements may be helpful in relieving digestive discomfort.
Lemon Ginger Tea with Honey:
4 cups of water, 1 lemon, 1 piece of ginger (2-3 inches/5-7 cm), 2 teaspoons of honey (makuna honey is my favorite)
Bring water to a boil, cut lemon and ginger into thin slices and add to the hot water. Steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain and pour into a mug. Add honey, stir, and serve. You may also store leftover tea in the fridge for a nice cold ginger sweet tea on a hot day.
- Mint: This common herb is known to help with indigestion, gas, and diarrhea. It has been traditionally used in tea form with cardamom in India, Pakistan, and Iran. Mint candies or sucking on mint leaves may also reduce the discomfort of heartburn.
- Aloe Juice: The components in aloe juice has been shown to reduce excess stomach acid over time, support healthy bowel movements, reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, and promote a healthy balance of digestive bacteria. Aloe juice is commonly found in the health food isle or in local health food stores in large bottles. They come in a few forms: Whole leaf or inner leaf. An individual who has a sensitive stomach may want to opt for the inner leaf as at a microsopic level it is less abrasive to the stomach and intestinal lining.
Remember to enjoy your food, reward your body each day with the nutrients it needs, and listen in here and there to get an idea of what your body may be trying to tell you.
Written by Charlene Marie Ebdon
Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN)