Top Six Ways to Maximize Digestion
Digestive issues are a widespread problem. They are so widespread that even babies and toddlers are now afflicted with painful, inconvenient digestive problems. The causes of these issues are more than can be covered in a single blog post, but the simple explanation is that our bad diet, the chemicals in our food supply, and the toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis are destroying the delicate balance that keeps our digestive system working well. The following six tips will help keep your digestive system happy:
1) Chew Well: I know this sounds overly simple, but digestion begins in the mouth. Your stomach is not designed to digest large chunks of food, yet many people literally inhale their food without chewing. Grandma was right: Chew every bite at least 20 times. Food should be chewed into a fine slurry before being swallowed. Chewing every bite thoroughly also helps your body to product the hormones that let it know the stomach is full and it’s time to stop eating. People who inhale their meals often don’t feel full after eating. Thorough chewing helps us feel full. Failure to chew puts a burden on the liver and pancreas, as they must produce extra enzymes to help digest the large chunks of food that should have been more finely ground in the mouth. When the liver and pancreas constantly have to secrete extra digestive enzymes, they can become fatigued and may cease to function correctly. It is not unusual for people with extreme digestive disorders to also have elevated liver enzymes.
2) Drink Enough Water, but Don’t Drink with Meals: Drinking during meals dilutes digestive enzymes and can make digestion very difficult. Because digestive enzymes require a specific pH in the stomach, drinking water with lemon in it negatively affects the stomach’s pH and neutralizes digestive enzymes so that they don’t work. I’m a big fan of drinking lemon water, but encourage you to only drink it between meals. During meals, most of us need less than six ounces of water to help wash down our food.
Between meals, we all need to consume at least half our body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis. The old rule of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily (64 ounces) therefore only works if you weight 128 pounds, which few of us do. Dehydrated cells do not function correctly in any part of the body. Dehydration also makes it extremely difficult for waste products to move easily through the digestive system.
*On a side note, dehydration also causes a hormonal reaction that makes you feel hungry. Staying hydrated can therefore help avoid unnecessary snacking and grazing.
3) Power Up with Probiotics and/or Fermented Foods: A very fragile balance of good and bad bacteria exists in the digestive system. This balance can be negatively affected by antibiotics, excess sugar consumption, excess yeast (Candida), and excess alcohol consumption. Many people with digestive issues have a bacterial imbalance. A proper balance can be restored or maintained by taking probiotics or by eating and drinking fermented foods which are naturally loaded with probiotics. My preference is to get my probiotics via fermented foods and coconut water kefir (which I brew continually), but if fermented foods aren’t your cup of tea, I highly recommend trying Garden of Life’s Raw Probiotics: http://amzn.to/nlJSp1.
4) Feed Your Probiotics with Prebiotics: The probiotics in the digestive system need to be fed with prebiotics. Prebiotics, primarily found in fruits and vegetables, feed the probiotics and help them thrive and reproduce. An additional advantage of prebiotics is that they contain fiber which is also essential for good digestion.
5) Weave Fiber into Every Meal: Fiber is essential to good digestive health, but needs to be incorporated very carefully if you have poor digestion or are chronically dehydrated. The best sources of fiber are in beans and lentils, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. (Note that many breads labeled “whole grain” are basically highly-processed white breads with added caramel coloring. If you can’t see grains in the bread, chances are it’s been processed enough that most of the fiber was removed.) Fiber creates bulk that helps make stools firm and helps move them through the colon. Fiber also serves to absorb fats, slow down blood sugar spikes caused by carbohydrates, and absorb toxins. If your diet does not currently contain much fiber, or if you have pre-existing digestive problems, add fiber very gradually. Start with cooked vegetables, pureed into a soup if needed. Also make sure you are drinking adequate water. Increasing fiber intake can cause constipation if adequate water isn’t consumed to help keep things moving. Let me also state that no one should ever have to take fiber supplements. Adequate fiber is easily gotten from the diet, especially when processed foods are eliminated and vegetable intake is increased.
6) Find the Cause of Distress Instead of Treating the Symptoms: Digestive distress isn’t normal and does not occur without a specific cause or causes. Treating the symptoms without determining and eliminating the cause may bring relief but will ultimately cause greater damage. A wide variety of non-invasive testing and assessment techniques exist to determine why your digestive system is not functioning as it should. Take the time to find a practitioner who will listen closely to your exact symptoms and will then work with you to identify the cause of the problem and to create a program to heal your body. Help can be found. Go find it!
I am particularly sensitive to digestive issues because I suffered from severe digestive distress for several years. At my worst, I vomited several times a day and had constant nausea. My experience with this led me to seek special training on digestive disorders. I KNOW what it’s like to be inconvenienced by constant diarrhea and vomiting, know the exhaustion that comes with it, and know how frustrating it can be to have doctors treat your symptoms without treating the cause. My goal is always to determine and eliminate the cause of an issue so that it can be eliminated.
As always, I can be contacted at 317.489.0909 if you would like to schedule a consultation.
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