All of the nourishing food in the world won’t make a difference if our digestion is off track. Eating in a stressed out, fast paced state with poor gut health and digestive support can cause us to miss out on many of the unseen benefits of digestion like the proper absorption of minerals. If we’re releasing cortisol while we chow down, our body is storing much more than just our food, too. It’s fast tracking all that good stuff straight to fat cells.
Why would we put so much effort into nourishment just to have it not work, or work against us? Most of us don’t realize that we’re sabotaging our best efforts, but there’s good news. We can change our approach and promote better digestion through a few simple habit changes. As you read this, ask yourself if there is one easy thing you can do to promote better digestion. Whether it’s breathing more before eating, or chewing your smoothie, you can improve your digestive experience with your next meal.
A peaceful eating environment is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself when it comes to digestion. Even if your surroundings are chaotic, you can still bring your body into a more peaceful state by simply taking ten deep breaths before eating. Then, savor your food. Allow yourself to truly enjoy what you are eating and allow yourself to do so in an unrushed state. If you’re like me and find yourself eating quickly anywhere you are, from your car to your desk and hardly ever at a table, allow yourself to have this unrushed experience in a relaxed environment like a park, a room with a view, or at a dining table. This is a great time to incorporate conversation with others, people watching, or taking time to disconnect. This is an overlooked part of digestion but just as important as the food you’re eating. If you can’t change the foods on your plate yet, at least change the fast paced environment in which you’re eating.
Digestion starts when we slow down in anticipation of eating, and kicks in when we look at what we’re about to eat. Our mouth secretes digestive enzymes that get passed down through our digestive tracts with our food. This is why chewing our food is so important. We’re not just talking about tougher items like steak and asparagus, either. Unless you need a straw to help you drink, ditch it when it comes to your smoothies or protein shakes. Drinking straight from the cup and chewing these beverages also allows for more digestive enzyme action. Think it’s weird? Give it a try! If you find it physically hard to chew your food, get evaluated by a myofunctional therapist for issues like a hidden tongue tie or other issues keeping you from chewing well. This practice doesn’t have to be difficult, and a few changes may help the way that you break down food and also sleep better, breathe better, and function better throughout the day. It’s all connected.
Fiber, fiber, fiber. A food must be amazing if it’s high in fiber, but don’t be fooled by fiber rich foods that also contain antinutrients, like wheat and grains. Where a box of whole grain pasta will proudly boast its fiber content, a bunch of carrots or celery won’t, as they don’t really need to. If you want more fiber, eat your veggies- not whole grains. Vegetables are fiber rich foods that promote digestion not only through fiber, but through their water content as well. Because they’re less gut irritating than grains, our digestive tract can also absorb nutrients from these fiber rich foods. Don’t let the label on a box of grain heavy products fool you. They may have fiber, but you’re most likely not benefitting from it. Unlike grain based fibers, functional fibers in fruits and vegetables allow our bodies to absorb essential minerals like zinc. Promote digestion by teaming up with fiber that will work with you, not against you.
Supplements can also help digestion and overall gut health. Digestive enzymes are one of our favorite recommendations. Although these enzymes occur naturally in our mouths when we start chewing, we often eat too fast and don’t chew enough, so they’re not well released. Digestive enzyme supplements can help us digest foods that are otherwise more difficult during the digestion process. Probiotics are another option. These are widely accepted, beneficial supplements that are found in almost everything these days from drinks, to capsules, to crackers. They’re naturally found in fermented foods, though, like fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and other delicious and acquired-taste foods.
Lately, probiotics have been deemed useless by some and downright harmful by others. Is this true? Listen to Chris Kresser’s podcast on this topic to find out! And make sure to read here to find out why probiotics are so important in the first place. Along with probiotics, prebiotics are also helpful and found in fiber rich vegetables, greener bananas, and potatoes. Prebiotics are very similar to digestive enzymes and may promote gut health, too. As with any of this, you’ll want to figure out supplementation that works best for you, or consult your functional practitioner for their recommendations.
Play in the Dirt
Getting out in nature can also deliver beneficial probiotics to our system. Garden, go for a walk barefoot (grounding), or just stand in your front yard every morning while you absorb natural sunlight from above and probiotics from the dirt. Eat fruit from a tree or vegetables from the ground, unwashed. There are many ways to get the good stuff in your gut based on what you’re comfortable with. Whether kimchi, gardening, or using supplements, having prebiotic fiber, probiotics, and digestive enzymes in your diet is never a bad idea.
Slow down, take a deep breath, chew your food, and plant a garden. Don’t forget to eat those carrots straight from the dirt, too, like you did when you were little and fearless. Your body can benefit from digestive changes alongside nourishment changes, and all it takes are a few new habits! We know that choosing low inflammatory foods and focusing on nourishment is a huge part of the picture, but it won’t benefit us if we’re not digesting and absorbing properly. What is something you can do alongside your next meal to promote better digestion?