Your digestive system is very complex and has so many areas where things can go wrong. That makes it necessary to practice good digestive habits daily to ensure your overall health. We technically go to bed with one set of microbes and wake up with another so supporting a healthy microbiome is key to your foundation of digestive health.
For years I struggled with poor digestion and couldn’t figure out the root of it. I tried eating healthy and leading an active lifestyle with plenty of physical exercise but the more I strived for health, it seemed the farther I moved away from it.
Finally, once I started having chronic heartburn is when I sought out professional help and things started changing. I learned about the importance of gut health and how all my symptoms were linked to a disrupted microbiome. It took a long time to get to where I am today but it’s worth all the work I put into it. I can now eat dairy, gluten, almonds, eggs, nightshades, bananas and other foods with no issues.
How did I do it?
I stopped blaming and being scared of whole foods and repaired the terrain I was putting the food instead. That is what lead me to become a nutritionist because I would tell people about my transformation and they would tell me they suffer from the same things. I feel this food scare is getting out of control and sufferers need to find some relief by getting to the root of the problem instead of avoiding it! Once you take out a specific food, you lose the ability to digest it and also the healing properties that food has on the digestive tract as you will learn in this article.
Here is a quick lesson on how digestion works:
- Digestion is the process that allows nutrients from your food to enter into your body and help you build and maintain all that you need to be healthy
- Elimination is the process of ridding the body of the things it does not need
- Food goes through three types of processes in the body: digestion, absorption and elimination.
- Our gastrointestinal tract is one very long passageway through our body, like a tube that runs through us
- Technically, it is considered outside the body (think of a donut)
- The GI tract is responsible for making sure we break down all our food and absorb all the nutrients in the food
- It also has the task of removing all waste materials via the liver, kidneys, bowels and skin
- The liver makes bile (which is stored and secreted from the gall bladder). Bile aids fat digestion and carry toxins out of the liver, through the intestines and then its eliminated
- The small intestines is where all the food is supposed to finish being digested and nutrients are absorbed into the body, if it is not digested there properly, absorption doesn’t happen leading to deficiencies
- The pancreas secretes enzymes for digesting and bicarbonate for neutralizing stomach acid in the intestines, your stomach is supposed to be acidic
- Gut bacteria is involved with the production of specialty enzymes and aiding the bioavailability and absorption of nutrients
- Carbohydrates, fats and protein need different enzymes, microbes and environments to break down with different organs being responsible for doing that task
As you can see, a lot is happening during that time and the better we can support digestion so it doesn’t have to work too hard, the better our overall health will be.
You have to start somewhere so here are some of the simplest:
1. Eat More fibre
There are 2 types of fibre needed:
Soluble fibre is water-soluble and passes through us differently by turning to a gel and can slow down digestion and while there feed our good bacteria. This is found in lima and kidney beans, avocados, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears and figs.
Insoluble is the rough fibre and helps scrubs our digestive system and adds bulk. This is found in brown or wild rice instead of white rice, sprouted grains, whole wheat, fruits and vegetable skins. Refined foods like white bread, pasta, rice are stripped of nutrients and these types of fibre, so switch to these versions instead.
If you are not used to eating these foods, work up slowly because your system won’t be used to it and might cause more gas and bloating. This will also cause you to blame the food instead of your environment.
2. Drink plenty of water
Water is needed for good digestion to help flush out toxins and prevent dehydration. But try not to drink liquids while eating a meal as this will dilute the enzymes, make you feel fuller slowing down digestion and might also cause heartburn.
3. Good bacteria from probiotics and probiotic foods
Probiotics are good bacteria found in fermented foods and live bacteria cultures. These strains work while they are in our system and only stay about 2 weeks time. Frequent consumption of these foods daily or supplementing are crucial for good gut health.
Prebiotics are a different kind of bacteria that feed the residential bacteria in our colon and are the fuel source for bacteria. Residential bacteria is our permanent bacteria and can be damaged or killed by antibiotics and other medications as well as stress. They help digest the food we eat and ferment there which produces gases and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These help make neurotransmitters for our entire body including our brains.
Butyrate is one SCFA and is a primary fuel source for the colon cells that line the large intestine, gut integrity and mucosal lining. This is what gets damaged causing inflammation and possible food sensitivities and allergies. It is found in everyday foods like garlic, onion, leeks, legumes, oats, dandelion and grass-fed butter.
These are typical foods people can be sensitive to so go slow when introducing them. They contain FODMAPs which promote fermenting and if you find that happens to you, it is a huge red flag your digestion needs some more attention and working with me one on one can help improve that over time.
4. Deep Breathing
This helps our nervous system get into rest and digest mode instead of fight or flight from chronic stress. When stressed, our digestion slows down and doesn’t thoroughly break down our food. This can lead to more bad bacteria than good and digestive issues. When we calm our bodies and are relaxed, we will chew more and not rush which puts less stress on our digestive organs like the gallbladder, liver and pancreas. Also when we chew our foods thoroughly, enzymes are more likely to access the components of the food like proteins, carbohydrates which need to be converted to other elements for the body to utilize them. One example would be protein needs the presence of sodium to be able to turn into testosterone in the body.
5. Don't Overeat
Try to aim for 80% fullness. This leaves enough room for the food to churn better mixing and digesting. If your food is digested enough before it reaches the small intestine, you will absorb more nutrients in the proper forms. This practice falls under mindful eating or intuitive eating. Once you start doing this you will notice the signals from your body and you won’t have to think about it, and it will become a habit.
Research shows that exercise will benefit your microbiome, but not vigorous ones like running, Research is also showing that many athletes have disrupted microbiomes due to it. Vigorous and intense exercise is techniqually a stressor that naturally slows down digestion as mentioned above. I used to run a lot so once I learned that, it made more sense why I had issues.
It also helps stimulate bile from your gallbladder needed to break down fats. If you are feeling bloated, constipated or ate too much, start walking around and it should help spark digestion.
7. Don't eat too close to bedtime
When we sleep, our cells are detoxing and regenerating so if your stomach has to digest, those cells’ energy is going towards that instead of resting or getting cleaned up. It also supports a good circadian rhythm because your good residential bacteria have a pattern and timeframe for doing what they need to do. Eating high sugar or lots of carbohydrate foods in the evening also swings your sugar levels and can disrupt your sleep, waking you up or causing nightmares. If you need something to eat make sure to include a protein source instead.
Are you are interested in adding more good bacteria to your daily diet? Download my free resource below, ‘Understanding Fermented Foods’ to start learning and find out what ones work best for you.