Once upon a time, nutritionists said, “You are what you eat.” Later, as scientists understood more about digestion and how it works, this changed to, “You are what you absorb.”
These days, with our new understanding of the human microbiome and the way it functions, we say, “You are what your gut bacteria eat!”
The trick to improving your digesting is maximising your absorption of nutrients. When your digestion functions well, good bugs in your GI tract are nurtured while bad bacteria are suppressed. A happy gut with lots of beneficial bacteria provides health-giving substances to the body including vital enzymes, which help us to extract many more nutrients from our food.
If your digestion is poor, it’s a bit like pouring fuel into the backseat of your car, and hoping it will find its way to the engine. By ensuring that your food has the best chance of being digested and absorbed, you’ll reap the benefits from all the nutritious food you’re eating.
So, how can you boost your digestion? Here are eight simple tips:
1). Savour your food.
The digestive process begins when we think about, see or smell food. The enterogastric reflex aids the production of digestive juices (stomach acid, bile and enzymes) that are required to break down food in the stomach and small intestine. About of third of our digestive secretions are produced as a result of this reflex, so it’s beneficial to prepare flavoursome, aromatic and visually tempting dishes, and then take your time to savour and enjoy.
2). Relax at meal times.
- Before a meal, take five slow, deep breaths to ‘switch’ your nervous system to a relaxed state of ‘rest and digest.’ This increases the production of digestive juices and increases gut motility, allowing for healthy bowel movements.
- Chew your food well, at least 20 times and pause between mouthfuls. Chewing stimulates the secretion of digestive juices and increases the surface area of the food, making digestion more effective.
3) Avoid carbohydrate-only meals.
- Carb-only meals can raise the pH of the stomach and allow bacteria to escape the stomach, causing problems further along the digestive system.
- Opt for a balance of healthy fats, protein and fibre-rich foods at each meal.
4) Increase your intake of zinc.
- Zinc is required for the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
- Good sources of zinc include nuts (almonds), seeds (pumpkin and sesame), seafood, beef, chicken, lamb, sea vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, tofu, lentils, green leafy vegetables, chickpeas and ginger.
- The body can’t store zinc, so you need a regular supply. Try to consume several portions of zinc-rich foods daily, especially from plant sources.
- Hummus is great to eat as a snack or as part of a meal. Chickpeas and sesame seeds (tahini paste) are both good sources of zinc while olive oil, garlic and lemon are all great for the gut microbiome.
- Grind or chop some pumpkin seeds and almonds (both good sources of zinc) into porridge or sprinkle in a salad, yoghurt or on steamed leafy greens.
5) Stimulate digestion with bitter foods
- Start your meal with a small salad, including bitter leaves such as chicory, watercress, romaine lettuce and rocket.
- Include bitter foods at each meal to stimulate digestive secretions: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, beetroot, radishes and spring greens.
- To aid digestion, you can take 1 tsp of Swedish Bitters and/or 1 tsp of organic, raw, unfiltered ACV (apple cider vinegar with the mother) mixed into a small amount of water, before your meal. (If you have an acid-related GI disorder, speak to your doctor before taking supplements).
6) Eat at regular times
Medium-sized meals, separated by gaps of at least 3-4 hours to give digestion a rest, help your body get into a regular rhythm of producing and releasing digestive juices. Try not to overeat, as this puts an excess burden on the supply of stomach acid, bile and enzymes.
7) Reduce drinking at mealtimes
Fluids dilute digestive juices, impairing digestion. A few sips throughout a meal is fine but avoid large quantities of liquid along with your meal. Avoid caffeine, as it can further inhibit digestion.
8) Grow your own army of food digesters!
- Gradually introduce fermented foods to your diet (kefir, probiotic yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough, miso, tempeh) to populate your gut with beneficial bacteria. 1https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2021/07/fermented-food-diet-increases-microbiome-diversity-lowers-inflammation
- Eat a wide variety of fibre-rich foods (pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and herbs and spices) of all colours to provide your commensal bacteria with plenty of fuel to keep them thriving!
- For a whole host of gut-healthy recipes have a read of other articles on our Gut Health Express blog!
If you would like to talk about the gut microbiome in more detail or find out how you can improve your gut health, book a personal consultation with one of our nutritional therapists or consider taking a microbiome test to see how your gut bugs are doing!