In light of the holiday, I thought you could use a few tips on how to keep your digestion healthy and manageable. Poor digestion can cause not only digestive problems like bloating, gas, nausea and constipation but can also cause neurological symptoms like fatigue, poor impulse control and headaches. The essence of good physical health is rooted in digestion. Here are my suggestions:
Bitterness is actually an important and necessary stimulant for digestion. When a person first tastes a bitter, taste buds on the tongue will activate a chain of events. First an increase in salvation occurs. Saliva contains several enzymes which help break down complex starches into smaller, easier to digest starches. This increase in salivation causes an increase in gastric secretions. These include increased flow of digestive juices from the pancreas, stomach, small intestine and gallbladder and all result in better digestion of nutrients. In the pancreas, bitters regulate the release of pancreatic hormones that regulate blood sugar, insulin, and glucagon. Bitters then tell the stomach to release gastrin, hyrdrochloric acid and pepsin, all which breakdown proteins and enhance the bioavailability of miners as well as destroys harmful microbes found in our food. Bitters also tell the small intestine to produce bile as well as tell the gall bladder to release its excretion. Bile rids the liver of waste products, emulsifies lipids, which then allows the pancreatic enzymes to break down proteins and carbohydrates. Overall consuming bitters can effectively absorb nutrients, destroy harmful microbes and help your body detox.
Make sure you're getting enough B-vitamins
These vitamins are generally found in proteins like fish, poultry, meat, and dairy products as well as leafy greens and beans. B vitamins help your body form red blood cells and get energy from the food you eat. They are water-soluble, meaning you can't store them away in your fat cells to use later and they need to be a regular part of your diet.
Essential B vitamins for the digestive system include:
B1. Also known as thiamine, B1 helps your body change the carbohydrates in your diet into energy for your cells and regulate appetite.
B3. Also known as niacin, is important for many digestive tract functions including the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol.
B6. Also known as pyridoxine, B6 is very important in helping your digestive system process the protein you eat.
Biotin. This B vitamin helps your digestive system produce cholesterol and process proteins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids.
B12. Also known as cobalamin, B12 plays a role in the nervous system, the production of blood cells, and the body's use of folic acid and carbohydrates.
B-12 can only be digested by your body through high stomach acid content, because it takes a lot of acid to break down this essential B vitamin. If you stomach acid is low or generally unbalanced, your body is not going to get the B-12 it needs from the food you eat. Make sure you keep your stomach's PH level happy and healthy. Read more about that here.
Keep a food journal
Keeping track of how certain foods make you feel can be a great tool in deciphering what foods work best for your body. It can also be a great tool to discern what foods you might be allergic to. When our bodies react with bloating, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and/or cramping that usually a sign that your digestive system is not happy with whatever you just put through it. Our bodies are wise and have many of the answers, we just need to listen more closely sometimes. Keep a journal nearby (or break out the notes app on your phone!) and make a note every time you feel bloated, crampy or any of the symptoms above. Note what exactly you ate that day as well and eventually you'll be able to pick out the trends and have the information you need to make lasting changes.
Manage your stress
Too much stress causes your body to go into overdrive and affects your body's ability to properly digest. When we are stressed out, our brain is working so hard to deal with the stress that it forgets to send very important signals to your stomach.Digestion is controlled by the nervous system. When stress activates the "flight or fight" response in your central nervous system, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. Stress can also cause the mill in your stomach can shut down which can make you feel nauseous. A great way to help manage this is to take a regular yoga class. Not only does it give you a dose of exercise (which is also important for good digestion!) but it's also a very calming practice that encourages you to stay present, work on your breath and be more conscious of your body.
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria naturally present in your digestive tract. They can enhance nutrient absorption, help break down lactose, strengthen your immune system, and possibly even help treat irritable bowel syndrome. Good sources of probiotics include fermented dairy like kefir and yogurt, fermented vegetables (kimchi is great if you like spicy!) and kombucha. Probiotic foods are excellent for maintaining healthy gut flora. If you want healthy digestion, clear skin, metabolic health, a generally good mood, easier weight loss, or pretty much anything else, pampering your gut flora should be at the top of your priorities list.
Pair fat with fiber
Fatty foods tend to slow down the digestive process, making you more prone to constipation. However, you still need fat in your diet so pairing that fat with fiber is a great way to balance things out. Consuming a diet that is high in fiber and rich in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits can improve your digestive health. High-fiber diets help keep food moving through your digestive tract, reducing the likelihood of constipation. A high-fiber diet can also help you prevent or treat various digestive conditions, such as diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome.
As you know, our bodies are mostly water. Consequently, there’s almost nothing better for your digestive system and your overall health than water. Just like not eating enough fiber, drinking too little water will slow down your digestive system because a harder stool is more difficult to pass. Drink plenty of water and other fluids, especially after you exercise. You'll know when you're getting enough water when your pee is clear all day long. Having a glass of water as soon as you wake for the day will activate your body and your digestive system and drinking a glass of water before you eat will both help you digest your food more easily and also make you feel more full, reducing the chance of overeating.