Updated: May 9, 2020
You are what you digest!
Proper digestion is one of the pillars of wellness. It's not enough to eat a nutrient-dense, real food diet if your body is not able to properly digest and absorb the nutrients it needs to function and heal properly. To help ensure your digestion functions properly, here are five crucial steps to follow:
1. Eat in a relaxed state (parasympathetic state) not while working, driving, or watching a sad show on TV, for example. Digestion is a North to South process th at starts in the brain. The sight and smell of food triggers saliva production and starts preparing your body for the incoming nutrition. When we are stressed or in a hurry, our body shifts from a parasympathetic state to a sympathetic one, also known as "fight-or-flight" state. This is when the body focuses on getting ready for "action" and organs involved in physical challenges are activated. In this state of action, our saliva production is reduced and our stomachs do not receive the correct messages to release hydrochloric acid or digestive enzymes.
Try to always eat your meals while sitting down, not while working, when in a hurry or when anxious. Before you start eating, take a few deep breaths (inhale counting to 4, hold counting to 5, exhale counting to 7) and take a minute to say grace and be thankful for the meal in front of you. This will help activate the parasympathetic state and allow for best digestion.
2. Chew your food until liquid. Yes, until liquid. That may mean you chew one bite about 30 times. Chewing helps break down large food particles into smaller ones and allows your body to better absorb the nutrients in the food.
And it's important that you chew your smoothies and soups also. Why? Because the digestion of carbs begins in the mouth, through an enzyme that is contained in our saliva, called amylase. Without the salivary amylase, the pancreatic amylase is unable to finish the digestion of starch in the small intestine, allowing these starches to ferment, once they reach the colon and create dysbiosis by feeding the "bad bacteria" and pathogens.
3. Take the hydrochloric acid (HCL) challenge. HCL is produced in the stomach and is needed not only for digesting food but also for killing pathogens that enter our body through our food and water. When your body doesn’t produce adequate amounts of HCL, your system will not be able to properly absorb essential nutrients from the food you eat, which can lead to many deficiencies.
The symptoms of low stomach acid are the same as those of high stomach acid so it's very common for low stomach acid to be misdiagnosed. If you experience any of the following symptoms or conditions, you may benefit from supplementing with HCL:
· Excess gas, bloating, heartburn, gastritis
· Feeling full soon after you start eating
· Bad breath
· Soft or brittle nails
· Iron, mineral or protein deficiencies
· Undigested food in stools
· Fatigue or depression
· Allergies or asthma
· Acne or other skin conditions
· Food allergies
4. Replace lost enzymes. Our bodies produce digestive enzymes to allow for the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, from our food. For example, to digest milk products, we need enough levels of lactase. For fat digestion we need lipase. There are many other enzymes that work on different kind of molecules. Some people are deficient in certain enzymes, making it more difficult for them to break down the food and leading to a lot of possible digestive problems. Also, when we cook or process our food, the natural enzymes that are normally found in our food are destroyed. This means our bodies need to make up for the loss and produce more pancreatic enzymes. You could benefit from enzyme supplementation if you:
· Eat a lot of cooked or processed foods
· Are over the age of 30, as enzyme production decreases with age
· Have low levels of stomach acid
· Have food allergies
· Experience bloating or gas
· Experience constipation or diarrhea
· Have skin rashes
5. Remove allergens from your diet. Finding the foods that you are allergic to as well as those you are sensitive to is crucial not only for digestion but for your overall wellness. You can find a practitioner that will run a blood test for food allergies/ sensitivities or you can try the elimination diet and find the culprits yourself.
The list of symptoms for food intolerance or allergy is very long, but here are some of the most common symptoms:
· Nasal congestion
· Dark circles under eyes
· Abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation
· Skin rashes
· Headaches or migraines
· Ear infections
· Picky eating
· Frequent illness
Go to our home page and sign up for our newsletter, to get a free copy of the Elimination Diet Guide, for more info on it and a meal plan with recipes and shopping list.
The above list is not exhaustive. There are many reasons why digestion can be compromised but these ideas give you a great place to start. And remember that digestion is always a North to South process that starts in the brain and ends in the colon. Always use this approach when looking for ways to support your digestion.