Do you struggle with poor digestion? That can show up as bloating, gas, or pain after meals.
When things aren’t moving like they should (#poopproblems), we’re often quick to jump to medications or supplements to promote a bowel movement. However, there are simple habits you can put in place to improve digestion naturally and prevent the slowdown in the first place!
First, Let’s Take a Look at Digestion
Digestion starts before you take a bite of food. Your senses (like smell & sight) tell your brain to start to release chemicals in a downstream cascade that prepares your stomach for breaking down and absorbing food. One hormone, ghrelin is responsible for making us feel hungry. When it is activated, we also begin making more stomach acid and releasing more digestive enzymes from the pancreas.
As soon as food hits your tongue, you begin digesting it with salivary enzymes. These enzymes are primarily responsible for breaking down fats and carbohydrates in your meal. Have you ever chewed a piece of bread beyond recognition and noticed it starts to taste very sweet? .. That’s because the amylase is at work breaking polysaccharides down into di- and monosaccharides, like glucose!
When food reaches the stomach, we rely on stomach acid and enzymes to further chop it up into tiny particles that we can absorb in our small intestine. If your stomach is not acidic enough, you are prone to more food-borne illnesses and you likely won’t assimilate b-vitamins as well. If your pancreas doesn’t release enough enzymes, you may have trouble breaking down proteins. If these peptides make their way to your small intestine, you end up with gas, bloating, or other digestive distress.
Shew-wee! There’s a lot going on in our body underneath our awareness
SO, What are some things we can do to ACTIVELY improve digestion naturally?
1- Take Part In Food Preparation
OK, so if digestion starts happening chemically before we even eat, doesn’t it make sense this should be an active part of the meal? Take time to smell the food as it is cooking, aesthetically plate your colorful veggies, and mindfully participate in the prep. If you’re on the run, or grabbing takeout, even just a few moments of pause before digging in can be beneficial. Say a note of gratitude, take in the aroma, and appreciate the beauty of the meal before you.
2- Distraction Free Eating
One of the worst things you can do for your digestive health is try to accomplish other tasks while eating. Turn the TV OFF, put the phone down, and schedule a work break to eat. As I mentioned, your BRAIN is involved in the digestive process; so don’t hinder its role! When you’re not distracted while eating, you also tend to better connect with your hunger and fullness cues.
3 – Avoid Liquids at Meal Time
You know that old “weight loss hack” to guzzle a glass of water before your meal to make you feel full?: Don’t Do This! When you drink water close to meal time, you dilute your stomach contents. Therefore, you have less potent stomach acid and enzymes (remember how important those are?!). If you’re consuming liquids while you’re eating, you also tend to poorly chew your food and reach for the liquid to ‘wash it down’. Try to consume your water and other liquids at least 30 minutes before or after meals.
4 – Chew Your Food
The simplest ‘hack’ for better digestion is really just to do a better job of chewing your food. Have you ever counted your chews? Most people chew less than 7 times before swallowing. Aim for closer to 30! It feels strange and a little silly at first, so practice at home (while mindfully eating). Putting your fork down between bites is another cue to help you spend more time on each bite rather than rushing through your meal.
Related: Dietary Fiber: Understanding Soluble vs Insoluble Fiber
How to Improve Digestion with Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics, and Other Supplements
If you’ve got the above habits in place, and still need a little help with digestion, there are certain supplements that can help. Most are tailored to a specific need (re: Enzymes for certain proteins; Probiotics for diarrhea vs constipation; etc). If you need help figuring out the best supplement plan for you, schedule a consult with me.
1- Digestive Enzymes
There are a number of different types of digestive enzymes. A general enzyme contains Amylase, Lipase, and Proteases to break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in your food. These are the same enzymes that your pancreas releases, they just give you an extra dose. Always take these WITH meals so they have food to act on. Some enzyme formulas also contain HCL or Betaine. These compounds make your stomach more acidic and can be very helpful for individuals who have chronically low stomach acid. There are various reasons for this including H.Pylori, Chronic PPI use, and autoimmune conditions.
2 – Specific Enzymes
For those who are intolerant or sensitive to certain foods, you can take specific enzymes to breakdown those foods. The classic example is Lactase for those with Lactose Intolerance. (In fact, most “lactose free” products simply have the enzyme added). You can also take Gluten Enzymes for gluten sensitivity or Casein Enzymes for milk protein allergies.
3 – Probiotics
Probiotics are strain specific. Meaning, each strain is helpful for different concerns. Taking a Lactobacillus Species can improve tolerance to dairy. Taking Sacchromyces Boulardii can be very helpful for diarrhea. L.Reuteri is a fantastic strain for improving overall gut health by changing the microbiome.
4 – Gut Soothing Supplements
For acute gas, bloating, or stomach pain you can take herbal remedies to help calm and soothe the intestinal lining. Slippery Elm, Aloe Vera, and Marshmallow Root are all carminative herbs that improve gastrointestinal symptoms. If gut issues become chronic, you likely need a Gut Healing Protocol to correct underlying dysfunction. However, these supplements can also be used on an as-needed basis for comfort and improving digestion.
If you’re struggling with gut issues, start to implement these simple habits for improving digestion. Then, consider a gut-healing diet or direct supplements to get you back on track.
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