It is important that our digestive system functions properly because it is indirectly responsible for almost all of our bodily functions. When our digestive system isn’t working properly we do not absorb all of the nutrients we are eating. Our body relies on these nutrients for brain function, movement, energy, sleep, hormones, etc. – all body functions need nutrients that we can only get if our digestive system is working optimally. When digestion isn’t working that is when health problems start to happen.
How to keep it working properly:
1) CHEW: sounds easy, but it takes concentration. The goal is to really mash up your food to make it easier to digest. Chewing also starts your digestive juices flowing. Did you know that carbohydrates begin digestion in your mouth? Try counting your usual number of chews and aim to double this number.
2) SIT DOWN: don’t eat on the run. Meals should be pleasant, unrushed, relaxed times. Take the time to enjoy your food and you will digest it more effectively. Focus on eating – so turn off the TV and other electronics, put down the book/paper and really focus on eating. Meals that are enjoyable are better digested.
3) MANAGE FLUIDS: don’t drink 30 minutes prior or after a meal and limit drinking while eating to small sips. Too many liquids dilute your digestive juices leaving some foods undigested.
4) EAT MORE FIBER: eating foods high in fiber helps keep things moving through your digestive system. Eat lots of fresh vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains.
5) SPACE OUT YOUR MEALS: try to eat 5 or 6 times throughout the day – breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner or snack (optional). Spacing meals out every 3 hours allows your digestive system finish the job before you add in more food.
6) EAT LESS: watch portion sizes. The more you eat, the harder it is to digest.
7) CHOOSE EASY TO DIGEST FOODS: try to eat foods that are already partially broken down for you: fresh fruit/vegetables juices, smoothies, blended soups, broths & fermented foods. Soak your legumes, seeds, nuts & grains before cooking them. Since these foods are already liquid, your body has less work to do to process the nutrients.
8) EXERCISE: movement of your muscles creates movement in your digestive system. Try going for a walk after a meal to get things moving. Just 15 minutes around the block will help.
9) SLEEP: sleep is very important for digestion as well as most of your other body functions. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.
10) MANAGE STRESS: stress shuts down digestion. Our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode and your body turns its attention away from digestion. This includes “good” stress such as exercise. Let your body and mind calm down before you eat. It is also a good idea to consume liquids/smoothies after exercise because they are easily digested and will replenish the nutrients you used up during exercise.
When your digestive system is working at it best, you can begin to feel the benefits in all areas of your health.