Digestion is second nature, so why focus on it? If issues such as bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, constipation, etc. have become a normal part of your life, it’s time to take steps to improve digestion.
There’s no need to go out and purchase pricey supplements to boost digestive function. Digestion can easily be enhanced with healthy foods already in your kitchen and positive actions throughout the day.
Energized, radiant, and healthy (yes, the digestive system works helps all three) – here you come!
Digestive System 101
The digestive system process is, in short, how the body digests and utilizes food for energy.
Food is broken down into carbohydrates, protein, fats, and vitamins and used for energy, growth, and repair. This process has a variety of key players including organs, the microbiome, nerves, hormones, bacteria, and even blood.
Digestion works by moving food through the gastrointestinal tract, beginning in the mouth and ending with the small intestine. Broken down food molecules are absorbed mostly by the small intestine and passed on to other parts of the body for storage or further chemical change. The bloodstream carries simple sugars, amino acids, glycerol, and some vitamins and salts to the liver.
The lymphatic system, a network of vessels that carry white blood cells and lymph throughout the body, absorbs fatty acids and vitamins. This entire process is controlled by hormones and nerve regulators in the body and happens without us feeling a thing.
Unfortunately, the digestive system takes some wear and tear over the years. Things like stress, hormones, genetics, food intolerances and allergies, supplement and antibiotic use, thyroid health, and what we consume on a day-to-day basis can all have an effect on the functioning of our digestive system. Here’s how to improve your (pretty darn magical) digestive system in five easy ways.
The easiest way to improve digestion ASAP? Chew your food.
Although chewing seems intuitive, we live in a society where meals are often rushed between business meetings or scarfed down in front of a Netflix binge.
When we eat in a rushed manner, however, we often don’t take the time to turn on our “rest and digest” system (parasympathetic nervous system) and properly chew and digest our food.
When the parasympathetic nervous system kicks on, saliva increases, digestive enzymes are released, the heart rate drops, muscles relax, and energy is conserved. During this time, our digestive system is moving full speed ahead to digest our food, not stopped at a standstill waiting for stress-levels to plummet.
Another reason to chew every bite? The mouth is the first stage of the digestive process. Within the mouth, enzymes mix with saliva and a particular enzyme, amylase, helps to start the chemical process of breaking down carbohydrates.
This means that taking slow and multiple bites of your next piece of pumpkin bread will ensure proper digestion from the get go.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is a fermented food (filled with probiotics) known to aid digestion. Those with irritable bowel disease (IBS) have often found relief from taking a diluted shot of ACV (or try drinking vinegar!) to assist with stomach acid production.
Raw apple cider vinegar is also thought to boost the secretion of digestive enzymes, which helps to optimally digest food in the GI tract.
Consuming raw vinegar with meals may even slow down the glycemic response, even in those with insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes
3. Bitter Foods
Bitter foods such as ginger, kale, arugula, endive, dandelion, grapefruit, and radicchio all help to promote and improve digestion. Bitter foods help to stimulate gastric movement to break down foods and liquids.
According to clinical herbalist Danielle Charles-Davies, “when a bitter substance is recognized by bitter receptors on the tongue, a chain of neural and endocrine events begins.”
This bitter reflex is mediated by the release of the intestinal hormone, gastrin, which results in an overall stimulation of digestive function.
Over time, the bitter reflex strengthens the structure and function of all digestive organs including the liver, stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas.
4. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha, are no-brainers for digestive health. These foods are naturally filled with friendly bacteria that help to digest and break down food within the gastrointestinal tract.
Fermented foods are not only high in beneficial vitamins and minerals, but aid in nutrient absorption and supporting your immune system as well.
5. Breathe and Practice Mindful Eating
Before digging into your next meal, take a few moments to get mindful. Take a few breaths; bring presence to your body, your food, and mental state. You’ll not only feel more relaxed, but you’ll become more in tune with the flavors, tastes, and textures of the meal you’re eating.
Start your next meal by taking three deep breaths to initiate your parasympathetic nervous system and promote optimal digestive functioning.