Digestion can be over complicated or very simple to deconstruct. Before you diagnose yourself with some rare digestive disease by Dr. Google give these easy tips a try!
Chew your food
Digestion starts in the mouth! Even as you’re reading this and thinking of cookies your mouth is salivating. Saliva is a combination of enzymes, electrolytes and proteins that start the process of digestion before food even gets into the stomach. Chewing physically makes your food into smaller pieces and also allows for saliva to be mixed into the food.
Solution: You don’t need to count the amount of chewing per bite but the food should be mush before you swallow.
The process of digestion is most effective when you are in a relaxed mood. Relaxed eating engages the rest-and-digest nervous system (aka parasympathetic nervous system) which allows your stomach to release digestive enzymes.
Solution: Limit eating on the go, take a seat, look at your food and chew slowly!
Thirst – hunger signals
It’s a well known phenomenon that hunger and thirst signals can get crossed in your brain. Your hypothalamus, the portion of your brain responsible for controlling feelings of hunger and thirst, responds similarly whether you’re thirsty or if you haven’t had enough to eat. Meaning that you may feel hungry when you’re actually thirsty. Many of us are over eating and under hydrating as a result.
Solution: When you feel hungry drink 1/2-1 glass of water. If after 20 minutes you’re still hungry then grab a bite to eat! If the hunger dissipated it means that you were actually thirsty/dehydrated and you should up your daily water intake.
Body hack: your digestion works best when it runs on a schedule. Your brain and digestive organs are connected enough to figure out when to expect meals and therefore when to send out the digestive juices. This is why many people report that they get acid reflux when they eat late at night or that they have bloating after meals.
Solution: Try your best to eat your meals at the same time everyday!
Understand your GI transit time
The time it takes food to go from into your mouth and out the other end is called the GI transit time. Optimal digestion takes between 12-24 hours. Anything more or less can tell us whether you are absorbing nutrient and if toxins are properly eliminated.
Solution: Here’s how to test your bowel transit time.
Eat a large serving of beets (at least 1 cup of cooked beets)
Record when you ate the beets
Over the next hours check your stool! When you notice your stool is the colour of the red beets, you’ve figured out your transit time.
More than 24 hours: A transit time that exceeds 24 hours may mean your bowels are not eliminating and stool is sitting in your colon for too long. This can lead to a toxic bowel, which can eventually lead to colon disease and a body that is overloaded with toxins. You may need more fibre (from sources like fruits, vegetables, chia and ground flaxseeds), water, relaxation techniques, and daily movement to get your bowels moving regularly. Additionally , your nutritionist or naturopathic doctor can recommend specific dosages of key digestive supplements where necessary.
Less than 12 hours: This is less common but can mean that you’re not really absorbing all the nutrients from your food or you could have too many stimulants in your daily life, like coffee.
You need to do the basics before your health practitioner considers any other functional disease. If you’re already doing these simple tips and still experiencing digestive issues then you may need further testing. Food sensitivity or GIMAP tests are a functional medicine approach to treat many digestive concerns. Speak to your naturopathic doctor for more options.