A properly working digestive system is imperative to your health. Without it, you will not absorb the nutrients your body needs to function properly. Your gut also plays a huge role in your mental health as well as your immune system.
Digestion is “the process of making food absorbable by mechanically and enzymatically breaking it down into simpler chemical compounds in the digestive tract.” Now let’s break down how the digestive system works.
Do you know where your digestion starts?
Digestion begins in the brain. As soon as you see food, your nervous system releases chemicals that prompt your mouth to release saliva with enzymes that help break down your food and prepares the rest of your body to begin the digestion process. You must be in the parasympathetic nervous state (rest & digest) for your digestion to properly function.
From your mouth, your food travels to your stomach where gastrin, hydrochloric acid, and pepsin are released to further break down your food. Hydrochloric acid kills pathogens and harmful bacteria. Here the release of nutrients begins. As your food travels through your small intestine, your body releases more enzymes like protease, amylase, and lipase to help break down protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Finally, with the aid of your microbiome, any leftover waste is eliminated from the body as feces.
What can you do to support your digestion so it functions properly? Here are some tips:
Take a moment before your first bite to smell your food, think about your food, give thanks all with the purpose of getting into that parasympathetic state. Take three deep breaths to ensure your body is relaxed and ready to eat.
When you begin to eat, chew your food! I can’t emphasize this enough. In our culture, we eat so quickly and hardly chew our food (myself included!). Take 20-30 chews per bite. Your food should pretty much be mush before you swallow it.
Eat foods rich in probiotics to diversify your gut microbiome. I love sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, yogurt, and kombucha.
Drink ginger tea. I love mashing up 1-2 inches of ginger root and a fresh cinnamon stick and let that simmer in water on the stove for 10-15 minutes (or longer to infuse the flavors even more. This creates, a delicious, warming ginger drink that helps soothe your digestive system.
Eat a broad array of plants for adequate fiber, micronutrients, and a diverse microbiome. The average American eats only 10-15 grams of fiber a day. The recommended intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men but research shows we may benefit from closer to 50 grams a day.
Use a squatty potty! After living in SE Asia and only having a squatty potty in our home (which at first I hated!), I ultimately became a big fan and saw how awesome it was for helping with regularity.
In my practice, digestive health is extremely important and plays a huge role in my work with clients. Since your digestion has an impact on all aspects of your health, it is imperative to support a healthy and diverse microbiome and properly functioning system to optimize your health. If you’d like to learn more about healing your digestion, contact me for a free nutrition assessment here.
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- Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/digestion?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld. Accessed May 24, 2021.
- Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Megan Clapp, Nadia Aurora, Lindsey Herrera, Manisha Bhatia, Emily Wilen, and Sarah Wakefield. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/. Accessed May 24, 2021.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Legacy Release. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed May 24, 2021.
- The Need to Reassess Dietary Fiber Requirements in Healthy and Critically Ill Patients. Stephen J.D. O’Keefe. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312100/. Accessed May 24, 2021.
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