Ahh, we’ve reached the end. Our Nutritionists have taken you through digestion; from plate to potty. Angela discussed how digestion actually begins when we start to think about food and why digestive juices are enhanced when we see, smell and experience our meals. Lisa then took us to the stomach where we learned the importance of acidity and how to support this powerhouse for proper protein assimilation. We traveled through the small intestine, passing the liver, gall bladder, and pancreas. Did you know that your small intestine has the surface area of a tennis court before reading Lisa Marie’s article? That’s some serious room for absorption! Lastly, and most recently, Hillary tried to keep it clean and simple as we explored colon health and what it means to be regular.
As we learned, each organ and section of the digestive tract has unique and specialized responsibilities that depend on one another to work efficiently. Think of your digestive tract as a sports team where every organ has its own position and individual skill set. There can be a fantastic defensive line up, but if your offensive members aren’t having an outstanding performance, we aren’t going to score the big points! The whole team has to be playing their best game for the most optimal outcome.
However, every step of this process can be abruptly interrupted when we introduce stress into the body. This can include physical, mental, emotional, chemical, lifestyle, food and/or immune stressors. When a person becomes over stressed, we flip into our sympathetic nervous system, our ‘fight or flight’ mode. This diverts resources away from digestion towards our extremities to increase heart rate and blood pressure, reduce gastrointestinal motility, and dilate the lungs. Stress can affect chewing, enzyme and hydrochloric acid secretion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients, and can physically cause the body to seize up, which can lead to constipation and the reabsorption of wastes.
Here are some quick tips to promote optimal digestion and reduce unwanted side effects:
Take time to prepare your meals – Remember digestion starts when we see, smell and experience our foods. Schedule time into your day to prep and cook meals. Try using aromatic herbs and spices that fill your kitchen with mouthwatering flavours and will let your body and family know it’s time to eat!
Eat relaxed in good company – Consuming food in calm environments away from distractions and electronics helps to put our bodies into that ‘rest and digest’ mode. It’s also much easier to be at ease when surrounded by people you love and enjoy.
Chew – As we’ve said before, “there’s no teeth in your stomach!” Ideally, food has been well masticated before it travels down the esophagus. By breaking down the food into tiny particles, we increase the surface area so there’s more room for the enzymes to go to work!
Consume liquids away from meals – Drinking large amounts of fluids with your meal dilutes stomach acid and makes it harder for the body to break down your food, especially protein. Stick to no more than 4oz per meal.
Keep your colon happy – Include both soluble and insoluble fibres to add bulk to your diet and provide prebiotic nutrients for gut bacteria. Incorporating traditionally fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut and tempeh will help to maintain healthy colon flora too. Try adding in high quality fats like organic olive and coconut oil, avocado, and grass fed butter to keep things nice and lubricated in the intestines, but also stay conscious of water consumption. A happy digestive system is one that is incredibly hydrated!
Support elimination – Finally, staying active helps to physically move things through your digestive system and also promotes sweating to detoxify the body.
Try incorporating these helpful tips one at a time until they each become routine. By creating these habits, you’ll be supporting your digestion before, during and after every meal!
Amber Baker, CNP RNCP
InspireHealth Nutritionist, Lower Mainland