How to naturally improve digestion
The famous saying ‘you are what you eat’ is technically incorrect. Instead it should really be 'you are what you digest'.
Digestion has a major influence on our health. Poor digestion can cause a range of issues from weaker immunity, bloating and poor skin health to impaired brain function, ability to concentrate, focus and be at our best mentally. Here we give the best tips for improving your digestion naturally.
Why is digestion important?
If you cannot digest food properly and absorb the nutrients from it, your body has nothing to work with. Everything your body does requires nutrients including, but not limited to, building and repairing cells, making energy & hormones, your brain function, blood function and muscle function. Proper digestion and absorption of nutrients is a core factor in our health and survival.
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Our digestive system has a big influence on our immune system. Around 70-80% of your immune system originates from your gut, so if you want to stay well, making gut health a priority is essential. Learn more in 'How to look after your gut through your diet'.
Your second brain
Your gut and your digestive system has over 100 million neurons and is often called your 'second brain'. Over 90% of your serotonin (your happy hormone) is produced in your gut.
4 ways to improve digestion
1. Stay hydrated
Water for bowel movements
Staying hydrated is essential for digestion. Your poo needs enough water to pass through the gut and sweep away toxins. If you are dehydrated, you may be prone to constipation and hard poo.
Learn more in 'What does your poo say about your health'.
Water for digestive juices
The acid in your stomach needs water. Your stomach produces around 3-4 litres of stomach juice daily and some of that liquid is reabsorbed and re-used. In a state of dehydration, you may produce less, which impairs your digestion.
Drink between meals
Although staying hydrated is important, you should consume the majority of your fluids between meals, rather than at mealtimes. Drinking with your meals can water down the acid in your stomach and make digestion less effective.
2. Tweak your diet
Certain foods can significantly improve your digestion.
Eat fibre rich foods
Fibre rich foods such as vegetables, fruits and wholegrains contain fibres known as 'prebiotics'. These fibres feed the good bacteria in your gut, which in-turn produce digestive enzymes and contribute significantly to the bulk of your poo.
Learn more in 'What are probiotics?'.
The average adult should aim to consume 7-9 portions of fruit and vegetables per day (5 a day is too few), plus 3 servings of wholegrains daily. Beans, lentils and chickpeas are also excellent sources of fibre.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods such as plant-based yoghurts, tempeh, kombucha and sauerkraut contain probiotics which can colonise in your gut and contribute towards the balance of friendly bacteria. These foods are also partially digested by the friendly bacteria, leaving less work and strain on your gut.
Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates
Refined sugars and carbohydrates are a disaster for your digestion! They favour the growth of yeasts and detrimental bacteria in the gut which are destructive to digestion. They also compete for space with friendly bacteria which support digestion, so eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates is the best first step to improving your digestion.
3. Chew properly
It sounds so obvious but many people don't actually chew food properly, which has a big impact on your gut's ability to digest the food you eat and absorb the nutrients it provides.
Chew at least 30 times per mouthful
It sounds a lot, and it is a lot, but you should chew each mouthful of food a minimum of 30 times! Chewing stimulates the production of digestive juices and allows food to be properly broken down before it hits the stomach.
Your saliva also contains 'amylase', a type of enzyme that breaks down sugars. Chewing food properly allows effective use of the enzymes in saliva and greatly helps with digestion later on in the gut.
It does of course depend on the type of food that you are eating, but the message is the same – chew your food properly!
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You may ask 'How can exercise improve my digestion?' but believe us, it has a big impact on helping your body digest food properly (as well as a myriad of other benefits).
Increases blood flow
Gentle exercise improves overall blood flow which helps with the passing of your poo. Wait for 2 hours after eating before you exercise - exercising immediately after exercise can interfere with immediate digestion. Having an active lifestyle in general is beneficial to digestion as it stimulates your intestinal contractability.
Gentle exercise reduces the level of cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is the stress hormone and becomes elevated during stressful events. When cortisol is high, it interferes with digestion and the production of digestive enzymes.
Maintains the tone of digestive muscles
Maintaining tone of the muscles that support digestion is important as they help to increase the strength of bowel movements. Having a strong core helps to reduce bloating and helps you to sit up straight, giving your digestive organs space to work effectively.
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