Digestion is one of the less discussed areas of wellness, yet it’s a fundamental building block of a healthy body. Many of us put a lot of effort into our health, from exercise and eating plans to skin care and sleep – yet give little thought to our digestive systems. In reality, every element of our body’s functioning is affected by our stomach functioning, and improving digestion can dramatically improve our health. This has always been one of the issues that has the biggest impact on my clients’ wellness and weight loss – and I’m not scared at all to talk about toilet habits in the name of healthier bodies! Here are some of the need-to-know’s of our digestive system in what I like to call: Digestion 101.
Healthy bacteria is where gut health starts. These are called probiotics, and this is what makes up our immune system – of which 80% is found in the gut. A healthy gut has around 1 ½ kilos of good bacteria, but every day we kill them off with lifestyle factors like processed and GMO foods, alcohol, cigarettes, pollution and antibiotics. This is why probiotics are so important for keeping the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Without them, we could have an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the bowels, be at risk of more infection since our immunity is lowered, and increase our chances of chronic disease, like IBS and type-2 diabetes.
Turn around, and look down!
Now, we know that bathroom habits aren’t usually up for discussion, but it’s time to get real, about what’s in the toilet bowl. Keeping an eye on your bowel movements tells you a lot about your digestive health. Undigested food in your stool, frequently floating stools and oily residue in the toilet bowl all indicate digestive distress. Regular bloating, feeling full after small portions of food and feeling as if your food is simply sitting in your stomach could also signal an unhealthy gut.
Stress and digestion
Our bodies have two types of responses – the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic response, or the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic response. During periods of stress, our bodies are in ‘fight or flight’ response, and digestion is largely neglected while we tackle bigger perceived threats. Chronic stress means our digestion is impaired over long period of times, instead of for short bursts of time as nature intended, leading to gut dysfunction over time.
Getting your diet right
Diet plays a big part in building and maintaining a healthy digestive system. Taking in plant-based foods, lean protein and complex carbohydrates and limiting processed, high sugar and empty-caloric foods can help fight inflammation and build healthy gut bacteria. Certain foods can help improve gut health. Like:
- Raw beetroot and leafy greens
- Fermented foods like yoghurt, kombucha tea and tempeh
- High fibre foods
- Drinking a glass of water 15 minutes before a meal
- Fenugreek tea
Supplements that can help
- Considering that most of us have not yet mastered a mostly raw, unprocessed and well-chewed diet, supplementing with a few choice products can significantly improve gut health:
- Get serious about probiotics! It can be tricky to include these purely through your diet, so try a high quality supplement form.
- Glucomannan – known in Japan as “the broom of the intestines”—is a substance that absorbs water and expands to form a bulky fibre in your stomach. This fibre is then expelled from your body via the natural route. This cleansing effect has been said to help with a host of medical woes like reducing cholesterol, helping control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, and constipation.
- Digestive enzymes can be a powerful strategy in providing all the enzymes required for digestion just as nature intended. These can be taken in capsule form or even just opened and sprinkled over your meals for quicker absorption.
This definitely won’t be the last you hear from me about this all-important topic – watch this space for my Expresso episode on digestion next month!