A few weeks ago I gave a talk to a lovely group of women from Ever Fitt Training on the importance of gut health and how it impacts nearly every system in our body, even our brain, skin and immune system!
Once all the talking was done, we discussed simple ways of staying healthy in our day to day lives.
Here are 10 of my favourites -
- Start at the very beginning - chew your food. The digestive process begins in the mouth by mechanically breaking down your food, which in turn gives your body's enzymes and stomach acid less work to do. Try to chew 20 times before swallowing.
- Another benefit to chewing your food - it slows down your rate of eating, giving your stomach time to connect with the brain (telling it you're getting full). I don't know how many times I have eaten so fast and end up feeling sick 20 minutes later!
- Make sure you have enough hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach for digestion. We need sufficient stomach acid to break down proteins (which protects us from pathogens) and to assist in the production of calcium and B12 in the body. Often low stomach acid (hypocholrhydria) can be mistaken for too much stomach acid as it causes similar symptoms. For more information have a look at this link. A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar 20 minutes before meals will help to maintain HCl levels.
- Don't eat when stressed. If you are in a constant state of 'fight or flight' your body won't digest correctly. All your body's resources are being directed to the muscles to run away from a threat, not to digest your meal. This includes eating on the run in the car (I know I am guilty of this somedays!) So take the time and be mindful of your food.
- Water, water, water! It is essential to keep hydrated to help prevent constipation, among other benefits. It can be hard to keep up the water intake in Winter, so add in some herbal teas (without the caffeine, this will only dehydrate you). Aim for 30ml/kg per day - more if you're exercising heavily.
- Avoid highly processed, sugar laden foods. Eating food that is as close to its original form is the best way to go (if it's an ingredient you can't pronounce - then you probably shouldn't eat it!). Too much refined sugar can play havoc with the balance of bacteria in the gut, also processed rancid oils add to the inflammatory load in the body.
- Enjoy probiotic foods daily. There are so many new and wonderful fermented/probiotic foods becoming available these days. With an array to choose from, you can see what works for you. Sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir, milk kefir, kombucha, beet kvass, yoghurt, coconut yoghurt the list goes on. You can ferment nearly every vegetable and this creates wonderful food for the gut. It is easy to make your own, but you can pick up something from the shop first if you're feeling a little nervous. Just make sure it's raw and not pasteurised, as pasteurisation destroys the beneficial bacteria.
- Ensure you are having enough fibre everyday. Both soluble fibre (which is fibre that dissolves in water) containing foods like peas, oats, psyllium, avocado, apples, brussel sprouts and flax seeds. Along with insoluble fibre (the part of plants that don't dissolve) foods such as rice brans, skins of vegetables and fruits, artichokes, nuts and seeds. Fibre gives the stool more volume making it easier to pass, helps with maintaining a healthy cholesterol and gives you a feeling of fullness.
- Probiotics are wonderful in restoring the beneficial bacteria to the gastrointestinal system. Look for ones with a variety of strains like, L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, Bifido breve, Saccromyces thermopiles, L. rhamnosus. For more specific conditions choose the probiotic to match. For example with candida or diarrhoea, research suggests to look for one containing Saccromyces boulardii, for IBS the research recommends to look for one containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium Species - L. plantarum and B. breve are two good strains. For eczema, research shows Lactobacillus rhamnosus is most suited, especially for pregnant mothers who have a history of atopy. If in any doubt ask your practitioner.
- Keep physically active. By getting moving you are allowing your digestive system to get moving too, being inactive is a contributor to constipation. Plus being active everyday is great for overall mind and body health.
I hope these tips will give you the inspiration to take care of this amazing organ!
What other things do you do to maintain a healthy digestive system?