The occasional bout of gas, acid reflux, stomach cramping, or bloating may not be enough to cause you to think much about the health of your digestive system. But it should, and here’s why.
Proper digestion, absorption, assimilation, and elimination of foods is your key to health. According to statistics gleaned from healthguidance.org, more than 20 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders that impair their nutrition. Here’s the thing: No matter how healthy the foods and nutrients you consume, unless they can be broken down so the body can absorb and assimilate them, you will experience less than optimal health.
Here are 5 simple steps you can take to bolster your digestive system:
1. Drink water before a meal
When you have a glass of water 30 minutes before your meal, you kick off mucus production in your stomach. The mucus lining—which is mostly made up of water—protects your stomach tissue from the enzymes and acid also found in the stomach. Making sure your mucous lining is hydrated prior to eating reduces your chance for heartburn.
2. Chew your food!
Your stomach does not have teeth! Chewing predigests your food and partially liquefies it, making it easier to digest. When large particles of improperly chewed food enter your stomach, it may remain undigested when it enters your intestines where it will putrefy, potentially leading to gas and bloating, diarrhea, and other digestive distress. Chewing also breaks your food down into smaller particles making nutrients more absorbable, while also preventing improperly digested food from entering your blood (which can spell bad news for your health)! Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down your food!
3. Add fermented foods
Your small intestine is teeming with literally trillions of microorganisms. When you eat a lot of grains, sugars, and processed foods, your intestinal flora can get out of balance as these foods feed the “bad bacteria,” that can contribute to a host of chronic health issues, including IBS, chronic fatigue, food allergies, and more. Consuming high-quality fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, lassi, and tempeh can help multiply the “good bacteria” in your gut and keep your intestinal flora in balance.
4. Prep and cook beans properly
Soaking dried beans from 12-24 hours before cooking them can make them easier to digest and helps you retain more nutrients in the beans. While cooking, add a few fennel seeds, a slice of ginger, a bay leaf, or a strip of kombu (a sea vegetable) to your pot, again, to make them more digestible and to help relieve gas.
5. Consider supplements—digestive enzymes and probiotics
Found in your saliva, stomach, and small intestine, digestive enzymes are chemical “scissors” produced by your body to help you break down food. Once we hit our 30s our internal production of these complex molecules starts to slow. To boost your digestive health, consider supplementing with a high-quality digestive enzyme.
Probiotics are simply “good bacteria” that lives in your gut. They help keep your internal environment working right. They keep your pH levels conducive to digestion and absorbtion, and out of the acidic range that many less friendly bacteria and yeast thrive in. The most commonly known probiotics available in supplement form are acidophilus and bifidus.
Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion, by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CNN, CHN