A Holistic Nutritionist's Rules For Optimal Digestion

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Even if you follow the cleanest of diets, you're not properly absorbing all the nutrients from your food unless your digestive system is in check, too.

About 70 percent of our immune system lies in the digestive tract, and healthy digestion also means a healthy metabolism and more stable weight. Here are a few tried-and-true tips to keep your digestion flowing and your body glowing:

1. Drink plenty of water (but not with meals).

It's best to drink water 15 minutes before you eat and 30 minutes to one hour after you eat. Drinking before and after meals helps reduce excess gas and bloating.

2. Eat veggies anytime, but fruit on an empty stomach.

Vegetables can be enjoyed with just about anything since their high fiber content helps support digestion. But try enjoying your fruit on its own because its sugars can disrupt the digestion process.

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3. Add lemon water to your morning routine and tea to your nighttime one.

Begin your day with warm water and half a lemon to balance acid levels in the stomach and stimulate gastric juices. End it with a steaming cup of tea: chamomile to soothe the bowel wall and aid in constipation; peppermint and fennel to help to relieve gas; and dandelion, burdock, and milk thistle to help support liver detoxification.

4. Eat slowly in a relaxed environment.

Enjoy your food mindfully, and aim to chew each bite 30 to 50 times. Digestion begins in the mouth, and saliva contains enzymes that help break down food particles before they enter the digestive tract. The longer food is exposed to saliva through chewing, the easier it is for your body to absorb its vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

5. Cut back on inflammatory foods.

These contribute to intestinal inflammation that can disrupt healthy gut flora and slow digestion. The main culprits are gluten, dairy, and highly processed foods.

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6. Eat bitter, fibrous foods.

Bitter foods such as dandelion greens, kale, and artichokes enhance digestion by stimulating the release of stomach acid. High-fiber foods, such as whole grains, beans, and legumes also support digestive health by increasing stool bulk and softness. Some forms of fiber also ferment in the intestine and provide a food source for beneficial bacteria. These include Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, asparagus, snow peas, green peas, and beetroot.

7. Manage your stress.

Stress has a direct effect on digestive health. When you are under stress, digestive muscles may exert less effort, and digestive enzymes may be secreted in smaller amounts. Your body and mind need time to rejuvenate and reboot. Build time for relaxation into your daily routine, and aim to eat your last meal two to three hours before bedtime.

8. Keep moving.

Exercising at least 30 minutes a day supports the lymph system and moves stagnant energy through your body. If you can't fit half an hour in every day, do whatever you can, when you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or bike to work, or take a walk during your lunch break. The mixture of movement and gravity helps food travel through the digestive system, and frequent low-level activity like walking can be an excellent aid to digestion.

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