Simple Ways To Optimize Your Digestion
You might already be consuming gloriously healthy and nutrient-packed food, but how do you engage with it? Is it consumed without thought, unappreciated, gobbled up in a hurry, and over in a blur?
Developing a practical and simple routine for mealtimes is a powerful way to deepen your relationship with the nutrients in your food. It's also a fabulous tool to avoid overconsumption and those common symptoms of mindless eating, such as:
- Excessive wind
I eat well but often mindlessly inhale my food in front of a computer and forget to chew properly.
When I actually take the time to implement these five simple meal hygiene rules, I eat less or — more accurately — I eat what my body requires.
I enjoy my food more, and the belly does not bloat, gurgle, or (heaven forbid) pass gas. Try them for yourself and get the most out of the foods you have carefully selected.
1. Chew food slowly and thoroughly.
Aim for around 20 chews per mouthful and put your fork down with every second fork "lift."
Chewing is a very important part of digestion because it helps break large food particles down into smaller particles. This allows for trouble-free digestion and absorption of nutrients from food in the intestines.
Chewing slowly gives the salivary enzymes enough time to break down and liquefy food so that our digestive organs do not have to expend too much energy trying to manage large unbroken particles.
Another reason to embrace the slow, thorough chew is to help maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that eating slowly and chewing food well leads to a reduced appetite, reduced food intake, and lowers your risk of obesity.
Besides, eating slowly means more time to experience and enjoy flavor, texture, color, and conversation.
2. Avoid large glasses of water with meals.
Wait at least 20 minutes after a meal before you have a glass of water. There's very little research on whether drinking water with meals dilutes your digestive enzymes or whether a small amount of water is beneficial.
From my experience and those of my patients, excess water or even eating whole, watery fruits with meals can lead to excessive smelly wind and bloating. So if you find yourself with an extended belly and uncomfortable gas, isn't it worth trying?
Having said that, kiwi fruit with a meal has been shown to support the breakdown of protein within that meal. My advice in this scenario is to have no more than half a small kiwi fruit with a main meal, such as in a salad.
Timing is everything.
Consuming 500 mL (about 2 cups) of water 30 minutes before a meal, on the other hand, can enhance that sense of fullness and reduce food intake. Sugar-sweetened drinks before a meal, however, can increase food intake by 7.8 percent.
3. Don't dine with technology.
I must admit this is my Achilles heel, especially at lunchtime. When knee-deep in an article, blog, email, document, or Netflix series, rarely am I focused on the textures, flavors, and smell of my food.
This disconnection often leads to mindless overeating, bloating, maybe a bowel toot or two, and a wasted experience. What works for me is to position myself away from the computer, even if only for 10 minutes — often outside with bare feet in the grass.
I then take time to focus on the smell, texture, and flavors of my food, all the while chewing slowly, of course.
This short ritual has become the time of day I most look forward to. Lately I have been silently stating a few words of appreciation for the food I am about to eat.
In the past I saw this practice of "grace" as weird, dorky, and useless, but I'm not too proud to admit I was wrong. Appreciation leaves you more open to enjoyment and on an energetic level, I believe it allows our bodies to openly receive those food nutrient messengers well.
Here are some fast facts about dining with technology:
- TV exposure leads to unhealthy food choices and obesity.
- Distracted eating alters our ability to monitor how much food we eat and leads to a higher energy (food) intake. It also reduces our ability to feel full, which leads to overconsumption, an expensive and avoidable habit.
- The amount we eat in one sitting and throughout the day is influenced by our "eating" environment.
4. Keep your protein portions in check.
Try sticking to a palm-size portion of protein per meal. I'm referring to the palm of your own hand (excluding the fingers). Many of us, including yours truly, often overconsume protein. A palm portion is an adequate dose for most of us, and if you are mindfully chewing, you are less likely to want that extra serving over time.
The benefits of sticking to a palm portion is:
- Cheaper grocery bills
- A more sustainable and healthier environment
- Improved satiety
- Reduced food cravings
- Weight management
- Any extra protein can be used for a meal the following day.
Some like to weigh protein portions and calculate how much their body requires, but this method does not fly with me. I find weighing food a mental drain and gave up seeing food as numbers many years ago.
Too much protein can:
- Affect weight management
- Stress the kidneys if you have pre-existing issues
- Nonorganic, non-grass-fed sources contain hormones and chemicals that cause gut dysbiosis, lead to weight gain, and affect overall health. More on this here.
- If constipated, excess protein can rot in the bowel and stimulate the growth of bacteria. This overburdens the liver, reducing its ability to remove toxins and metabolic waste. This can lead to chronic disease. Excess protein also overtaxes the stomach, reducing its ability to produce enough stomach acid to digest and use nutrients well.
5. Have herbs and spices with every meal.
My meals are naked without herbs and spices. They accentuate the taste of meals and many support our digestive system by assisting breakdown and absorption of foods.
My favorites are:
Supports digestion in the stomach and small intestine, reduces flatulence, and helps reduce triglyceride levels.
Helps reduce inflammation, heal gut lining, and is fantastic for inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. Turmeric helps reduce flatulence, abdominal pain, and bloating; protects the liver; and promotes bile production. It also lowers blood sugar and helps reverse insulin resistance.
Helps produce saliva, digestive enzymes, and gastric juices that break down food and toxins.
Fantastic for reducing stomach cramps, pain, and infection from pathogens found in food, such as salmonella.
Supports overall digestion of foods. Helps protect the gastrointestinal system and decreases stomach cramps and flatulence.
Others herbs and spices I love that support digestion are ginger, garlic, rosemary, and black pepper.
Need a mantra to remind you of the importance of creating rituals and a healthy eating environment? Why not adopt this favorite of mine, "Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body."