In my last post, I explained why unfortunately it is very common for people to have digestive issues. Now that we understand the main influencing factors, it’s time to discuss the positive steps we can take to support and heal our digestive systems.
1) Improving helpful bacteria in the gut
We need healthy gut flora to support the breakdown and assimilation of food. This bacteria balance is also vital for a healthy immune system. It is believed that 85% of our immune system is dependent on this gut flora. A great way to improve one’s gut flora is to introduce fermented foods into your daily diet. These include sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. If you feel motivated to make your own fermented food or drinks, fantastic, but if not then you’ll find them at your local farmers market or health food store.
To feed your gut bacteria, increase fibre-rich foods such as leeks, onions, broccoli, pears, raspberries, and beans. These fibres are called prebiotics that feed probiotics (good bacteria) found in fermented foods and drinks. If more support is needed, then I recommend a high quality probiotic supplement. Ask in your local health food store for the best one for you or go to a health professional such as a nutritional therapist to get your individual recommendation.
2) Identifying foods that may be increasing inflammation of your gut lining
The most common foods increasing inflammation of our gut lining include; wheat, gluten, dairy, corn and processed meat. As I discussed in my previous post, modern day wheat is modified and gets lots of sprays during and after harvest. This combined with the type of gluten present in modified wheat can mean our poor digestive lining can get a beating.
Dairy is another food that can be difficult to digest. The proteins casein and whey found in dairy produce can cause digestive upset, or the lactose (milk sugar) can be an issue if someone lacks the lactase enzyme to break it down. One of my favourite dairy foods is butter. As it is mostly fat with only a hint of proteins, butter is a dairy food that is usually easy to digest unless you have a poorly functioning gallbladder. People who are very sensitive to any milk proteins can look for Ghee which is butter with no proteins at all.
Although very popular, I am slow to recommend food intolerance tests until a thorough health history is looked at, lifestyle explored, realistic steps are taken to reduce the intake of common food irritations, and supportive bacteria is included in the diet.
From my personal experience and years of seeing clients, I have found that eliminating a food for 30 days can be an excellent way to identify if a food is the cause of a digestive issue. However, it is important to be prepared for this, so it doesn’t cause added stress. Knowing what to eat instead and how to navigate eating out is vital.
I would recommend you read my blog on gluten called ‘Why eating a gluten-free diet is not just a fad‘, to get more insights and tips on gluten and digestion.
3) Slowing down while eating
In my previous post, I explained the importance of eating in a slow and relaxed way. If you eat fast, then your digestive tract will not receive the full supply of blood it needs to release digestive enzymes, bile and stomach acid which are all needed for the full breakdown of our food. For people who are fast eaters, I recommend a few ways to help you slow down while eating. To begin with, it’s useful to time how long you are spend eating. Once you have an average time, start by aiming to add a minute to that time. See it as a fun challenge.
A client of mine recently started eating with his left hand (non-dominant hand) to help him slow down his eating. He says it’s working very well. Another suggestion is to eat with someone who is naturally a slow eater and aim to finish around the same time or after them. Treat mealtime as the relaxing and sociable time that it is, chat to people around you but just take a break from eating while you are chatting. Put your fork and knife down and enjoy the conversation.
4) Reducing emotional stress before eating
As I have explained above, if we eat fast or come to our food in a stressed state then our blood flow is reduced, and our body will struggle to fully break down the food we eat. This can lead to bloating, acid reflux and overall digestive discomfort. The first step to reduce this stress while eating is to recognise that you are feeling stressed. Ask yourself what emotions you are feeling? It can be easier said than done to describe how we are feeling. We may not want to deal with them now.
We may prefer to ignore our feelings and eating is one way to help suppress them. These ‘undigested’ feelings can manifest in a physical way. These symptoms may include bloating, acid reflux and overall digestive discomfort. The severity of our digestive issues will be dependent on many factors, but a constant build up of stress and repressed emotions can, in the long run, contribute to chronic digestive and health issues.
If a person is finding this area very difficult to manage then finding the right support is very important. Some suggestions to try right away include writing down how you are feeling to support your emotions and talking to someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Playing music you love is also great to move through emotions and dancing/shaking is also fantastic to move emotions through your body.
I hope this is the start of an improved or even healthier digestion for you.
The aim of these steps is to improve the breakdown and assimilation of the food we eat. Reduce the production of gases that lead to bloating, improved bowel movements, healing the lining of the gut and therefore improve the overall health of the digestive tract and how we feel.