4 Ways to Improve Your Digestion Immediately
Why does digestion matter?
First, let's talk about why digestion is important and why you would care about improving it. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat” plenty of times, and while that’s partially true, it would be more accurate to say “you are what you digest.” You can eat a diet full of grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised angel tears, but if you don’t digest them well and assimilate the nutrients, it doesn’t matter.
Digestion is important for breaking down food into nutrients, which our bodies then use for growth, energy, and cell repair. Food and drink must be changed into smaller molecules of nutrients before they are absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body.
Bad digestion is super common
60 to 70 million people in the U.S. are affected by digestive disorders and aside from the common cold, digestive problems are the most common reason people seek medical advice.
Digestive issues can actually be tied to common but seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as:
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Mood swings
- Bed wetting
- Joint pain/arthritis
What can you do about it?
There are many ways to improve digestion - from diet changes + lifestyle modifications all the way to meds - however, most of these take some time to show results. Try these 4 quick tips to see an immediate improvement in digestion - no pills, supplements, or potions required.
1. Drink more (clean) water
When you’re dehydrated, water is drawn from your large intestine to hydrate your body, which can lead to constipation. Drinking enough water keeps you hydrated, helps soften stool, and prevent straining and/or constipation.
Also, chlorinated water can kill some of the good bacteria in your gut, leading to an imbalance called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can be responsible for many chronic health problems, including allergies, headaches, skin disorders, or immune dysfunction.
*Tip: Aim to get at least 8 cups of pure, filtered water every day.*
2. Chew your food
Sound obvious? It is, but chewing is an especially important and often underestimated function of digestion. Chewing well slows down the entire eating process, which creates an even glycemic response. Chewing food adequately also mixes it thoroughly with saliva, which is chock full of digestive enzymes, which start breaking down carbohydrates and take a burden off of your pancreas. Also, it allows time for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full.
How much do you really need to chew your food?
There’s an old saying: You should drink your solids and chew your liquids.
Essentially, this means you should chew the dry food you eat until it turns to liquid in your mouth, and that you should swish liquids back and forth in your mouth an equal number of times. This helps mix enzymes into the food and begins the digestive process. The more you chew, the more effective these enzymes are.
*Tip: Try chewing each mouthful of food 15-20 times before swallowing.*
3. Eat more fiber
Fiber is a plant-based nutrient that is essential for great digestion and health. There are two types - soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water, while insoluble fiber doesn’t, and neither kind can be broken down or absorbed by your body. Most fruits and veggies have both kinds, but are just richer in one type than the other.
Some of the ways fiber helps improve digestion include:
- Insoluble fiber controls the consistency of food in our digestive tract as well as the pace at which it passes through - aka helps with “regularity.”
- Fiber acts as food for friendly bacteria in our colon. There is a mutually supportive relationship between fiber in our diet and populations of bacteria in our large intestine. These bacteria do best when our fiber intake is optimal, and our colon stays healthiest when these bacterial populations are thriving and in balance.
The FDA recommends at least 25g per day, but more may be needed for optimal health. It turns out most Americans don’t even get that much - most people only consume between 15-18g per day.
Vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes are all sources of fiber - though some people don't do as well with grains/beans, so unless you know for sure that you tolerate them well, the safe bet is to add more fruits and veggies (plus adding a bunch of beans to your diet all at once might make you pretty unpopular at the office).
*Tip: Try adding an extra serving of fiber-rich fruits or veggies to each meal to bump up your total fiber intake.*
Veggies rich in fiber: leafy greens (collards, spinach, kale), winter squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts.
Fruits rich in fiber: Raspberries, pear, oranges, kiwi, passion fruit.
Stress reduces blood flow to the intestines, interrupting digestive processes, and also leading to decreased nutrient absorption and enzyme production.
We want food to be in the digestive tract for a certain amount of time. This allows absorption of the nutrients we need. When stressed, digestion can shut down, leading to constipation. Constipation interrupts the detoxification process that naturally happens during normal digestion. This can lead to a handful of uncomfortable problems like stomach pain, bloating, or gas.
Stress can also have the reverse effect on your digestive tract. For some people, it can cause food to move too quickly through your system, and there isn't enough time for nutrients to be absorbed, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
There are a lot of ways to reduce stress, including:
- coloring books (this book is one of my favorites)
- spending time in nature
- spending time with family / friends
- quit your job (just kidding. But I bet that would reduce your stress by a million percent.)
*Tip: Take 5-10 deep breaths when you sit down to eat before you take your first bite of food. This helps get your body and nervous system in a relaxed state and ready to eat and digest like a champ.*