Apart from my obvious obsession for all things French, I have a keen and ever increasing passion for all things gut related. Not quite in the same realm as each other, but any hoo…whatever floats your boat.
I’ve spoken quite a bit about this topic in these pages, and I’ll speak a lot more about it in times to come, but something I haven’t really given much time to is the whole digestive system. Not just the gut. I’m talking from when you first put that plate of food in front of you, not just once it hits your intestines.
Now, as with anything in this blog of mine, this is my personal “layman’s” understanding. Remember, I’m not a holistic or medical practitioner. You want science and numbers, you need to look somewhere else. You want feedback on my own personal trials and experimentation, then stay tuned.
So to get started, it’s good to understand that the digestive system is made up of:
- The gastrointestinal (GI) tract – comprising of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine; and
- The digestive system organs - comprising of the liver, pancreas and gallbladder.
So what does this system actually do?
Basically, the digestive system helps our body break down the food we consume into nutrients, which in turn, then uses for energy, growth and cell repair. The bacteria which is found in the GI tract (gut flora/microbiome), help with this digestion process.
Did you know that digestion actually begins in the mouth?
It begins simply with chewing.
As the food we eat passes through the GI tract, it mixes with digestive juices (helping to break down large molecules of food to smaller molecules), which is then absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream - delivering them to the rest of the body. The waste products resulting from all of this process then passes through the large intestine and out of the body as a solid matter called stool.
How does a leaky gut affect this process?
For those of us dealing with the joys of a leaky gut, those larger molecules mentioned above can simply escape through holes which have developed in the walls of our small intestine due to inflammation, infections, toxins and stress. Did you know that leaky gut is in fact one of the biggest culprits of people developing an autoimmune disease?
So as you can see, a health gut is paramount for the whole digestive system to work optimally, however we should always keep in mind that the little things we do before the food (or should I say molecules) reach the small intestine, can have a big fat effect on the whole process also. I’m sharing with you just a few super simple and FREE habits we can form to help positively with this process and give our small intestines the break they deserve.
6 steps to promote good digestion
Step 1 - Mindful Eating Practice | This simply means taking the time to sit at your dining room table and relax during meals. Relaxing the mind and body when eating helps to activate the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system, which is exactly what we want to happen as this optimises our body's ability to properly digest food. This can mean different things for different people, however for me this involves putting on some of my favourite French jazz, setting the table with my beautiful vintage crockery and cutlery I’ve collected over the years and often lighting a candle or two. This would have to be one of the most important pieces of gut healing, and on the days I don’t do this and simply eat in front of the TV, I’m often not relaxed or mindful – constantly thinking about everything I still have to do, and in turn, not feeling satisfied with the food I’ve just inhaled and so go on the hunt for MORE FOOD! Basically, I’ve impaired my digestion before I’ve even started.
Step 2 – Before You Eat Digestion Aids | Having some raw ginger before or in you meals; apple cider vinegar or lemon juice before each meal; or adding warming spices such as black pepper*, ginger, cardamom* and cinnamon to your food can all help to increase our Spleen's ability to digest the food properly (*note – pepper and cardamom are not AIP approved). Also adding pungent foods such as onions, leeks, fennel and garlic to your meals can also help increase the body's digestive juices. For me personally, I try to have a shot of apple cider vinegar ( 1 tsp in some water) about 15 mins before I eat.
Step 3 - Chew Your Food | It’s a simple (and obvious) step, but properly chewing your food reduces the amount of work that the digestion organs must do to break it down. Putting too much stress on these organs causes poor digestion, poor absorption and incomplete enzyme and acid production. With each mouthful of food, put your cutlery down and chew. Chew at least 30 times before picking up that cutlery again. Keep thinking… the more I chew, the better my digestion. This little mantra helps me to stay mindful, and remember, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Step 4 – Don’t Drink | Drinking while you’re eating actually dilutes our digestive juices and interfere with the digestion process. Full stop. After committing to all of the above steps, why would you want to go and wreck it all now? If you must drink, then take small sips and keep the bulk of your water intake to between your meal times.
Step 5 – Easy to Digest Food | Not all foods are created equal when it comes to digestibility. Yes, even the healthy ones! Case in point - raw veggies. They may be so good for us, but for those of us dealing with gut issues, we need to steer clear of the raw stuff. Have major digestive issues? Then try cooking your veggies well and then puree, like a mash or soup as this can be much more soothing on your digestion. For proteins, think about slow cooking - helping to break them down before you even place them in your mouth. Think stews and casseroles and not chargrilled steaks.
Step 6 – Avoid Inflammatory Foods | If there is one “food group” to avoid straight off the bat – it’s processed foods. You know the type. They often come in a box and will out-live you. Processed foods have no place in your diet when you’re dealing with gut issues (or in anyone’s diet actually!) as they’re filled with nasty additives, sugars and refined oils. Bottom line – they can cause inflammation which effects the lining of our gut. Just stick to the real stuff. Whole foods.