Most of us never think about digestion – until something goes wrong or there is a pain.
Yet the digestive system – which breaks down the food we eat, unlocking the vitamins, minerals, calories, fats, and proteins we need to thrive – plays a vital role in regulating mood, energy and health. It has such an intricate system of nerve fibres that it is also known need is also known as the body’s ‘second brain’.
Digestive disorders are on the rise these days, so it is a topic we all need to know more about. Here are some simple to implement tips to help keep your digestion in tip top form.
Pay attention to what you eat. It goes without saying (and yet so many of us forget!); you should be eating at plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds and soluble fibres. These will help keep food moving efficiently through your digestive tract. Try adding more ‘green foods’ – not just green land vegetables but green sea vegetables as well – to your diet for added fibre and nutrients. Every once in a while give your tummy a break by having a ‘liquid meal’ for instance a smoothie or freshly made soup instead of a big meal. This can really help with bloating.
Hydrate. Digestion requires water. In fact, 14% of water intake is used by the large intestine. Water works in conjunction with fibre to push solids through your digestive tract. Not only is proper hydration good for digestion, it has other benefits as well. If you are concerned about contaminants in tap water, check out our guide to water filters. If you need something more than water keep hydration levels up, herbal teas are a good choice
Exercise. Regular physical activity helps keep food moving through your digestive tract, and can help maintain a healthy weight (which is also good for your digestive health). Make it a point to work a variety of different activities – from gentle stretching and walking to sweaty cycling or running into your weekly schedule.
Chew well and stop before you are full. This is good practice whether you have digestive trouble or not. Chewing is a form of digestion that takes pressure off the gut. Most of us only spend about 23 minutes a day chewing our food, which means the gut has to work that much harder to extract nutrients. Also many of us have ‘eyes that are bigger than our stomachs’ in other words we think we are hungrier than we are. Chewing thoroughly gives both your brains time to register that you have eaten enough. Not overloading your stomach will help with digestion.
Fermented foods. Sauerkraut, properly fermented pickles, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir, fermented soya foods like miso and real sourdough breads all contain beneficial bacteria that aid digestion. There’s even some evidence to suggest that fermented foods can help lower cholesterol and even calm anxiety.
Try herbs. There are many herbs which can aid digestion and naturally and gently calm things down when indigestion strikes. See our feature Indigestion – everyday herbs that help
Take a tonic. Our recipes section features lots of foods that are easy on the gut but also has recipes for functional foods that can help with problems like tummy troubles. Try our Fibre blend – a great, quick to make bulking fibre drink with soothing properties to use if you’re prone to poor elimination, bowel irregularities. Or maybe our Tummy tonic – a deliciously soothing blend of superfoods to support a delicate tummy and promote good gut flora. You might also want to check our feature Medicinal cookery for healthy digestion.
Relax. When you are stressed you can feel your stomach is literally tied up in knots. Stress takes a lot of energy to cope with – energy that the body needs to use on digesting its food. Make regular relaxation a priority and aim to keep mealtimes calm by ensuring you have enough time to sit down and eat without rushing. If you can ensure that you eat on a regular schedule, so much the better as it will reduce unnecessary stress on your digestive system.
Take a warm bath. If stomach cramps are really bad try taking a warm bath with Epsom salts. This will help relax you and the high levels of magnesium in them will help with the cramping pain.
Massage. If you have tummy cramps try massaging firmly in a clockwise direction to relive constipation and bloating. Using an essential oil in a 2% blend – 20 drops TOTAL of any essential oil(s) to 50ml of a base oil such as almond oil – will help. Try blending a combination of orange, peppermint and chamomile oils as a general digestive massage oil blend. A blend of chamomile and lavender oils can help ease abdominal cramping and gas pains.
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