You are what you eat, according to the adage, but I say you are what you eat, digest, absorb, and assimilate. The building blocks of every cell, tissue, gland, hormone, organ, organ system are found in foods. If foods are not adequately broken down into their components like essential fatty acids (from fats), amino acids (from protein), sugars (from starchy foods), vitamins, minerals, enzymes (specialized proteins), and phytonutrients, then systems in the body begin to break down. If you are suffering from almost any health problem chances are good that your digestion is involved. The flip side is that if you improve your digestion your health will typically follow. Here are 10 ways to improve your digestion.
1. Increase the amount of raw foods in your diet. It may seem counterintuitive but if you chew them well enough, raw fruit, vegetables, sprouts, and herbs contain the enzymes needed to digest them, thereby freeing up your body’s energy and improving digestion.
2. Simplify your meals. Complex meals involving starches (potatoes, rice, or pasta) and concentrated proteins (meat, poultry, or fish), topped off with a sweet dessert are a recipe for disaster. Try waiting for a couple of hours to have dessert and keep the meal focused on either starch or concentrated proteins along with lots of vegetables.
3. Using a hot water bottle on your abdomen for about one hour after eating has been shown to increase hydrochloric acid production. It’s not difficult to do if you’re sitting down to watch TV anyway.
4. Ensure you’re getting enough of the nutrients needed by the body to manufacture hydrochloric acid. That includes several B-complex vitamins. Research shows that when brewer’s yeast was added to the diet of animals deficient in the nutrients, stomach acid normalized.
5. Avoid drinking with meals or drink only enough to take medications or supplements. Water prematurely increases the pH of the stomach which neutralizes stomach acid and signals the body to move the food into the intestines—even if it is insufficiently digested.
6. Supplement with betaine hydrochloride. Avoid using this supplement if you are prone to ulcers. Many enzyme supplements also contain this ingredient.
7. Take a full-spectrum digestive enzyme to help digest food. Ideally it should include: lipase (for fats), proteases (for proteins), lactase (for milk sugar), amylase (for starches), invertase (for sugars), and cellulase and/or hemicellulase (for fiber).
8. Avoid eating when you’re feeling severely stressed or overly emotional as stress hormones can interfere with adequate digestion.
9. Taking herbal bitters like common or red centaury (Centaurium minus or erythraea) or gentian (Gentiana lutea) have traditionally helped increase stomach acid and improve digestion. They are normally found in health food stores in liquid form and are taken with meals according to package directions.
10. Spices like ginger (Zingiber officinale), black pepper (Piper nigrum), and cayenne pepper (Capsicum annum) can be added to meals to aid digestion.
11. Take a full-spectrum probiotic supplement on an empty stomach. I usually find first thing in the morning or in the evening before bed is best. Beneficial bacteria are needed in the intestines to manufacture essential nutrients like vitamin B12, to keep harmful bacterial and yeast infections under control, and to ensure proper absorption of nutrients in your food. Ideally, look for one that contains a variety of Lactobacilli (L.) and Bifidobacteria (B.), including: L. rhamnosus, L. plantarum, L. acidophilus, L. paracasei, L. salivarius, B. animalis lactis, B. bifidum, B. breve, B. infantis, and B. longum.
12. Chew your food well. The stomach can’t do the job of the teeth so it’s important that food is well chewed by the time it gets to the stomach.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international best-selling and 12-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: Healing Recipes, The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme Cure. Check out her natural health resources and subscribe to her free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News at WorldsHealthiestDiet.com to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook.