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7 Tips For You To Digest

What and How you Eat Affects Your Health

With festive feasts, holiday smorgasbords, special occasions and events, everyone overdoes it sometimes.  The occasional buffet overload or 'cheers' filled night is unlikely to give you anything more than a short-lived stomach upset and possibly extended bathroom visits.  It is when we go overboard too often that we discover ourselves on the road to long lasting digestive troubles - most likely leading to regret. The plethora of ads for products claiming to resolve our digestive problems bear witness to our tendency as a society to enjoy too much of the good life too often.  Constipation, stomach upset, diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, abdominal bloating and gas … all are symptoms of digestive issues. In some cases the situation deteriorates so far as to cause GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) where stomach acid backs up into the throat causing potentially permanent damage.

Your body is a complicated machine with many complex component systems.  The digestive system is a fundamental component whose function is to break down foods and liquids into their individual constituents; carbohydrates, fats, proteins, etc. that your body can use for energy or cellular building and repair, and expel what your body does not need.  

Digestion is a long and complex process involving multiple organs, chemical reactions and processes. Like all complex systems, your digestive system doesn't always run smoothly and requires regular maintenance to continue working effectively.  Also like a complex machine, the maintenance and care required is directly related to age. A large part of the maintenance and care is the fuel (or food) we give our digestive system to work with. Generally speaking the better the nutritional quality of the food fuel we eat, the better the digestive health outcome.

What you eat, what you avoid and how you eat have significant bearing on your digestion and overall health.

Drink Healthy

While we tend to under-appreciate its importance, clean clear water is essential for life.  It's important you keep well hydrated! Your digestive system needs water to not only move your food fuel along, but also to move waste out.  Your large intestine absorbs water needed by the body. There has to be enough water left to work with food fibre to encourage proper bowel movements and avoid constipation.  If you feel water is just too bland add a touch of flare (and health) by drinking (non-caffeinated) herbal tea, or just add lemon, some mint or liquid chlorophyll. Avoid fizzy drinks and sweeteners.

Go Pro

There is a constant battle in your gut between the forces of good and evil. The good bacteria and yeast are known as probiotics whereas the bad are pathogenic (disease-causing).  The battle advantage goes to the one with the largest numbers. What is at stake is your digestive health and your immune system (most of your immune system is in your gut). In addition to destroying bacteria which make you ill, probiotics break down toxins and help your body make B vitamins.  In order to help the good guys win, take high quality probiotics every day. I choose vegan organic probiotics as they are the cleanest and I find best-acting. Adding food fuels which contain probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, miso, and sauerkraut also help.

Curb the fat

High fat foods are harder to digest.  Burgers, fries, doughnuts, and chips top the list but there are many fried, snack, and fast food culprits.  While you may enjoy them, they can lead to stomach pain and heartburn. Reducing high fat foods reduces the stress and workload for your digestive system.  Eating a healthy vegetarian diet is one option but if you still want animal products, choose lean meat and fish and skim or semi-skim milk. Prepare your foods without added fat by grilling, broiling, baking or steaming rather than frying.

Fill up on fibre

Everyone (even you vegans) need more fibre.  There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble.  You need a balance of both. Insoluble is the roughage that cleans intestinal crevices and helps prevent constipation.  Soluble helps keep blood sugars and cholesterol in check while reducing your risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease.  To maintain good health, adults should aim for around 30g daily. To improve health you should double that to 60g. Research has shown that even those who try really hard don’t hit the 30g level each day.  These amounts require fibre from supplements as well as food. Eat high fibre foods throughout the day (not just one meal) such as fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans and oatmeal. Add fibre supplements such as Fiberrific which you can add to your foods and drinks without tasting it, or psyllium.

Moderate your spices

I LOVE my spice.  I am a firm believer that the right amount of garlic and oregano is double what you think is enough -but that’s me.  Spices are some of the healthiest substances on earth. These concentrated flavour bundles can improve digestion and circulation and are potent antioxidants.  Unfortunately for many, they also are hot and can bring on stomach upset, gas and repeating because of their potency. Know your tolerance level and keep within it.  If you are looking to maximize the health benefits of spices you can SLOWLY increase your tolerance by gradually (over the course of months) increase the amounts you use.  If you increase too fast and it causes issues, dial it back immediately.

Avoid the acid

Many foods and drinks make digestive problems worse by increasing your acid level.  These include sugar, processed foods, citric fruits and juices. The caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate and many desserts is a big culprit.  Soda is particularly bad as it is itself acidic, the caffeine causes more acid, and the fizziness can cause bloating and heartburn. The best practice is to skip caffeine and go with water and herbal tea.

Slow down

Digestion starts in your mouth but many people eat as though it were an Olympic event.  They do it on the go (while walking, on public transit, or in the car). When eating is one of the many things you are doing that minute, neither you nor your body gets to focus on the task at hand and digestion suffers.  If you eat slower, you’ll chew your food better, which leads to better digestion. Remember, digestion is the breaking down of food fuel so the slower and more carefully you chew, the less work your gut will have to do and thus fewer digestive problems.

Your digestive system is only one component in your body's mechanical makeup.  Lifestyle choices have a major impact on digestive and overall health.

  • Avoid smoke (first hand and second hand)

  • Keep your weight in check

  • Eat a balanced healthy diet, filled with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Exercise regularly (this also helps everything to move throughout your digestive system)

  • Keep stress in check

  • If you drink, do it in moderation

While everyone loves a good party, and we all suffer from a lack of willpower when faced with a table full of delectable items, no one likes any of the conditions or symptoms associated with poor digestion.  With a little bit of care when eating and conscious lifestyle choices you can minimize if not eliminate many of the issues of poor digestion.

Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. Dr. Claude Gallant holds a PhD in Microbiology.