It seems like the majority of people these days could use a little help with their digestion. Symptoms like constipation and bloating are becoming increasingly prevalent and something we are helping more and more clients with. While digestion is a complex process, improving it does not have to be overly complicated. In today’s post, we’re diving into what digestion is and why it is so important, as well as our top food and lifestyle-related tips to help improve digestion.
What even is digestion?
Digestion is a complex process involving numerous organs and organ systems to break down food and convert it to energy and nutrients to fuel the body. The amazing thing about the digestive system is that it not only consists of digestive organs like the (think: mouth, esophagus, spleen, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small and large intestine, and colon), but works closely with the nervous, endocrine, and immune system.
Each digestive organ plays a key role; whether it’s mechanically breaking down food (your teeth), releasing digestive enzymes (the pancreas) to chemically digest food, storing bile to break down fat (the gallbladder), absorbing nutrients (the small intestine), and excreting food waste (the colon).
As you can probably tell, digestion is complicated, and I did not even get close to describing the full process.
Why is it so important?
Now that you have a sense of what digestion involves let’s get into why it is so important. Digestion is how we break down food (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) for energy and absorb vitamins and minerals. When the digestive system is not functioning optimally, it may result in malabsorption of nutrients resulting in our body not getting fuel to run smoothly and perform all of its vital functions.
Our digestion impacts our:
- Detoxification process
- Brain function
- *Almost everything!
Common signs & symptoms that your digestion is NOT optimal
When our digestion is not optimal, our bodies communicate with us, which usually presents as:
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux/ Belching
- Nausea / Vomiting
- Feeling of fullness long after a meal (like your food is sitting in one place)
Aside from digestive signs and symptoms, other less commonly recognized symptoms of poor digestion include:
- Overall lack of energy
- Brain fog
- Increased food sensitivities/allergies
- Imbalanced hormones
- Acne/Skin breakouts
- Joint & muscle pain
If you feel like your digestion can get off track from time to time – keep reading below for our top food and lifestyle tips to improve digestion! However, if you are someone who chronically suffers from any of the above, then continue reading below to see if any of these tips help you, but recognize it is likely there is something deeper going on that should be addressed with a health professional.
Food-related tips for digestion
Our TOP food-related tips for digestion are below. Note that a few of these may seem insignificant, but we assure you that each of these tips can greatly impact your digestion.
- Chew (yes, seriously! Slow down and chew!)
- Slow down and breathe (this will help stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, aka rest and digest! I like to challenge myself to put my fork down in between bites… this is way harder than it looks!)
- Incorporate digestive bitters / digestive enzymes (think arugula, dandelion bitters, or a complete digestive enzyme)
- Eat more cooked foods than raw if you feel sensitive (more on this here)
- Avoid food sensitivities/allergies
- Avoid too much water (or any beverage) around meals, but make sure to hydrate between meals
- Avoid heavily processed foods and aim to eat a primarily whole-foods plant-based diet
- Incorporate herbal digestive teas into your daily routine (peppermint, ginger, dandelion root, turmeric, lemon balm)
Lifestyle-related tips for digestion
Believe it or not, your digestion is impacted by far more than your diet. Remember earlier when I mentioned that the nervous system works with the digestive system? Well, if you are stressed and running around, there is no way your body can optimally focus on digesting food – it’s too preoccupied with everything else going on!
Incorporating daily practices in your lifestyle to reduce stress and set your body up for optimal digestion is key.
- Eat sitting down! ( this body position compared to standing helps improve digestion, not to mention some studies show that people who ate sitting were more in touch with their bodies fullness/hunger cues)
- Look at your food before eating it (this helps prepare and signal to your body that it’s time to eat)
- Gives thanks before a meal (helps signal “rest and digest”)
- Get quality sleep
- Get moving (light movement before and/or after a meal aids in digestion)
Your digestion entails so much more than just chewing your food! The truth is you can be eating a whole-foods plant-based diet and still have poor digestion if you’re eating on the go and not taking the time to prioritize your digestion. Applying the tips in this blog post can be helpful. However, if you’re still struggling, it’s important to dig deeper and evaluate your gut microbiome, underlying food sensitivities/allergies, stomach acid levels, stress levels, hormones, and more!
Struggling with your digestion? Click here to work with us!