IF YOU find yourself perplexed by the sheer volume of health information, gadgets, and supplements claiming to rid you of uncomfortable digestive symptoms, fear not. The simplicity of the solutions you really need might make them seem too simple for you to pay them any heed, but sometimes the simplest way is the best one.
Let’s take a look at a few of the steps you can take to enhance your digestion and, by extension, your overall health.
Suppose you’ve been hunched in front of a computer or phone all day, then jump straight to snaffling down some hastily prepared food. Your body has had no time to shift gear from one task, computer work, to the very different task of digestion.
Just taking a few abdominal breaths before you eat, rolling your shoulders or circling your arms over your head might elicit a couple of yawns. This is your body’s way of flushing out stale gases and introducing some fresh air.
It costs nothing but will make a huge difference to how well you digest your food. For one thing, you’ve just helped to get some much needed circulation going to your abdominal region. You’ve also alerted your brain to a shift in gear. This helps it send messages to your digestive system to release digestive enzymes, a crucial part of the digestive process.
Before even taking your first bite, you can really prime your digestive system to be prepared for the arrival of food.
About twenty minutes before your meal, drink some room temperature water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in it. A small sliver of raw ginger chewed well works too, as does fennel, cumin, and coriander tea, or miso soup.
Just try one of these for a week or two, particularly before your main meal of the day, and see do you feel better after your meal.
However proud you are of your ability to multi task, when it comes to digestion, make that the only show in town.
At any given moment, your body is already performing a multitude of tasks. Your watching TV or checking social media might just be one task too many if you want your digestion to run smoothly.
If eating a sandwich at your desk is your idea of a lunchbreak, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you can only carve out a small window of time away from work, make your meal small too. Better a well-digested morsel than a poorly-digested banquet.
Timing is everything
If you’re in the habit of going without all day, only to have a huge meal in the evening, don’t be surprised if your digestion, and your sleep, suffer.
It can take a couple of hours to digest a meal well. If you eat too close to bedtime, you’re going to be lying down way too soon after eating. The food, still churning around in your stomach, can push up against the sphincter, dividing the top of your stomach from the base of your oesophagus. The intensely acidic environment of your stomach should never mix with that of your oesophagus. Hence gastric reflux, Barrett’s oesophagus and other related issues.
Use daylight as your guide. When the sun is up, your digestion is at its peak too. As evening sets in, the power of your digestion wanes. So if you must eat big meals, have them in the earlier part of the day.
When in doubt, chew some more
Your mouth is the only part of the digestive system with teeth. Yes there’s chemical breakdown of foods there too, thanks to the production of digestive enzymes, but the mouth does the heavy lifting in terms of shredding food up into more manageable pieces.
The smaller the pieces, the greater the surface area to get coated in digestive enzymes, making the process of absorption and assimilation much more efficient. If you skip this vital step, by washing your food down with water, fizzy drinks, or tea, you’ll probably find you get very sleepy after meals. Of course this can also be caused by the types of food you choose, but the mechanical burden of churning the food in the stomach contributes to that feeling too.
Much like a washing machine, overfilling the stomach will lead to very inefficient digestion. Stop eating well before you feel full to give yourself the best chance of alleviating indigestion.
Chewing helps a lot in this regard. It takes longer to finish each bite if you chew well, giving the brain time to register that there’s food on board. Amongst other things, this releases the hormone leptin, to tell you you’ve eaten enough.
No one tactic is going to work like a magic wand. You’ll want to employ habits that will become a regular part of your lifestyle rather than merely having a quick-fix effect, like taking antacids. Incidentally, I really wouldn’t recommend those, but that’s a conversation for another day.