I wanted to make my first wellbeing post about the importance of gut health as healing my digestive system was one of the first steps I took to heal my body. A digestive system that functions effectively is so crucial to every aspect of health. In my nutrition classes, we learn ‘you are what your body digests and absorbs’. This is why when one wants to make changes to optimise health, improving your digestion is a key place to start.
The human gastrointestinal tract is one of the most complex ecosystems known. Over 100 trillion friendly bacteria are found in the gut, this is over 10 times the amount of cells found in the human body. It’s believed around 90% of our neurotransmitters are produced within the gut and around 60-80% of our immune system is found there.
So many people nowadays live with gut-based illnesses and don’t actually realise the effect it can have towards optimal health. Naturally occurring good bacteria that is found in the gut are called probiotics. When there is an imbalance in these good bacteria problems start to occur within the gastrointestinal tract and with our immune system. This can cause people to feel lousy, foggy, irritated, bloated, fatigued, constipated. Impaired digestion can also cause weight gain, deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, anxiety, depression, autoimmune conditions, skin issues such as acne, eczema and more.
These issues all link back to how balanced your gut flora is and how well your body can absorb essential nutrients from food. There are so many aspects of modern day life which can affect your gut flora such as stress, pollution, pesticides, antibiotic use, food intolerances, processed and refined foods, caffeine and alcohol.
Improving my digestion had a profound effect on my overall health so I thought I would share some simple tips that I have learned and now use to help with this process.
1. Eat a diet rich in whole foods –Whole foods are real foods that come from nature, they contain nutrients and enzymes that are required for every chemical process in the body. Whole foods are recognized by your body and can be broken down easily and naturally.
2. Incorporate fresh fruits and lots of vegetables – Choose the ones high in soluble and insoluble fibre. Fibre acts as a prebiotic and promotes healthy gut function. It also helps promote peristalsis in the gut and aids in the elimination of waste. Also the more veggies (especially green ones) you can get into your daily diet the better! Green vegetables are alkalising and are packed full of essential nutrients for optimum health.
3. Sleep more – Make sure you get a sold and unbroken 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Restorative sleep is critical for all levels of health. It may be hard going to bed earlier but your body will thank you for it.
4. Probiotics – A good quality probiotic can do wonders for your health. Probiotics are microorganisms such as healthy bacteria which are naturally present in your digestive tract. These ‘good bacteria’ have been shown to dramatically improve gut health.
5. Enjoy fermented foods – Try kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombutcha or miso. These foods are rich in probiotics, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals which will boost the good bacteria in your digestive tract.
6. Chew your food well – Good digestion starts in the mouth. Chewing food enables saliva to coat your food in enzymes which makes it easier for your stomach to digest.
7. Get hydrated – This goes without saying. Water nourishes the digestive tract, supports the absorption of nutrients and removes waste and toxins. Aim for 2-3 litres per day.
8. Manage your stress – Stress puts your body into the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ mode which interferes with your digestive system and your digestive process. Finding ways to de-stress is extremely important if you want to improve your digestive system. Meditation, yoga, walking or a quick nap are some great options.
9. Relax/breath diaphragmatically – This is something I practice daily as happy digestion occurs in a relaxed state. Take a few slow deep breaths to allow your body to readjust itself to enter into the parasympathetic mode, calming the mind and restores strength to your body.
10. Get moving – Exercise helps to get things moving by speeding up digestion, increases blood flow to organs and stimulates muscles in the GI tract, helping your organs work more efficiently.
11. Avoid drinking liquids with meals – It is best to leave around 20-30 minutes either side of eating. Water dilutes stomach acid making your body work longer and harder to turn ingested food into liquid. This puts unnecessary stress onto the body.
12. Kick start your stomach acid – Try adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or half a lemon squeezed into warm water upon rising. This helps stimulate the hydrochloric acid in your stomach for digestion. It’s also great to do this 20-30 minutes before meals. Or use them as a salad dressing.
13. Avoid inflammatory foods – such as gluten, wheat, milk, refined sugar, coffee and alcohol, these can aggravate your digestive system and the healing process. Try incorporating natural anti-inflammatory foods into your diet instead to help with the healing process, such as turmeric and ginger.
Hi I’m Natalie, a Registered Clinical Nutritionist, health influencer, blog writer & recipe creator. My own health complications prompted me to make positive diet & lifestyle changes, revitalize my health leading to a career change from the corporate world to nutritional medicine. I believe in a wholefoods approach to good health, focusing on simple strategies for modern, busy people.