The number of people who suffer with digestive disorders has dramatically surged.
These ailments affect millions of people every year. Digestive problems can range from minor annoyances, such as heartburn, gas, bloating and constipation, to more serious conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (I.B.S.), acid reflux (G.E.R.D.), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, as well as various forms of cancer.
The digestive tract—also called the alimentary canal or gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract—consists of a long and winding tube that is approximately 25 feet long, starting at the mouth and ending at the opposite end. Each and every morsel of food we eat must be broken down into nutrients to be absorbed by the body, which is why it takes hours to fully digest food.
Proteins must be broken down into amino acids, starches into simple sugars, and fats into fatty acids. And since approximately 70 percent of the immune system dwells in the digestive tract, it should come as no surprise that digestive health is crucial to the body’s overall well-being.
We are all familiar with the saying “you are what you eat,” however, we’re not merely what we eat, but more accurately what we assimilate.
Think about it for a moment: you can eat the highest quality foods on the planet, but if your digestion is weak and you do not absorb the nutrients efficiently, your body won’t receive the full benefits required for energy, strong immunity and brain health.
Modern society has led us to change our eating habits, and not necessarily for the better. The majority of us today lead stressful lives: juggling tight deadlines, family responsibilities, late nights and early mornings. It’s not always easy to eat a balanced diet.
We eat on the run, we wolf down quick mouthfuls at the computer or in the car, and many of us eat late at night in front of the television. And some people skip meals altogether!
The typical North American diet is also loaded with refined, chemical-laden foods that are high in sugar, fat, refined starches, salt, coffee, alcohol, and other materials that do not easily break down.
Combine this with the severe lack of fiber in most diets, and there is a recipe for digestive disaster! Lack of fiber results in a slow transit time of food through the digestive tract, or constipation. A slow transit time means greater risk of the absorption of some of the toxins from not-yet-eliminated food waste into the bloodstream. And, by the way, there is no fiber in meat or any other animal products.
In my practice, I am seeing more and more people complaining of digestive issues, often as a result of poor lifestyle choices. Although pharmaceutical companies would like us to be popping pills, most digestive complaints can be reduced and often reversed with a more holistic approach.
Here are a few simple suggestions for optimum digestion:
1. Choose healthy, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
Avoid consuming hard-to-digest foods that can wreak havoc in your gut. The worst offenders are refined sugars, carbohydrates, gluten, grains, dairy and soy.
This is a crucial step in the digestive process, one that most people ignore. By chewing each mouthful until liquid before swallowing, enzymes are released in saliva to begin breakdown of food and increase the absorption of nutrients
3. Practice food combining principles.
Different foods require different lengths of time to digest, and involve different stomach enzymes in the process. You don’t have to avoid particular foods, just eat foods together that will digest harmoniously.
4. Do not drink liquids while eating.
Liquids dilute the enzymes released in the stomach, which are necessary as part of the digestion of your food. It is best to leave at least 30 minutes before and after your meal to consume water or other liquids. This is a practice that you will become used to over time.
5. Eat fermented foods.
They help colonize the gut with beneficial flora. Some of my favorite fermented foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, and Rejuvelac.
6. Take broad-spectrum enzymes at meals.
They assist with break down and assimilation of the food.
7. Manage your stress.
Digestive issues are often provoked by stress. Be sure to follow stress management techniques in your life. Yoga, deep breathing and meditation are great tools to calm the mind. Exercise, massage, and hot baths are also great to help combat stress.
Remember, it all starts with digestion!
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Assistant Ed.: Moira Madden/Ed: Bryonie Wise