It is estimated that approximately 40% of the population has digestive issues. The digestive system breaks down and absorbs food and nutrients, and eliminates waste and toxins from the body. It is very important that it is functioning optimally.
What are some causes of an impaired digestive system?
Stress: when we are stressed all of our energy is focused on the flight/fight response, and the digestive system will shut off, leaving undigested food in our systems. Try to find a quiet place to eat, get outside and eat in a park, or surround yourself with friends and family for meals. Figure out what relaxes you, and remember to take a couple of deep breathes before eating if you’ve had a stressful day!
Processed Foods: processed foods often have very little nutrients, including fiber, which are necessary for the digestive process. These foods often contain a lot of additives which may impair the function of the digestive system. Processed foods are often high in refined sugar, which can sit in the system fermenting and fuelling the yeast, or Candida, leading to indigestion, gas, and bloating. Try making your lunch the night before to ensure you have a health and wholesome lunchbox packed. Or, take leftovers. Really try to incorporate live and whole foods in your daily regime to provide your body with energy and all of the nutrients it requires to carry out important body functions.
Eating too quickly: rushing meals often means we are not chewing our food properly. Mechanical digestion is a very important step in the digestive process, and when we do not chew our food properly it puts a lot of stress on our system. Large food particles must be broken down, something that is difficult for the body to do, and often results in inflammation, gas, bloating and indigestion. Slow down, and remember to chew! Savour your food and enjoy the taste, scent and texture.
Eat fruit alone: Fruit digests very quickly, usually in 20-30 minutes, and if eaten after a large meal, the fruit will not be able to move through the digestive tract as quickly as it should, resulting in fermentation (gas and bloating). People who have sensitive digestive systems should be aware of this and may not be able to eat fruit with starches or proteins.
Food sensitivities: Be aware of what foods make you feel good, and what foods make you feel sluggish and give you indigestion. Everybody is different, and so we all have different reactions to the foods available. Listen to your body, and if you feel bloated or pain in your stomach after eating certain foods, make a note of it. Eliminate it completely from your diet for a couple of weeks, and then add it back in to see if it causes the same digestive problems that it did before. If it does, you may be sensitive, or intolerant, to that particular food, and you will want stay away from it. If you have digestive impairment after eating certain foods, you want to eliminate those foods as they can result in inflammation of the system, and could even lead to leaky gut. This is when undigested food particles irritate the lining of the digestive system and the permeability of the lining is increased, making it porous and allowing larger food particles, that wouldn’t normally be able to pass into the blood stream, move through.
Fiber: North Americans are not getting enough fiber, which is extremely important for elimination of waste and toxins. Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Add hemp seeds or chia seeds to your cereals, add bran to your baking, and make sure you have a variety of fruits and vegetables available for snacking. And remember that when you increase the fiber in your diet you need to increase the amount of water you are drinking.
Good Bacteria: The health and status of the good bacteria in your digestive system will affect how that system is functioning. Good bacteria have a number of jobs in the body; they help produce enzymes that break down food particles, they produce some vitamins, such as B, A, and K, they keep the bad bacteria in check, they help with the elimination of waste, and they produce lactic acid which helps to acidify the colon. Eat plain organic yogurt to help provide the body with good bacteria, and talk to your health care practitioner about adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regime, especially if you are on antibiotics.
Our digestive system allows us to absorb the nutrients from the foods we eat to fuel our body. It is important to have an optimally functioning digestive system because not only are we what we eat, but we are what we digest and absorb!