You would be blown away to discover how much work your digestive system does to process just one meal, and how many different enzymes you need at each juncture for things to go smoothly.
1.It’s all about the atmosphere
When you see, smell or even think about food, psychological activation sends impulses along nerves to your brain to activate your salivary glands, and also impulses that travel via the vagus nerve to your stomach, to stimulate production of gastric juices. If you’re wolfing food down while on the run or simply not focusing on food because you're looking at TV or your phone, these gastric juices are impaired. Create a conducive atmosphere for good digestion. Make meal times an opportunity to connect with family or housemates, a sacred time to share food and fellowship.
2.Give yourself an edge
You must chew food until it is soft and semi-solid – remember, your stomach doesn’t have teeth! The softened food then passes down the oesophagus into the stomach. More than two cups of tea/coffee a day, alcohol, smoking, and lying down too soon after meals all loosen the gastro-oesophageal sphincter muscle that separates the oesophagus from the stomach and protects it from stomach acid. This loosening creates reflux and heartburn that damages the oesophageal lining, which over time causes ulceration.
3.Pick healthy combos
If too many foods requiring different enzymes for digestion are eaten at once it can cause bloating and stress the digestive tract, leading to fermentation - alcohol and sugars are produced that feed candida, causing overgrowth. The basic rules of food combining are to avoid eating protein-rich foods (meat/poultry/fish) and starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, couscous, grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin) at the same meal. Non-starchy vegetables and salads can be eaten with either food group, and fruit should be either eaten alone (in the case of melon) or with other fruits.
4.Check iodine levels
Constantly tired, hair falling out, dry eyes, constipated, possible weight gain, and/or multiple food sensitivities? You could be low in iodine. We don’t make iodine ourselves and have to rely on dietary intake. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Australia, iodine levels are very low in Australian and New Zealand soil, so it's unlikely you're getting enough. How does this relate to digestion? Sufficient iodine is essential for the stomach's parietal cells to concentrate chloride required to make stomach acid. Lack of iodine leads to low stomach acid. Stomach acid is essential for: preventing harmful bacteria from entering your body (by sterilising it once it reaches the stomach), digesting protein foods, and absorbing certain vitamins and minerals. Ask your GP/naturopath to run an iodine loading test to check your levels. Always be guided by your practitioner on how to dose iodine supplementation.
The final stages of digestion occur via good bacteria in your colon. Lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidus, and streptococcus are so important, contributing to strong immunity, making B vitamins, breaking down food and inhibiting bad bacteria. Medications (the Pill, antibiotics), excess alcohol, and/or a diet high in sugar and starch can damage your colonies of good bacteria. Replenish them with supplemental capsules or powders, and eat gut bug-friendly foods - fermented foods, natural yoghurts, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and onion. Rocket and chicory leaves contain the fibre inulin and act as a prebiotic to feed your probiotic gut bacteria.
Nina Stephenson BHSc is a naturopath and nutritionist. firstname.lastname@example.org