Critical Steps for Optimal Digestion
Nov 03, 2014 02:02AM
By Kariman Pierce
Digestion affects our quality of life and is deeply connected to pleasurable memories and experiences. It can also bring on miserable symptoms and create feelings that can cause a negative outlook on life. The human digestive system houses more than three-quarters of our immune system via small lymph nodes called Peyer’s patches.
With a few simple conscious steps, the body and digestion will be supported. So often, we easily overlook the simplest actions that can make a huge difference from day-to-day. The good news is that there are four simple steps that can be taken to support healthy digestion.
Eat whole foods: Human bodies are 99 percent the same as they were prior to modern agriculture, the advent of refined sugar and the large, product-focused food industry. The human species has always survived on plants and animals that were available in the environment. The body is uniquely designed to eat these local, available foods. Furthermore, human cells and the human microbiome are familiar with how to process these foods.
If we intuitively tune in to our body, we will become instinctively aware of how whole foods are critical and nourishing. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Or, in plain terms, “We are what we eat.”
Practice mindful eating: Parents and grandparents that grew up in less-modern times employed practices handed down by previous generations. They knew that it was important to pause and be thankful for food. Some said prayers. What they may not have known, scientifically speaking, is that this action triggers the body to switch into a parasympathetic state, sometimes called the “rest and digest” state.
The brain gets this message and sends a signal to the digestive system to turn on. The stomach begins to release gastric juices and saliva in the mouth begins to flow. Grandma used to say, “Chew your food slowly and thoroughly,” and she was right. The action of the mouth and salivary enzymes is the first step in the digestive process. The mouth’s job is critical; its actions support the stomach and the digestive processes down below.
The digestive system will not turn on or be ready to receive food if a body is in a sympathetic state, also called the “fight-or-flight” mode. When the body is in stress, it remains in this protective mode and food that is eaten will not be digested until the person can stop and rest.
Drink more water between meals and less during meals: Water makes up more than 50 percent of the human body and is critical to whole body function. How much water does a body need? A basic rule of thumb for daily water intake is half a person’s body weight in ounces, not to exceed 100 ounces. Diuretics such as coffee, tea, juice and alcohol cause the body to release fluids from the system. When drinking diuretics, we should add back even more water to account for the loss. It is critical to drink this water throughout the day, rather than guzzling it during meals. When a body is receiving food, it needs the full strength of undiluted stomach acid, which should be at a pH of 2 or less. Water is very alkaline, and will dilute the acid, making it a higher pH, which is less than optimal for proper digestion.
Give the body a 10-to-12-hour fast each day: It is recommended that the body have a rest from digestion during sleep. When the body goes into sleep mode, it signals the liver, a major detoxifying organ, to do its work. The body is in a parasympathetic state, resting, and this is a great time for the body to clean up and prepare to clear out after a long day. The body expects this fast to occur every night as part of a normal circadian cycle. Eating late meals, or worse, meals at midnight, disrupt this cycle and prevent the body from detoxifying.
Choose a balanced meal full of whole foods, including vegetables and high-quality proteins and fats. Go easy on the starchy carbs. Drink water during cooking and set it aside once dinner is served. Look at the delicious food and think of something to be grateful for. Enjoy the flavors of the food and chew each bite thoroughly. When satiation is reached, clean up and close the kitchen down for the night. Enjoy freedom from digestive symptoms. Sleep well. Good night.
Kariman Pierce, NTP, CGP is a nutritional therapy practitioner and certified GAPS practitioner and the owner of New Gratitude Nutritional Therapy. For more information, call 520-477-6204 or visit NewGratitudeNutrition.com.