When it comes to overall health, maintaining your digestive health is just as important as heart health, bone health and the health of the rest of the body. Digestion is where it all begins and by taking control of your digestive health you can improve your overall health and reduce common digestive upset such as acid reflux, heart burn, bloating and gas. By following these simple rules you can improve digestion, reduce digestive upset and feel healthier.
The most important part of the digestion process and is often the most forgotten about is chewing your food. This is the number one reason for acid reflux and digestive upset. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full? The pace of the chewing will set the rhythm for the rest of the digestive process. Chewing at the proper rate gives the stomach time to tell the brain that food has arrived. You will be less likely to go for that extra bite because your brain has already had time to realize that your stomach is full. More importantly, saliva contains appetite regulating hormones leptin (decreases appetite) and grehlin (increases appetite) also called the “hunger hormones” which signals the brain to help make the decisions to stop eating. The digestive process begins in the mouth when you chew your food the digestive enzyme (salivary amylase) found in saliva starts the breakdown of carbohydrates digestion.
Digestion is actually a very demanding task for your body, requiring a great deal of energy, especially if forced to digest improperly chewed food. Chewing helps to break down food into smaller particles that your body can more easily digest. When your food is broken down, your stomach has less work to do.
The amount of chewing food required will obviously vary depending on its type and texture. For example a piece of steak should be chewed at least 20 to 30 times or until your mouthful of food has lost its texture. Generally speaking, you’ll want to eat in a relaxed environment; eating on the run or while you’re working or watching TV is not conducive to proper chewing. Take smaller bites of food to begin with (it’s easier to chew smaller morsels) and then chew slowly and steadily.
According to a study at Harbin Medical University in China, people who chewed each bite 40 times (as compared to 15 times) ate 12 % less food and blood tests showed lowered ghrelin levels. Chewing 20- 30 times on average is good depending on the food and how dense it is. Chew until it is liquid. Benefits of chewing are it aids digestion, increases the availability and absorption of nutrients, reduces bloating and gas and may aid weight loss.
Therefore chewing your food will improve your digestion, make your food more nutritious and help control your intake. It may also enhance your appreciation and enjoyment of the food and it’ll probably keep you from talking with your mouth full.
The second rule is eating smaller meals throughout the day. Avoid overeating, large meals put a strain on the digestive track. You have to decide what works best for you. Some people prefer three good solid meals and others prefer five or six smaller meals. Eating small meals throughout the day can have other health benefits such as helping control blood sugar. Larger meals can often lead to a high and low effect of blood sugar as the body need to release more insulin to break the sugar down into useable energy. Often this swing in blood sugar can leave you with the need for sugary snacks to refuel your body. What you should never do is eat until you are full. This stresses the digestive system. Plan to eat until you are about 80 percent full. This satisfies appetite, nutrient needs and does not put as much pressure on the digestive system. Think about it, your digestive system relies on many factors to break down your food for energy and when you eat too much the body needs to work harder to digest and optimize nutrients.
Eating smaller meals can include a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit or a yogurt sprinkled with chia or flax seeds. The regular influx of food with a little and often approach aids digestion and keeps your energy level stable throughout the day.
Thirdly there are many foods that are excellent for digestion. Fermented foods are a good example. Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi contain different strains, enzymes and acids that aid digestion and are also key nutrients for gut health. It is important to include these foods if possible in your diet every day. There is a lot of research about the benefits of fermented foods especially on the impact of gut health and many other health conditions.
Other foods that promote digestion include eating plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, and yucca). These foods are nutrient and enzyme rich and high in fibre. High fibre foods are broken down at a slower rate helping reduce blood sugar spikes and helps keep you regular.
Eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables can also provide prebiotics that support the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract. The higher content of these foods in our daily diet will improve our energy, provide the body with good quality nutrients and improve digestion.
In summary for good digestion, chew, chew, chew as if your life depended on it.
Eat smaller meals throughout the day and eat plenty of nutrient dense and enzyme rich fermented and fibre rich foods. By applying these simple rules you will support your digestive track and improve symptoms such as acid reflux, heartburn, bloating and gas and improve overall wellbeing.