By Jasmin Lim
I recall the days of hiding candy under my bed and inside my pillow to avoid the “you are what you eat” spiel I’d continually get from my unimpressed mother. In our household, takeout was never an option and our pantry would be brimming with wholefoods – and so everyday after school I’d exclaim with excruciating agony “but mum, there’s nothing to eat!” – and by nothing I meant that there was no processed, refined, instant, sugary, salty snack to satisfy my health-poor-taste-buds.
Although at the time I didn’t care much about it, I had chronic eczema, bloating, and well, a not so optimally functioning tail pipe… All key signs of a not-so-healthy digestive system. Now, you could be like my sugar-crazed teeny-bop self, or, conversely you could be eating an incredibly well balanced wholefoods diet, and surprisingly still having some of these ailments. After all, you are what you eat right?
Wrong. Although mum was half right (and by half right I mean that yes you shouldn’t be hiding candy under your bed, let alone eating it at all…), it turns out that you may not be what you eat, but may actually be what you digest.
This leads me to my next point. You could spend copious amounts of dollars on organic wholefoods, but if you aren’t actually absorbing the benefits, well then there’s not much point right? Now, this is no reason to ditch the wholefoods pantry and dive into a pool of candy… (There’s still hope for you yet! – keep reading…)
I cannot overstate the importance of digestive balance enough – with your digestive system being responsible for everything from how much nutrition ultimately reaches your cells, to how you feel, look, age, and well, pretty much everything…
Signs of bad digestion include chronic bloating, gassiness, tiredness, iron deficiency, brittle nails, arthritis, weight gain and skin conditions just to name a few – wow! Conversely, when your gut is working efficiently, your nutrition absorption is maximized and these symptoms not only subside, but you also experience better energy, circulation, immunity, skin and weight maintenance.
So how do you improve your digestion and nutrient absorption? – Follow these 8 simple rules and you’ll be well equipped with the tools you need to maximise your wholefoods pantry and say goodbye to those annoying digestive issues (and hello to beautiful glowing skin of course…).
1. Don’t drink during meals.
Drinking during meals plays havoc with your digestion! It cools digestive fire and dilutes the digestive enzymes in your mouth and stomach – tampering with their ability to adequately break down your food, leading to an arrest or delay in proper digestion. Aim to drink 20 minutes before you eat, and 30 minutes after you’ve finished a meal. However, in saying this the exception is a dash of apple cider vinegar in a small glass of water before meals – this increases the acidity of the stomach, helping break down protein, carbohydrates and fats to be properly digested and absorbed.
2. Eat more spices (curries!).
Traditional medicine has been using spices to aid digestion and promote digestive health for centuries. Ginger has been used as a digestive remedy for more than 2,000 years, is warming and detoxifying, and has metabolism-promoting properties. Try chucking a knob into smoothies or slicing it up and adding it to hot tea. Other digestion-improving spices include turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cumin and fennel – remember that bowl of fennel seeds at your favourite Indian restaurant? – it all makes sense now doesn’t it…
3. Eat more fermented foods.
Probiotics are naturally found in soil. Before the age of mass production, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, we would naturally ingest probiotics from the dirt found on wild fruits and vegetables. Fast forward to today, our modern food sterilization and processing methods kill these naturally occurring beneficial bacteria, therefore reducing their natural presence in our diet, leading to an imbalance in our intestinal flora. Therefore, in order to obtain a healthy gut we need to seek them out more actively. Try incorporating some of these fermented and probiotic rich foods into your diet: sauerkraut, kefir, miso, kombucha, tempeh and kimchi – a rich variety of these probiotic foods will help build healthy gut bacteria.
4. Eat more prebiotic foods.
Now we all know how important probiotics are, but did you know that like us, they need fuel too – enter prebiotics. Prebiotic foods contain fibrous carbohydrates that nourish the good bacteria in our gut and help them grow, building a healthy microbiome for powerful and efficient digestion. Nature has given us quite the delicious gift when it comes to prebiotic foods; some of the best include garlic, onions, apples, asparagus, leafy greens, bananas and artichokes.
5. Sprout your nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.
A seed has many nutritional advantages to you; however, many of them are locked up tight by anti-nutrients such as phytic acid. Sprouting turns dormant seeds into live plants, neutralising phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that prevent you from absorbing many essential nutrients, as well as breaking down complex carbohydrates and sugars, making sprouted foods much easier for us to digest. Additionally, sprouts are a living food full of live and active enzymes. Enzymes are the “worker bees” in our body’s cells, creating chemical reactions that allow them to break down existing materials or create new ones, and therefore sprouted foods can help aid our bodies digestion process.
6. Chew your food more.
Although it sounds extremely basic and straightforward, surprisingly enough most of us don’t chew our food enough. The mechanical process of digestion begins with chewing, breaking down large food molecules into smaller particles, and mixing them with enzyme rich saliva. Chewing also relaxes the lower stomach muscles and triggers the rest of the digestive process. So take your time (it’s not a competition…), eat slowly and mindfully and you’ll get the most nutritional punch out of each bite.
7. Manage Stress.
Chronic stress from our lifestyle and environment can be extremely detrimental to our health. The gut is especially vulnerable to stress, demonstrating stress-induced changes in gastric secretion, gut motility, mucosal permeability and barrier function. Try incorporating different strategies for minimizing stress into your daily life – such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing or spending time in nature.
8. Reset your digestive system with a regular detox.
You know that feeling where a little R&R after a week of being overworked and overwhelmed was just what you needed to boost your energy and kickstart you back into business? Well, sometimes a little R&R is just what our kidney, liver and digestive system need after a hard week of stress, caffeine, and well, Friday nights drinks… Think about giving your digestive system a day or two off each week, just like you take a break from work over the weekend. Not by starving yourself, but by giving your body a rest from all of the pesticides, herbicides, additives, preservatives and toxins it is exposed to on a daily basis, and swapping these out for nutrient rich organic juices and herbal teas throughout the day, and a light organic salad in the evening to add some essential fibre and keep things moving. A regular detox helps divert energy away from your digestive system and put it to good use in other areas such as helping to keep your gut lining healthy, giving the liver a break from its daily grind of neutralising toxins, and strengthening the immune system with easily assimilated pre-digested nutrients. You may also find that a slightly longer cleanse over a few days suits you - listen to your body. Here at Little Bird we offer 1, 3 and 5 day cleanse plans.
If you are struggling with any digestive problems, food allergies, energy, mood or weight issues, or wanting to create your own personalised cleanse programme, we recommend getting in touch with Nellie. She is a registered Nutritionist and Naturopath who has practiced both in NZ and the UK. To book a personal or Skype consultation with Nellie, email firstname.lastname@example.org