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Top Tips for Better Digestion

Top Tips for Better Digestion

Hi all! It’s your friendly student nutritionist and front-of-desk, Nina. Do you get occasional tummy troubles and digestive issues? Well I’m here to save the day! (Or at least to help you save yourself from those stinky burps and farts, stomach aches, reflux, toilet troubles, etc). Here are 10 easy tips to help support better digestion (fun fact – your digestive system extends all the way from mouth to anus…or as I like to say, from chew to poo).

Encourage better digestion with these simple tips

1. Properly chew your food

There’s a reason we have teeth! Properly chewing allows your body to begin breaking down food and extracting nutrients (e.g. through an enzyme in our saliva called salivary amylase). Aim to chew every bite 20-30 times. I know, it might sound crazy…but just give it a go and notice the difference! It’ll also help you slow down when you eat and be more mindful, which brings me to my next point…

2. Eat mindfully 

Many of us mindlessly eat in front of tv, on our phones, on the run, etc. However, the digestive process begins in our brains. Sit down to a meal and be present to allow your body acknowledge that eating is occurring (and therefore better initiate and carry out digestive processes). Try the following:

  • Take 3 deep breaths before beginning your meal
  • Sit down to eat
  • Focus only on eating and eat away from distractions – your phone, tv, newspapers, intense conversations, etc
  • Notice the colours, flavours, smells and textures of your food

3. Opt for warmth

This is a gentle nourishing way of eating to help fuel your inner ‘digestive fire’ (two of the most ancient medicine traditions in the world, Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, both reflect this philosophy). Here are the basic themes:
  • Warm temperatures: Your body needs to heat food to a certain temperature to digest it, so by eating warm food, part of the work is already done for your body. Apply the same idea to drinks.
  • Warming spices: Another way to add warmth that also stimulates blood flow to your digestive organs. E.g. ginger, chili, black pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves.
  • Cooked foods: Opt for cooked rather than raw food. Cooked food is much easier to break down, and is therefore more gentle on your digestion and helps conserve energy.

We love this soup!

4. Embrace bitters

Bitter foods have been used for centuries to support better digestion. Incorporate bitters into your diet, preferably at the beginning of a meal, such as:
  • Herbs including dill, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and sage
  • Rocket
  • Kale
  • Raddichio
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts (delicious steamed then tossed in a dash of tamari)
  • Broccoli
  • Dandelion (yes…that weed growing in your yard can be eaten and it’s DELICIOUS. Try making into this traditional Greek dish called horta)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cacao (try this hot chocolate or this milo)
  • Green tea

5. Ensure you’re getting the right amount fibre

Fibre is key to a happy gut. Thanks to the likes of modern diets and processed foods, our intake of fibre is often low, leading to issues like constipation and haemorrhoids. There are two types of fibre – soluble (often described as slippery, mucilaginous or gel-like) and insoluble (often referred to as roughage). Both are essential as they have different functions, and both are abundant in plant foods. Here are some fibre-rich foods which I highly encourage you to incorporate for better digestion:
  • Fruits and vegetables (skin on)
  • Wholegrains – e.g. brown rice, black rice, wild rice, wholemeal flour, rye, spelt, buckwheat, quinoa, rolled oats
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds (skin on) – e.g. almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds
  • Psyllium husk
  • Slippery elm
  • Hummus (try making your own)

An important, but slightly ironic, side note: a sudden increase of fibre may cause symptoms like bloating and gas, so increase your intake slowly.

6. Love your kiwifruit, pineapple and papaya

These fruits each contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes (actinidin in kiwi, bromelain in pineapple and papain in papaya) which all help break down various parts of food, particularly proteins. These fruits are also high in fibre, which, as we know from above, is great for digestive health. I’m thinking this Jamie Oliver pineapple salsa would be delicious!

7. Include prebiotic and probiotic rich foods

Pre and probiotics are key to a happy healthy digestive system and better digestion. Probiotics work well with your resident gut flora to help achieve various beneficial effects, such as digesting food, absorbing nutrients, producing energy, supporting various body systems like your immune and nervous systems, and loads more. Prebiotics are essentially the foods that fuel the probiotics. Here are just a few pre and probiotic rich foods:
  • Fibre-rich foods (see Tip 5)
  • Fermented foods – e.g. yoghurt, miso, tempeh, pickled veggies, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha
  • Apple cider vinegar (try using it as part of a marinade or dressing like this one, or have 1-2 tablespoons in a glass of water before meals for extra digestive support)
P.S. for various reasons, some people can experience an increase in digestive symptoms when increasing these foods. If this is the case, I’d advise booking for appointment via email to see what may be going on.

8. Consider your intake of refined sugars, trans fats and alcohol

Having an excess of these things can greatly interfere with the function of your digestive system (and many other aspects of health). For starters, they’re highly inflammatory and impact nutrient absorption. Read food labels and look at nutrition panels to check for sugar and fat content. Please note – life is all about balance and I’m not an advocate of telling people to completely eliminate foods from their diet that bring them joy…instead of consuming these sorts of foods all the time, treat them as ‘sometimes’ foods instead.

9.  De-stress

Your body has two independent nervous systems and when one is switched on, the other switches off. To be able to digest properly, we want our parasympathetic nervous system (aka the ‘rest and digest’ system) to be the one that’s on. Find techniques that you enjoy to help manage stress – a warm bath, an evening stroll, deep breathing, laughing at funny dog videos, meditation apps like Oak or 10% Happier, etc – to help support this system in your daily life. Also follow the mindful eating techniques from Tip 2, and try not to eat when tense, angry or stressed.

10. Listen to your body

I’ve saved the most important tip for last…listen to your body! Your body is incredibly smart and knows better than anyone else what is best for you. Truly tuning in and listening to signs, symptoms and your gut instinct (there’s a reason we don’t call it heart instinct or head instinct) is the best advice I can give.

Of course, we’re all completely unique human beings. What works for some won’t work for others. Also, sometimes more complex issues are at play. If you have any questions or if you’d like to book an appointment, please get in contact with me here. (As a final semester student nutritionist, all treatments are fully supervised by Daniela). I’d love to hear from you!
Nina x