You are what you eat: Digest and absorb!

Happy February! Feeling pretty chilly here in Cheshire today and sitting here writing my blog with the fire crackling away with a mug of lemon and ginger tea beside me.. a little slice of heaven until I need to drag myself out for the school run.

Today’s blog is focused on digestion and its roll in overall health and wellness. Digestive disorders are common place in any Nutritionist's practice with approx. 1/3 of all clients I work with are looking to relieve digestive complaints and gain better control over debilitating symptoms. 

The digestive system is a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body,so not difficult to understand that if there is a mechanical breakdown in this area that energy supply and nutrients needed to feed other vital organs can be compromised.

I believe the digestive system is the core of life energy, intuition and longevity. Unfortunately, we're turning into a bloated and constipated nation. IBS symptoms, acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating and gurgling tummy are all signs that there is an underlying issue that needs attention but so frequently these signs are ignored creating further health issues along the line.

Chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, arthritis, anxiety, depression and some types of cancers to name a few have been linked to the integrity of gut health so important that this is an area in which we look to have optimum nutrition and support.

There is no size fits all approach and therefore if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms then I would recommend a discussion with your GP anda BANT registered Nutritional therapist to support you. However, if you do want to look at your digestive health a little more closely and understand the foods that support gut health then here are my top tips for support.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for Digestive Health: 

1: Start the day with a gentle cleanse: Hot water and lemon.

Set yourself up for success by giving your body space to breathe first thing upon waking. If we eat immediately upon waking, digestion is forced to focus on the food that just entered the system instead of focusing on removing what was put into it yesterday.

Instead, trade in your first cup of coffee for a mug of hot water and lemon juice which I've found really helps to jump-start digestion. Lemons are a great source of vitamin C, and hydration is crucial for digestion. Give your body the time and space it needs in the morning to move, groove, and remove.

2: Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

There’s almost nothing better for your digestive system and your overall health than water. Just like not eating enough fibre, drinking too little water slows down your digestive system significantly because a harder stool is more difficult to pass. Drink plenty of water and other fluids, especially after you exercise. You'll know when you're getting enough water when your pee is clear all day long.

3: Fill up with Fibre

Make fibre a regular part of every day, and you will be regular every day. Fibre is the traffic cop that helps keep everything moving smoothly in your intestines. It slows down digestion and absorption so the glucose in food enters your bloodstream more slowly, keeping your blood sugar at a more even level. Additionally, fibre increases the weight and size of your stools, and by softening them; fibre helps them pass quickly through your system. Without fibre, you get the gas, gridlock, and occasional discomfort of constipation. Instead of a fibre supplement, try loading up on green leafy veggies, whole grains, oats & oats.

4: Add in Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the human gut. These “good bacteria” are used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions but particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract. They are particularly good at regulating the amount of healthy bacteria in your system and normalizing bowel movements. In order to reap the full benefits of taking probiotics, some experts recommend eating probiotic-rich foods or taking a probiotic supplement for a minimum of two weeks — try it and see if you notice a difference! Foods, which have natural occurring prebiotic's, are natural live bio yogurt, saukraut, asparagus, sourdough bread and tempeh to name a few.

5: Fish Oils

Fish oil in very large doses have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. This can benefit not only your heart, but your digestive tract as well. To start, add fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel in your diet, all good foods for digestion. However, the amount of fish oil needed for a real benefit is large and may require supplements. What doctors and researchers know at this point is that people with irritable bowel syndrome, one of the most common reasons for visiting the gastroenterologist, may not be consuming enough of the omega-3 fatty acids from fish.

6: Get Moving !

Physical activity speeds up digestion, increases blood flow to all your organs, and stimulates muscles in the GI tract, helping your organs work more efficiently. It can even tone the walls of your colon! Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day. Try walking, cycling, swimming or climbing the stairs in your house. Getting moving after eating a meal can support elimination and getting your gut moving.

7: Remove Fatty & Processed foods

Beyond keeping us from fitting into our favourite jeans, fatty and fried foods are hard to digest, slow the process way down, and tax a system that would otherwise run well. Looking for ways to cut back? Try choosing meats that are lower in fat such as chicken and turkey and go for lean cuts of pork.

8: Food Intolerances

Intestinal bacteria produce gas when foods haven’t yet travelled through the small intestine. If gas particles aren’t released right away, the stomach expands like a balloon. Although overeating is the most known cause for bloating, some people battle the bloat daily – even if they haven’t polished off an oversized meal. If this sounds like you, the triggers may not be how much you’re eating, but what you’re eating. Try to limit your consumption of sodium, starches and artificial sweeteners, as they are common culprits. If bloating is a regular issue then food intolerance testing is available to remove foods, which you struggle to digest. Eliminating these foods can create instant relief.

9: Peppermint

The soothing taste of peppermint may help ease indigestion as well as some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint oil can be included in many recipes or even tea, but more often is taken as a coated supplement. Digestion tip: Taking peppermint oil for at least four weeks has been shown to significantly reduce IBS symptoms. It works as an antispasmodic, which means that the supplement appears to be able to smooth and relax the bowels.

10: Ginger 

A traditional Asian remedy for tummy aches and nausea and a favorite condiment used in Japanese cuisine, ginger is another good food for digestion and a popular natural aid among pregnant women, whether in ginger teas, candies, or supplements. And there’s real research to back up ginger’s benefits: Ginger helps digestion by speeding up the process that moves food from the stomach into the upper small intestine, according to a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.