DIGESTION AND GUT HEALTH

One of the main functions of the digestive system is to break down food and absorb nutrients from the small intestine into the circulatory system. Digestion can be divided roughly into two functional phases; mechanical digestion (food is broken down by chewing) and chemical digestion (enzymes break down food into molecules which are able to be absorbed and utilised by the body). Another important function of the digestive system is the maintenance of the body’s defense system against pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc). 70% of the body's immune system is located in the gut. Immune cells reside within the gut tissue and attack any foreign invaders deemed as being harmful to our body. Our gut microbiome (beneficial microbes in the gut) aid digestion but also communicates with immune cells and can help defend against infection. An imbalance in the composition of our microbiome could lead to disease and alter our immune response. 

 

Top tips for optimising digestion and gut health:

  • Increase hydration by drinking a large glass of warm water (ideally with lemon first thing in the morning to help kick start the digestion process. Increasing water intake throughout the day is also important as you increase your fibre intake, so that you have regular bowel movements. 

  • Take time to eat and chew each mouthful until the food is a paste before swallowing as this helps to break down food and increase the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. It can also help to make you feel fuller so that you don’t eat too much. 

  • Practice a few minutes of deep belly breathing (see ‘stress’ recommendations handout) before eating as this can switch the nervous system to a ‘rest and digest’ state which helps with stomach acid and digestive enzymes production.

  • Do not drink too much water with meals as this can dilute your stomach acid. 

  • Apple cider vinegar can also help to stimulate stomach acid production. Add 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar to 4oz water and sip 15-20 minutes before meals.  

  • Include bitter greens/foods before/with meals (e.g. rocket, dandelion, radish fennel seeds) to stimulate digestive enzyme production.

  • Introduce prebiotic foods that increase levels of beneficial bacteria, such as chicory, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes.

  • Introduce probiotic foods (fermented foods) such as sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir and miso. These foods may help to increase levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

  • Reduce/avoid refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sugar, etc), sweeteners and food additives which can increase levels of pathogenic bacteria and reduce the beneficial species.

  • Increase variety and amount of vegetables to help increase the diversity of the gut microbiome

  • Include coconut oil, ginger and garlic to your daily diet as these can inhibit pathogenic microbial growth.

  • Include omega 3 rich foods, such as wild salmon, mackerel, trout, flax seeds and walnuts in your diet as omega 3 helps to support the health of intestinal cells

  • Encourage bile production with beets, chicory root, artichoke, chamomile.

  • Try intermittent fasting where you fast for 14-16 hours and eat within an 8-10 hour window (you can start with a 12hr overnight fast and work up)– e.g. last meal in the evening at 6pm and breakfast after 10am. This allows the digestive tract to rest and can help to improve digestion, reduce inflammation and reduce bacterial load. This also allows your body to switch to ‘fat burning’ mode to help kick start weight loss. 

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