The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said that "All disease begins in the gut." This oft-cited maxim still holds true, especially in modern times when so many factors are impacting our microbiomes, our digestion, and our overall gut health.
Improving and maintaining strong digestion is essential for robust health. Healthy digestion is responsible for optimal nutrient absorption, proper energy production and metabolism, and elimination of toxins and other waste products. A diverse microbiome protects us from infection and supports a healthy mind and mood, among many other things. Here are some tips that will help you optimize your gut health and improve digestion.
Healthy digestion begins in the mind, before food even enters the mouth. Sit down to eat. Take a few deep breaths to relax and feel gratitude for your meal. The sight and smell of food allow the salivary glands to begin to produce the enzymes necessary to initiate the breakdown of food. Eliminate distractions, such as watching television or reading, so you can actually taste your food and sense when you're full. Slow down and eat mindfully. This allows the nervous system to shift into parasympathetic, aka "rest and digest," mode.
The teeth break down food into smaller pieces. This makes it easier for the digestive system to process. Proper chewing also produces more saliva, which contains enzymes that further break down food for increased nutrient absorption.
Feed the Gut
Creating a healthy microbiome involves nurturing a wide variety of microbes and feeding those microbes what they need to thrive. Inoculate the gut with probiotics through fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and consider high-quality supplements with a variety of strains. Nurture healthy gut microbes by eating a diverse range of foods, focusing on whole unprocessed foods, and consuming a lot of fiber. Legumes, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables are all great choices.
Maintaining a steady intake of non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day is important to ensure healthy elimination and to avoid constipation. Water is the ideal choice. There are many opinions on how much, but the old 8x8 rule, or eight eight-ounce glasses a day, is a good place to start. Increase this amount in hot climates or with heavy exercise.
Drop Unhealthy Habits
Eliminate the following activities which have been shown to disrupt digestion and a healthy microbiome: consuming artificial sweeteners and other food additives, drinking alcohol, smoking, over-consuming caffeine, being overly stressed, late-night eating, and taking unnecessary pharmaceuticals.
Movement helps food pass through the digestive system. Even a short 15-20 minute walk can improve digestion.
Consume Herbal Allies
Incorporate the following herbs to support liver and gallbladder health, nourish healthy digestion, and soothe the digestive tract: Ginger root, Dandelion root, Peppermint leaf, Milk Thistle seed, and Slippery Elm bark. Use an infusion or decoction to prepare these herbs, depending on the part of the plant with which you're working. Incorporate any or all of the above tips to ensure robust digestion and all the benefits that go along with that!
Writer Katie Gerber is a holistic health and nutrition coach serving clients locally in the front range as well as online. In 2014, she completed Aviva Romm's Herbal Medicine for Women certification. After thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and the Colorado Trail in 2016, Katie decided to use her botanical medicine and nutrition knowledge to help fellow wilderness lovers seeking more energy and better health. She transitioned from her career as a pastry chef, and enrolled in the Institute for Transformational Nutrition. She now uses her lifelong passion for holistic health with her background in the culinary arts to help people live healthier lives, in alignment with nature. Katie writes for several publications and speaks at local events. When she's not writing and working with clients, you'll most likely find her in the mountains, in the garden, or in the kitchen testing recipes. Find out more about Katie, her articles, and her adventures at her website.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.