If you’re not eating a healthy diet or have ever experienced constipation, irregularity, IBS symptoms or any other digestive issues, this blog entry may be helpful to you.
You may have heard that the secret to healing many ailments lies in the gut. It’s true, so many illnesses begin when the digestive system or GI tract is out of balance or not functioning properly. Did you know that even mental illnesses like ADHD and depression often have their root in the digestive system through poor nutrient absorption, leaky gut (from a thin, unstable intestinal wall that allows toxins to seep back into the body), lack of good bacteria and fiber and other factors?
Did you also know that no matter how many supplements you’re taking for nutritional support, their effectiveness is greatly reduced if not hindered completely when your gastrointestinal system is impaired? That is what the focus of this post is going to be about.
You might be asking what your gut has to do with all this. The answer is, a LOT!
Most nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) that are taken orally, are absorbed in the small intestine (if they are to be absorbed at all), 80% of our immune system exists in the intestinal tract and the B vitamins our bodies produce are synthesized in the gut using the good bacteria (probiotics) that reside there… just to name a few things!
Until you repair and restore the GI system much of your supplements are actually going to waste by passing through unabsorbed, and the healing of other ailments and symptoms will be a slow and difficult process.
So, the heart of nutrient absorption lies within your gastrointestinal system and proper digestion. If you optimize digestion and remove things that may be inhibiting absorption within this system, you’ll reap more of the benefits of the foods and juices you consume. Here are just a few ways to begin to optimize your GI system for better nutrient absorption and overall health.
De-Stress. – Digestion occurs better in a relaxed, stress-free environment. If the simple act of digestion is interfered with, nutrient absorption will be as well. The top two ways to avoid stress are to get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. As for the rest of the day, making the move toward being proactive and not reactive will help you feel in better control and keep stress low.
Don’t drink while you eat.- While it remains the favorite pastime many cultures around the world, drinking anything while eating — including water — dilutes gastric juices. Of course, the job of gastric juices are to break down the meal and aid absorption. To make sure gastric juices are not diluted, reserve drinking for at least an hour before or after each meal.
Chew It Up! – To extract nutrients efficiently, the body must break down food efficiently. The first line of breakdown happens with chewing. While most of us chew enough to swallow, consciously chewing longer can optimize absorption as it creates less work for the GI system. For best results, try chewing each bite of food at least 30 times before you swallow.
Stock up on healthy bacteria.- Probiotics — living microorganisms called “healthy bacteria” — help defend the body against “bad bacteria.” Probiotics are naturally occurring in foods like Yogurt and Kefir. While it is known that probiotics stimulate immune response, they have also been linked to greater nutrient absorption.
Fiber! – A diet that is high in fiber is excellent for keeping your digestive system in good working order. It also helps to hold moisture within the colon, which in turn helps to soften any stools, making them easier to pass. Fiber is also believed to have the ability to work rather like a brush in cleaning any food debris from your colon. Fiber comes in two forms – soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water, but insoluble does not. Insoluble fiber is a great aid to both preventing and getting rid of constipation, whereas soluble fiber helps to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. This in turn helps to minimize any harmful bacteria, the likes of E. coli and Salmonella. So make sure you’re eating (or drinking) plenty of fresh veggies and fruits daily, especially those dark leafy greens!
Drink lots of water. – Fluids promote colon cleansing naturally and water is necessary for the colon to function properly. Soluble fiber (like oats, flax seeds, beans, nuts, psyllium and some fruits) absorbs fluids and can be constipating without enough water. Water also helps flush out toxins.
Add juicing and smoothies daily – Juicing and smoothie making are great ways to get your fruits and veggies, fiber and probiotics, protein, omega-3’s and so much more! If you need to give your digestive system a rest while getting some nutrients, go for juicing. But if you want the full benefits of fiber, probiotics, protein, etc, you can have a complete, vital and filling meal in a smoothie!
Add a little fat to veggies. – A low-fat dressing on your salad may actually be preventing you from fully absorbing all of the available nutrients. While it’s wise to stay away from super heavy and calorie-dense creamy dressings, a little bit of olive oil on your salad or used to cook your roasted or sautéed veggies can actually help you get the most out of the nutritional value of your meal. Why? It turns out that the body needs a little bit of fat to digest carotenoids. The same goes for other phytochemicals, which include the countless antioxidants that you can get from vegetables.
Learn the GAPS Diet. – If you’re really ready to get serious, this is one of the more sure methods of healing the gut and improving your overall health at the same time. To learn more about it check out the books I recommend below!
As always it can be very helpful, and sometimes necessary, to consult with a professional for a proper analysis of your problems and individualized solutions. Being a Natural Health Consultant, Herbalist, Massage Therapist and Meridian Psychotherapist, and most recently getting my degree in Holistic Clinical Nutrition, my web practice is always open if you’re looking for help. You’ll find intake forms and prices on my website (here) and you can contact me if you have any questions about either.
I look forward to helping out on your journey to good health!
References for learning the GAPS Diet, making smoothies and healing the gastrointestinal system: