The Digestive System
Your digestive system is an incredible self-healing system that runs from your mouth to your anus and includes the pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and colon. There are also several supportive organs, like the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, tongue and salivary glands. There are so many incredible things about this system- for instance, did you know that if you laid out the absorptive surface of the small intestines it would be the size of a tennis court? Or that almost 70% of your immune system is found in your digestive system? Or that there are more neurotransmitters made in the gut than in the brain? Yup, pretty incredible.
So, what happens if the digestive system isn't healthy? Since the digestive system works in harmony with so many of the body's other systems, an unhealthy gut can have far-reaching symptoms. Depression, fatigue, hormonal imbalance, allergies, auto-immune illness, frequent infections, Candida, thrush, headaches, nutritional deficiencies, and the list goes on.
So, what makes our digestive system become imbalanced?
A healthy digestive system begins with your beginnings! Your unique genetics play a role, so does whether you were breastfed and what kinds of first foods you were introduced to as a child. As we grow, our diets and our exposure to toxins, infections and medications plays a big impact. Other factors that can negatively affect the health of the digestive system include stress, lack of exercise, insufficient dietary fibre, alcohol, smoking, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, hydrogenated fats, allergenic foods, inflammatory foods, dairy products, prescription and over-the-counter pills, processed meats and hydrogenated oils.
How can we support the health of our digestive systems?
Luckily the human body is remarkably resilient and with a little help it can shift from a state of imbalance back to balance with a bit of effort on our parts.
So, here are some food and lifestyle tips to give some love back to your gut!
Foods that support the digestive system
The digestive system needs water to function properly. Drink roughly 8-10 glasses of filtered water each day.
is essential for a healthy digestive system and most of us have far too little in our diets. Fiber helps to add bulk to our stool and acts like a broom, sweeping out the gunk in our guts. If we don't have enough fiber, our stool can sit our system for too long and the toxins that have been dumped into the stool will actually get re-absorbed. Aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily. Great high fiber foods include raspberries, oats, apples, legumes and beans.
-Bitters, apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon
are great additives to your diet to boost your digestive juices. Have a tablespoon or so of raw apple cider vinegar, fresh lemon juice or a dropper of bitter tincture about 20 minutes before meals.
-Probiotic rich foods.
Your gut needs a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria (about 80:20). When this ratio becomes imbalanced our whole system is affected. A good way to keep our bacteria in check is by eating a variety of probiotic rich foods every day, including kombucha, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and lacto-fermented foods.
-Prebiotic rich foods.
These are food for the probiotic bacteria. Try Jerusalem artichokes, onion, asparagus and lentils.
Lifestyle support for the digestive system
-Eat until your 75% full.
Over-eating strains the digestive system and contributes to weight gain.
-Don't drink liquids with meals
. A small amount of water or cool tea is okay, but only for sipping. Drinking too much fluid at meal-time dilutes our digestive juices and we need these juices to be strong so we can assimilate all the nutrients in the food into our bodies.
-Chew food until it's a paste.
Some foods, like carbohydrates begin begin digested in the mouth by salivary enzymes. Chewing proteins and fats thoroughly help to ensure proper breakdown later on.
-When you are eating, eat!
Don't eat when rushed or on your computer. Try to let go of stresses. When you are putting food in the body, practice mindfulness- appreciate the texture of the food, chew slowly and carefully, give yourself time to notice if you are getting full, consider giving thanks.
-Don't eat late at night,
try to eat your last meal before 8 pm. The liver begins cranking up its detoxification during the night and if we eat too late, we'll interfere with this process.
-Go for a gentle walk
after eating to help digestion, but don't engage in strenuous exercise after meals, your body is busy!
-Choose organic foods
whenever possible to avoid adding to your body's toxic load. If resources are strapped, use
list to help minimize your exposure.
Morning Detox Citrus
(makes 1 juice)
- 1 orange
- 1 large grapefruit
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 inch piece of ginger
- dilute with fresh water to taste. (If adding hot water, allow it to cool slightly to preserve heat-sensitive vitamins, like vitamin C)
Run ginger, followed by fruit, through a juicer. If you don’t have a juicer, use a citrus reamer and grate ginger finely, allowing it to steep in the juice for a few minutes before drinking.
*Disclaimer: this post is intended to give general health and nutrition suggestions for the digestive system. If you are experiencing serious problems, new symptoms or a chronic issue, please see your health professional.