Proper digestion is extremely important to sustaining overall good health, but we often take this process for granted. Did you know that there are both good and bad times of the day to eat, and there are foods that you should never combine in the stomach over a four-hour digestion period? We combat serious microbes and acquire much of our energy to perform daily as well as metabolic tasks with our digestive system. Healthy digestive function allows for:
- Superior nutrient absorption
- Sound immune response
- Efficient mouth-to-colon transit time for food matter
- Quality chemical and mechanical food breakdown
- Restful sleep
- Getting the most energy as possible from foods consumed
There are some very practical things that you can do to improve digestion so that you can benefit from all these perks! We’ve compiled a list of best practices to help you achieve success.
Improve Digestion with These 6 Tips
To improve digestion, examine what you are going to eat before you eat it. Sure, this sounds like a no-brainer, but you can avoid a lot of heart and stomach ache by simply inspecting your food for any warning signs. Expired packaging, wilting, food discoloration, and foul or unusual odors are signs that food may be spoiled or infected and not suitable for preparation or ingestion. This also includes knowing the sources of your food. Inspect food prep stations for cleanliness and any potential for contamination.
Eat uncooked food whenever possible for better digestion. Increasing food temperature denatures essential nutrients and degrades beneficial dietary fibers. Eat food as close to room temperature as possible. Your body loses energy when it must increase in temperature when eating cold foods, or decrease in temperature when eating hot foods. Eat foods in their whole forms whenever possible. For example, it is better to consume the entire orange (without the skin, of course), rather than just drinking the orange juice. The pulp fiber and juice of the orange are meant to be consumed together to regulate blood sugar.
The mouth is the first and most important step of the actual digestion process. The mouth secretes saliva, which contains several pertinent enzymes that help you break down your food, while your teeth break down food mechanically. While carefully chewing your food with your teeth, be sure to close your mouth in order to stimulate sufficient saliva production. By doing so, you ensure the following:
- Food is moistened throughout
- Choking on large or dense food matter is discouraged
- Biological compounds in saliva can help kill microbes before they pass to the stomach
Contemporary Western culture does not promote proper food combinations, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Heartburn is a huge problem for many who adhere to an “anything goes” approach to food consumption. Eating the proper food combinations does not put a strain on your digestive tract, encourages the right combination of alkaline and acid enzymes, and increases the amount of energy you can absorb from food.
Combining food properly takes into consideration how the body processes certain foods, and what byproducts remain as a result. These byproducts are usually what cause the most damage to our bodies when they are left to build up and wreak havoc.
For example, the body processes most refined starches to produce sugar and vinegar byproducts. Over time, sugar reserves increase risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Common food wastes, or byproducts, encourage an influx of serotonin and can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to work extra hard. These byproducts increase white blood cell count and encourage inflammation, increased mucus production, and increased sensitivity to allergens. Flatulence is also a tell-tale sign of improper food combinations.
Here is a brief rundown of the dos and don’ts of food combining to help improve digestion:
- Do not combine citrus fruits (e.g., grapefruits, oranges, lemons) with sweet fruits (e.g., bananas, dried fruits, prunes). Moderately acidic fruits (e.g., apples, cherries, peaches) can be eaten with citrus fruits or with sweet fruits. Melons (e.g., watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) and meats should be eaten separately.
- Do not combine fruits and vegetables. Low-to-no starchy vegetables (e.g., kale, kelp, lettuce, broccoli) can be eaten with carbohydrate starches (e.g., corn, carrots, grains, butternut squash, yams, pastas, beans). Low-to-no starchy vegetables pair well with proteins (e.g., soybeans, peanuts, seeds). Do not combine proteins with carbohydrate starches. Low-to-no starchy vegetables combine well with fats (e.g., avocado, oils, olives).
- Do not combine strong-tasting foods like onions, peppers, and chiles with your foods. These combinations are often the causes of indigestion, chronic heartburn, and thickening of the stomach lining. Strong-tasting foods should be eaten separately to address illnesses, such as parasites, congestion, and allergies.
- Do not combine proteins with citrus fruits, or sweet fruits with carbohydrate starches. Moderately acidic fruits do not combine well with protein plants.
- Do not drink when you are eating. If you must drink something while eating, sip on a small amount of distilled or filtered water. It is best to wait at least one hour after eating a full meal before drinking. Fluids dilute the digestive enzymes necessary during digestion, which limits nutrient absorption. Drink only enough fluid to quench your thirst. Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages when eating. Caffeine is a drug that greatly hinders the digestive process.
- Do not season your food. Eat foods that are as bland as possible. Sugar and salt alter the nutrient content of food. Opt for natural, nutrient-rich herbs to enhance flavors when appropriate.
Only eat when you are hungry and do not overeat. Stop eating when you feel almost half full. Overeating and stretching your stomach can induce further overeating and an unhealthy consumption of calories. Overeating also causes indigestion if an adequate amount of digestive enzymes is not available to break down and process excess food matter.
Do not eat because you are sad, happy, worried, excited, or bored. Do not eat to feel better emotionally. Only eat food when you are in a relaxed state.
Allow a full four hours to digest a meal before eating again. Eat your heaviest protein meal of the day after noon and before 6:00 pm so that you can process heavy foods before bedtime. Allow four hours of digestion time to ensure better sleep. Try to fast during the morning hours. But if you must eat, choose fruits, which help to promote fecal elimination.
Do not wear tight-fitting clothing when eating and try not to eat if you are too hot or too cold, and avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes. This will ensure that your blood is circulating well during your meals. Allow at least one hour before or after a meal when engaging in sexual activity or strenuous activity so that your body properly absorbs energy from food and assimilates nutrients.
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