Monday, April 29, 2013

4 Natural Ways to Improve Digestion

Chewing, slowing down, adding bitter foods and paying attention to your habits can help with common digestive problems.

Salad in bowl
Bitter foods like escarole and olives can improve digestion.

Digestive issues are a common complaint. Regardless of the underlying cause, there are several things you can do to improve your body’s digestion.

  1. Chew more: We often eat while talking, driving, or doing something else. In those moments, much of our food is swallowed before it has been completely macerated by our teeth.. If we rush this step the digestive process is compromised from the start, since the enzymes in our saliva help break down carbohydrates. Try to chew your food at least 15 times per mouthful before you swallow it.
  2. Stress less: Take a moment before you engage your plate. Sit. Breathe. Relax. Stress inhibits the production of gastric acid, the bitter sludge in our stomachs that helps to break down food so that we can absorb its nutrients. Eating while stressed is a recipe for digestive problems. Try to wait a few moments before digging in.
  3. Get bitter: The taste receptors in our mouth sense five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. Bitterness is the most sensitive and may be perceived as unpleasant, sharp or off-putting. But interaction between bitter constituents in foods and our bitter taste receptors stimulate the production of gastric acid in the stomach. This helps prime the stomach for the food it is about to encounter. Coffee is the most common bitter in our culture these days, but there are others: unsweetened cocoa, beer (due to hops), olives, citrus peel, and many plants in the Brassicaceae family, including dandelion greens, wild chicory and escarole. In traditional cultures bitter herbs were used as a digestive aid. Bitter herbs include chamomile, gentian and scutellaria.
  4. Keep a diary: At Bastyr Center for Natural Health, we frequently give patients homework in the form of a diet diary. A diet diary is simple a piece of paper for recording what you eat, when you eat, how you eat, how you feel and various other factors. This exercise can help you increase awareness of what you eat and how your body reacts.

These tips can provide immediate relief for those who suffer from digestive issues. However, chronic or recurrent digestive issues that affect your appetite, your ability to maintain your weight or your quality of life should be treated with the help of a medical professional.

– By Jamie Corroon, ND, naturopathic doctor and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

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