Digestive Wellness: Happiness from the Inside Out

by Sarah Harris | September 21st, 2011 | Nutrition

“We are not only what we eat, but what we digest, absorb, and eliminate.” These words caught my attention on my first day at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Over the years, they inspired my work, to help both my clients and myself.

According to the Canadian Digestive Health Association, approximately 20 million Canadians – more than half the population! – suffer from digestive disorders annually. Regular bouts of indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, gas, or heartburn are symptoms of a digestive system in crisis.

Digestive dysfunction can lead to secondary symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and a host of other health consequences. If we ignore our digestion, the discomfort can progress into full-on disease.

Happily, there’s lots you can do to insure your digestive system is working at its peak. These easy-to-implement tips can go a long way to keeping your tummy in top-notch shape.

1) Food Selection: Eat food that’s food. I tell my clients: eat well 80% of the time; you can indulge in your favorite treats the other 20% of the time. Stick as closely as possible to what our ancestors ate. That means less processed foods; organic produce and animal products are the best. When shopping, stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store – that’s where you’ll find the healthiest choices. Avoid or minimize packaged and processed foods, sugar, and stimulants.

Consider avoiding the most common food “triggers” and allergens, as these can create inflammation and or pain throughout the body. They include cow’s milk, gluten (a protein found in wheat products), soy, nuts (especially peanuts), and shellfish such shrimp, lobster, and crab.

2) How to Eat: Eating slowly, and in a pleasant environment, promotes good digestion. If you gobble your food, bicker with your family over dinner, or watch a stimulating TV program while eating, your nervous system goes into a fight or flight mode. Blood gets shunted toward your extremities and away from your digestive organs; no wonder you’ll feel edgy and bloated.

3) Stay Hydrated: For your stomach to work properly, it needs plenty of water. But don’t drink that water during a meal, as the water will dilute the acid in your stomach. Staying hydrated requires we drink half our body weight in ounces a day. Drink your water one half-hour before and after you eat.

4) When to Eat: My mom always said, “It’s best to eat like a king in the morning, a peasant in the afternoon, and pauper at night.” She was right! Your metabolism is highest during the morning; your most active time of the day. After 6 pm, repair hormones ramp up, and your metabolism slows down. Eating smaller meals in the evening might not only improve your digestion, but it may also help you lose weight.

5) Experiencing Heartburn? You might actually have too little stomach acid! Stress has been shown to reduce the amount of acid secreted. To correct the problem, try 1tbsp. of apple cider vinegar 15 minutes before meals. If, however, this exacerbates the symptoms, mix a tsp. of baking soda with water and drink it. This will help lower the acidity.

Happy Eating!

Sarah Harris

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