Improving Your Digestive Fire

When I was just starting college, a friend of mine was suffering from GERD, a digestive disorder that causes acid reflux and overall dysfunction in the stomach.

I had never heard of this, nor had I considered the importance of the naturally occurring stomach acids. While probiotic drinks such as Keifer helped ease my friend’s symptoms, I realize now that the problem could not be so simply cured as digestion is related to a multitude of things. Alcohol, high in acidity and leaving a toxic residue in the body, along with a rushed lifestyle that encouraged “eating on the go” lessened my friend’s digestive fire leaving the body in an unbalanced state.

It’s important to consider the “behind the scenes,” or why the body is not able to properly digest. Lowering your intake of toxin-producing food and drink goes miles, but there are other factors to consider as well. Our mood and environment, how we prepare ourselves for consumption, and finally what we actually eat all contribute to healthy digestion.

Here are seven powerful ways to regain or balance your digestive health, to increase metabolism, and encourage healthy stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.

• Involve the Senses: The experience of preparation should involve all of the senses. Pay attention to touch, as you hold, massage, or chop your food. Smell, as you consider spices or infuse the house with oven-baked goodness. Hear, as you listen to the simmering vegetables, or blade of the knife through crisp food. Sight, as you take in the stimulus of colorful fruits and vegetables, herbs, and overall presentation. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, digestion starts with the brain, so the better something looks, smells, etc., the more responsive your digestive system will be.

• Bitters: Another way to stimulate your digestive fluids is by consuming bitter herbs before meals. This can be as easy as chewing on dried herbs such as dandelion root, fennel, or ginger while preparing food. Your unsweetened cup of coffee or tea is also a good way to prepare the body for digestion before meals.

• Ginger Tea: Speaking of tea, ginger tea is particularly wonderful for the digestive process. This drink has been used for over 2,000 years to help with digestive issues as it soothes the muscles of the intestines, naturally relieving symptoms of gas and cramping. The European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology recently published a study confirming that ginger speeds up the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. In addition, they found ginger to stimulate saliva, bile, and digestive enzymes (all of which are crucial for the digestive process). If bloating, ginger tea also offers tremendous release after a large meal.

• Drink More Water!: Water helps keep the body in balance by pushing toxins out of the body quickly and naturally. To start your day, try consuming warm lemon water 20-minutes before breakfast. This soothing drink encourages awakening of the digestive system after a night of rest. In general, consuming water warmer rather than cooler is helpful. Nutritionist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Larissa Carlson, discusses that cold water takes double the time to digest, as it cannot be absorbed until the body has worked to heat it.

• Timing Is Everything: Just like so many other things that hinge on timing, when you eat is crucial! As practiced in many South American and European countries, eat your largest meal at lunchtime. At midday, our metabolism is at its peak and we have plenty of time left in the day to use the calories and nutrients from our meal. Consumption of proteins such as meats, eggs, and beans, should also happen either at lunch or breakfast as it takes the body much longer to process these foods than others. Fruit is another food that should be consumed in a timely manner. To eliminate rotting in the gut, fruit should be eaten alone or before other foods. This allows the body to fully absorb all of the fruit’s amazing vitamins, fibers, and natural carbohydrates.

• Portion Control: We’ve all been there, regretting the massive meal we just ate, feeling bloated, tired, and entirely uncomfortable. Overeating sets the digestive process back. Try only eating until you’re 80 percent full. By eating slower and chewing each bite longer, your food will not only be more enjoyable, but you’ll be able to tell when you’re nearing that 80 percent mark. Further, try increasing your intake of high-fiber vegetables to feel satisfied longer.

• Free Your Mind, Free Your Gut: When we allow ourselves to be calm, without stress and without distraction, the digestive processes functions better. When we eat in front of the television or computer, not only do we pay less attention to the tastes and textures of our food, but our nervous system is also activated, which can cause the physical digestive system to shut down, says Carlson. When eating under stress, or in a high-stimulated environment, our sympathetic nervous system, or “fight-or-flight” mode is engaged. In this state, digestion of the food in our stomachs ceases, and energy storage is inhibited. For ideal enjoyment and digestion, allow mealtime to be a peaceful experience, a chance to focus on your food and body with little other stimulus.

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