eating habits to improve digestion
The quality of our health is built on several aspects, with one of the fundamental aspects being our digestive function. Our digestion is so important simply because its function is vital for delivering nutrients from food to our bodies, allowing it to be converted into energy, growth and cell-repair (source). If our food does not digest well, we may face higher chances of being exposed to an array of health problems.
Poor digestion can manifest as certain common symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea or gas. You’ll know when you don’t have an optimum digestive function, because you’ll definitely notice the uncomfortable feeling of suddenly being pregnant with a nine-month-old food baby after meals. I, too, have suffered from poor digestion and below are a few really simple eating habits that I have incorporated into my lifestyle which greatly helped in improving my overall digestion.
1. 80/20 Rule
I’m sure you’ve seen me talk about the 80/20 rule before in another post and it can be applied in many situations, such as to the way we eat! I love using the 80/20 rule in how I eat because it stresses that we don’t have to be 100% perfect and emphasizes on us living a balanced life instead.
I apply the 80/20 rule mainly to how much I eat and what I eat, ie. quantity and quality.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have the tendency to overeat, and what we are consequently left with is a huge block sitting in our stomachs, which can be incredibly uncomfortable. Keeping the 80/20 rule in mind, we can encourage better digestion by simply eating to fill up only 80% of our stomach’s capacity and leaving the remaining 20% for our bodies to digest our food. This is because it is said that it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to signal our brains that we are actually full. Therefore, even when we don’t feel full, we might have already reached our full capacity, and there is just a delayed response to our ability to feel full. By eating up to 80%, it could prevent us from overeating and allows us to eat only what we need, thus greatly reducing the uncomfortable bloating after meals and in turn improve our digestion.
When it comes to the type of food I eat, I try to keep my plate filled with 80% vegetables and 20% protein (eg. meat). Of the 80% vegetables, I try to have 30% starchy vegetables and 50% leafy vegetables. I found that this has allowed me to get the most out of my meals because leaving in too much protein or starches left me feeling bloated for longer periods of time.
And of course, nothing has to be 100% perfect, otherwise our minds would deem it to be too challenging to achieve and we’ll stop these habits all together after a period of time. Applying the 80/20 rule and giving ourselves allowance to slip up 20% of the time tends to be more realistic and helps us keep up with these eating habits in the long-run. But remember to not give ourselves too much allowance as well, otherwise it would be difficult to get back on track.
2. Beverages during meals
I found that limiting any sort of beverages (including water) during meals played a huge part in improving my digestion. When I used to chug large amounts of water during meals, I got bloated more easily, and I’m assuming this is because the liquid adds volume to the stomach therefore making us feel full easier. In turn, this makes us eat lesser food than we should (because we are so full with liquids) and adds on to our bloating problem. Moreover, it is said that drinking large amounts of liquids during meals may interfere with the digestion process to a certain extent.
Hot vs Cold
Our bodies’ digestive enzymes work best at body temperature, ie. 37°C, thus it is the best temperature for optimum digestion to take place. (source) Whenever we ingest cold drinks, it lowers our stomach’s temperature which consequently slows down our digestion process. When our digestion process slows down, the food we ingest will stay in there for longer periods of time and in turn, this generates more gas that can cause bloating in the stomach or abdomen.
Moreover, drinking cold drinks causes the fats from the foods we ingest to be emulsified slower. These partially solidified fats then linger on our intestines’ villi and therefore hindering with the villi’s job of absorbing nutrients from the food we ingest.
Our bodies also exert unnecessary energy to warm up the cold liquids we ingest to room temperature, and we don’t want that to be happening during our meals as we want our bodies to focus on digesting our meals well.
Therefore, in short, I found that the following tips helped to improve my digestion a great lot:
• Avoid drinking 30 minutes before and after meals.
• If you aren’t used to not drinking anything during meals, sip on water / soups / bone broth / ginger tea that are warm or at room temperature.
• Try not to drink large amounts of liquid during meals.
• Avoid drinking cold drinks such as iced water and soft drinks during meals.
• Drinking a large glass of water 30 minutes before meals can help in preventing you from feeling thirsty during a meal.
• Chewing your food adequately to stimulate saliva production can help you feel less thirsty during meals.
It is said that fruits should be eaten on an empty stomach, which means about 1 hour before or 2 hours after our meals. This way, our bodies can easily digest the fruits we eat and extract those beneficial nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies. Fruits eaten during meals or after meals would cause the fruits to be retained in the stomach for longer periods of time together with the other food we just ingested. This encourages the fruits to ferment in the stomach and in turn can cause gas and abdominal bloating.
4. Chew your food
This is extremely important and possibly one of the habits that improved my digestion the most. If you didn’t know yet, digestion begins in our mouths and chewing our food adequately helps to stimulate saliva production which contains digestive enzymes to break down our food. The longer you chew, the more the food would be broken down and in turn this makes it easier for our stomach to digest the remaining food particles.
Imagining simply swallowing a large chunk of food — this would give our stomach more workload as the digestive enzymes have to slowly work from the outer surface areas of the food inwards. Therefore, causing our digestion to be less effective and efficient.
Compare it to adequately chewed and broken down food — it has a larger surface area that can be reached by our stomach’s digestive enzymes to digest, therefore digestion would naturally be a whole lot more effective.
Thus, take some time to chew every mouthful of your food until it is as liquefied as it can be before swallowing. You’ll notice how much difference it’ll make in your digestion!
5. Avoid eating in stressful situation
Eating in a stressed and anxious state can greatly hinder our digestion. This is because our bodies becomes more focused on dealing with the stress and anxiety that we are facing, and thus leaving lesser energy to focus on breaking down, digesting and absorbing the nutrients from the food we ingest.
Therefore it is important for us to not eat while we are on the go, or while we are rushing to finish our work. It is best to eat in a state where you can focus on enjoying every mouthful of your food.
6. Deep breaths
As I mentioned above, it is so important for us to be in a relaxed, calm and happy state when we are having our meals. And to do so, we can develop the habit of taking in 10 deep breaths before we begin eating.
1. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
2. Breathe in as deep as you can through your nose. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest.
3. Hold it there for 3 seconds.
4. Exhale all the way out through your mouth.
7. Eat at regular intervals
Eating at regular intervals throughout the day prevents us from overeating. Because when we eat at odd hours, we either have our meals too spread out or too close together. When our meals are too spread out, we tend to feel excessively hungry when it’s time to eat and therefore it can cause us to overeat, leading to slower digestion, bloating and gas. When our meals are too close together, it does not give our bodies adequate time to properly digest our food before we begin stuffing ourselves with more food again.
Therefore it is best to spread out your meals adequately according to how your body is comfortable with. Some people prefer having 3 large meals, while some prefer having 5 smaller meals throughout the day.
8. Avoid eating close to bedtime
Sleeping slows down our digestion process and therefore we should avoid eating our last meal too close to our bedtime in order to allow the food we just ate to be fully digested. When we are sleeping, our bodies are supposed to be resting and detoxifying our systems, not digesting that huge chunk of food that we just ate.
Moreover, going to bed with a full stomach can affect your sleep quality and increase your chances of getting acid reflux problems.
Therefore, we should aim to eat our last meal of the day no later than 2-3 hours before we go to bed, depending on how large the meal is. I always try to have my lunch be my largest meal of the day because it allows more time for the food to be digested as compared to dinner.
9. ACV before meals
It is said that apple cider vinegar can help in stimulating the production of stomach acid which in turn can help us digest our food better.
<strong>How to</strong> — Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in warm water and drink it 20 minutes before your meals.
10. Ginger Tea
Ginger tea is my favorite go-to for improving digestion and reducing bloating and gas. Ginger contains compounds to help stimulate the production of saliva, bile and gastric juice to aid in digestion. Also, it has properties that can help relieve gases trapped in our digestive system, and in turn alleviate bloating.
Thus, drinking warm ginger tea 20 minutes before your meals or sipping on it during your meals can help in improving your digestion.
All in all, these are the eating habits that have greatly improved the quality of my digestion over this period of time. Of course, there are also other factors to consider, such as whether:
• You're producing sufficient stomach acid
• You're producing sufficient digestive enzymes
• Your gut is healthy
• You have some other medical conditions affecting your digestion</ul>
But these habits are simple ways that you could begin implementing today and I hope they would be helpful (even at the slightest) at improving your digestion. Do let me know how it went if you gave them a try!