The most common cause of many health challenges are due to a broken digestive system. This can happen due to overuse of antibiotics, stress, excess alcohol, infection, etc. Most people don’t even realize their digestive system is not working properly. If you experience any of the following you may have sub-optimal digestion: heartburn, bloating, burping, headache, post-meal sluggishness, feeling full but still hungry, cravings, constipation, diarrhea. There are many other indicators, but what you need to know is that if your digestive system is not functioning properly you will be unable to break down, absorb and assimilate the nutrients you are eating. This means that you are expending energy eating but you are failing to nourish and replenish the body with the nutrients needed to allow the body to function at an optimal level. Below I will give you 13 tips to help optimize digestion (in no particular order).
1. Avoid foods that irritate your digestive system
Foods like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts, eggs, chocolate, citrus fruits can be harsh on your digestion. Some can tolerate these foods better than others. Thinking about how you feel after you eat these foods can be particularly helpful. If you experience any bloating, brain fog, skin problems, etc. you should consider avoiding. Try cutting out one at a time to determine what is affecting your health.
2. Eat More Fat!
Advice is often given to avoid fat and protein when constipated and up the fiber (the FIBER!!!). Turns out, fiber can be very hard to digest for some people, and that it can contribute to additional gut problems. Guess what is slippery and does help things glide right along? Yep… FAT!
Especially those who struggle with constipation can benefit from adding a lot more fat (from good sources) to the diet. Fats we consume regularly are coconut oil, grass fed butter, animal fats from healthy sources (including lard and tallow), fermented cod liver oil (excellent source of fat soluble vitamins and Omega-3s) and olive oil (never heated). The fats we don’t consume ever? Vegetable oils and margarine
In my opinion the single most effective remedy to improve digestion is to supplement with digestive enzymes and/or hydrochloric acid. These are both critical for breaking down food into a form that can be easily absorbed. This is only a patch so you will need to follow the other tips to ensure that you “fix” your digestive system.
4. Probiotics / Fermented Foods
The human gut is teeming with bacteria, and this is vitally essential. Unfortunately, if the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut gets tipped in the wrong direction, a lot of digestive disturbances can follow.
We don’t take many supplements regularly but a high quality probiotic is one supplement that everyone in our family takes daily. We also consume fermented foods (see below) but adding in a high quality probiotic has made a big difference in digestive health for us.
Another great way to boost beneficial gut bacteria and improve digestive health is to eat fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, they all contain bacteria, which can help balance and nourish your digestive system. Be warned, you should consume in very small quantities at first as they are very powerful.
5. Eat bone broth
Homemade bone broth is an incredibly nutrient dense food and it is also very inexpensive to make. Broth is packed with minerals, gut-soothing gelatin and amino acids proline and glycine. Broth’s natural gelatin content helps sooth the digestive track and improve nutrient absorption. Our children get bone broth from a very early age, as it is also a great natural source of minerals.
6. Start each meal with something bitter
Bitter foods tell your body that is time to start producing those digestive juices. Bitter greens such as dandelion, arugula, Swedish bitters (non-alcoholic), a shot of apple cider vinegar can all do the trick.
7. Chew your food long
The first phase of digestion is selecting the right foods, the second phase is chewing your food properly. This can be a challenge for most people. I used to be the fastest eater at the table now I am the slowest. In the beginning it can help to count your chews, aim for 20 chews per bite.
8. Practice mindful eating
Think about the smell, taste and texture of your food. When possible, cook your food as this helps naturally stimulate the process. If you really want to get serious you can hunt, catch, grow and pick your own food.
9. Improve Bathroom Posture
Turns out our bathroom posture may be causing more problems that we realize. There is increasing research (and age old evidence) that squatting to use the bathroom is not only more efficient and more natural, but also helps avoid common digestive disturbances (and even bigger problems like hemorrhoids.
To fix this problem, it seems we simply need to adopt a more natural squatting position instead of the sitting position many of us use today. While squatting on the actual toilet seat is one solution, I personally don’t recommend it if you are pregnant, have balance issues, or simply aren’t already a very strong squatter.
At our house, we have a Squatty Potty in each bathroom as a simple way to improve bathroom posture (and a great random conversation starter with visitors!). If adding a piece of bathroom furniture isn’t your thing, a couple of small upside-down buckets or a regular stool will work almost as well.
The following will help sooth, nourish and restore the lining of the digestive tract. Here’s a great list of items to utilize:
- fresh ginger
- bone broth
- slippery elm
- cabbage juice
- marshmallow root
- DGL licorice
11. Support your liver
Your liver performs loads of functions in the body, one of them is to produce bile. Bile helps you breakdown fat, which in turn helps you absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). If you don’t have adequate bile your digestion will suffer and you will often feel very sluggish after a meal that includes fat. Foods that are supportive of the liver are beets, beet greens, artichokes, dandelion, high quality protein and good old organ meats like liver.
12. Balance Your Solar Plexus
If you practice yoga, meditation or are familiar with Ayurvedic medicine you will be familiar with the solar plexus or 3rd chakra. This region of the body is located where people typically refer to their stomach, from the navel up to just below the chest. By stimulating the third chakra through yoga, Qigong and mediation you can help support optimal digestion.
13. Rule Out Infection
If you have cleaned up your diet and have followed the tips above for 30-60 days and still see no improvement you may be dealing with a fungal, parasite or other bacterial imbalance that needs a more targeted protocol to address. Consult with a health practitioner for more details.
TIP – Contrary to popular belief, heartburn is usually the result of too little stomach acid. A quick fix for heartburn can be a shot of apple cider vinegar. To permanently fix the problem it is best to follow the tips above, especially with regard to hydrochloric acid supplementation.