Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut.” That was 2000 years ago, and it is still sage advice today. Modern medicine is waking up to the fact that the gut health and the diversity of our microbiome — the friendly bacteria in our intestines — are key factors in our overall health because it is a causative foundation in an astonishing diversity of disease conditions including:
- Constipation / diarrhoea
- Food intolerances
- Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis
- Mood changes and depression
- Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Hashimotos thyroiditis, inflammatory bowel disease.
This is why, in order to be really healthy, we must focus on improving our digestion. It is not just about embarrassing gas and bloating, but the foundation of our health and wellbeing. Here are some of our top tips to help you optimise digestion and your microbiome:
- Eat in a calm environment — HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat, and eating on the go, sat at your desk, watching horror films (including the news), playing computer games will all result in sub-optimal digestion. Digestion begins before you even start eating, with the anticipation of food – ever salivated at the thought of a yummy meal you were about to have? That is your mind helping prepare your body for digestion, by releasing saliva and increasing your digestive juices to help break down the food you are about to eat. Sitting in a relaxed environment, looking at your food and making sure you are mindful of the meal you are eating will help you digest it better, as well as making sure you feel more satiated after your meal. This is the process of conscious eating.
- Chew your food well — Your stomach does not have teeth, so making sure that you chew your food thoroughly before swallowing will make it easier to break down once it reaches the stomach. In addition, our saliva contains enzymes such as salivary amylase which initiates the breakdown of carbohydrates. Aim to chew your food 20 times (or longer!), ensuring that it is as close to a liquid form before swallowing. There is also research that shows that chewing food reduces halitosis and also helps protect the teeth and gums with the greater amount of saliva stimulation.
- Optimise stomach acid — Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) is found in your stomach and helps with the breakdown of proteins in foods by activating digestive enzymes. Adequate stomach acid levels are crucial for the absorption of minerals, protein and nutrients such as vitamin B12 and folate. Stomach acid levels naturally reduce as we age so it is important to optimise our levels by bitter foods at the beginning of a meal (such as rocket, artichokes, chicory, dandelion) or taking some apple cider vinegar before meals. Digestive bitters are also a great way to get the gastric juices flowing before eating. Some may also need help with an HCL supplement, as well as digestive enzymes.
- Eat plenty of fibre rich foods — Increased dietary fibre intake has been associated with reduced risk of constipation, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and various cancers. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and creates a viscose substance fermented by our gut bacteria, creating a sense of fullness. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve and helps food move through the colon by creating bulk, therefore improving regularity. Include whole plant foods such as a wide variety of well cooked vegetables and ripe fruits, and properly prepared beans and legumes.
- Include Fermented Foods — fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and beet kvass are packed with beneficial bacteria which can improve your gut microbiome and promote optimal digestion, immune function, skin health and even weight control. Make sure to include some form of fermented food into your daily diet, ideally eating a variety of these foods every week.
With these healthy eating habits and dietary choices, we can give our health and wellbeing a foundation of which even Hippocrates himself would be proud!