“You are what you eat”. This is not old news to you. Your parents have been sharing this with you since you began making your own food choices, as a child, long ago. Flash forward: it’s 2017 and here you are, new years goals aplenty, looking in the cupboards and on the shelves, scouring ingredient lists, and perhaps searching online for some guidance to help you make healthy food choices all over again. Let’s get your informed so that you can make the best health choices in 2017.
The nitty gritty
Food is broken down by physical, biochemical and enzymatic processes. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the building blocks of the body. Providing your body the proper nutrition through whole and fresh foods that are rich in vitamin and mineral content is imperative to building a strong health foundation.
The intestines are a major location for nutrient uptake, and some nutrients, such as vitamin K, actually require probiotic conversion to absorb. A healthy digestive tract is the foundation of biological processes, because, as I mentioned, vitamins and minerals found in foods we eat are absorbed by our bodies, and are used to regenerate and maintain body tissues, neurotransmitters, muscle and skeletal fibres, organs, detoxification, antioxidation, and so much more. So, how do you know if you’ve got a healthy digestive tract? Keep reading…
When things go wrong.
Digestion can be thrown off the rails when:
- High levels of life stress persist (cortisol imbalances)
- Dietary choices are poor (read: high sugar, alcohol, carb and/or caffeine)
- History of antibiotic use, fungal infections, or lack of good gut bacteria
- Use of NSAIDs or anti-inflammatories such as tylenol, advil, motrin, ibuprofen, naproxen
- Dieting and use of laxatives or colon cleansers
- Food sensitivities and food intolerances
- Medical conditions such as, but not limited to: IBS, crohn’s disease, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis, which disrupt healthy digestion, but may not be trigger by the above causes. These conditions can be managed with a good digestive treatment protocol.
Symptoms most typically experienced are:
- Abdominal pains
- Burps or belching
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Bloating – puffy tummy, sensation of pants too tight
- Constipation – which is, admittedly, difficult to define. The medical community bases their definition on the american average, which is 3 per week. The bowels are such an important route of elimination, therefore, I define constipation as less than one bowel movement per day.
There are many systems involved in digestion, starting with chewing and mechanical breakdown of food, to stomach acid production, and finally absorption and biochemical pathways of metabolism in the colon. Diagnosing digestive difficulties often has patients looking for medical advice. Unfortunately medical doctors typically have fairly limited choices for digestive complaints, and are frequently left prescribing “band-aid” solutions such as PPIs (Proton pump inhibitors – which inhibit production of stomach hydrochloric acid). Naturopathic doctors are digestion pros. Our tool kits include a host of labs for diagnosis, dietary counselling, herbal aids, as well as maximizing nutritional biochemistry. It is always wise to seek advice from a professional, but in the mean time, try a few of these easy-to-implement hacks at home.
5 digestive “Health Hacks” to try:
- Make informed, educated choices – whole and unprocessed foods, rich in vitamins and minerals are good choices. Also, plenty of fruits and even more veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds and lean proteins with healthy fats. Eat plenty of organic produce as the nutrient profile in these fruits and vegetables is greater than that of the non-organic counter parts. Your digestive system is like a car and it requires proper fuelling and maintenance to run effectively. Speak with a naturopathic doctor to discuss your specific nutritional requirements and seek help with designing a meal plan that meets your needs. Investing in nutritious food is never a waste of time or money.
- Mindful eating – make time to sit down, look at, smell and really taste your food. Close the laptop, turn off the TV, remove distractions. This may seem odd and unrealistic as stressful work days and meals-on-the-go become a reality for more and more people, but here is the physiology: when you are on-the-go, stressed and racing through a work day while eating at your desk, your nervous system stays in “fight or flight” mode. This is the sympathetic nervous system. It is driven by stress and is priming you to run or to fight a predator. The parasympathetic nervous system is critical for digestion. When you sit down, slow down, and enjoy your meal in peace your nervous can assist in it’s “rest and digest” action: meaning better digestion, less bloating, proper mechanical and biochemical breakdown of foods.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV) – a shot of ACV prior to a meal helps get digestive juices flowing! This can be used for people who experience low stomach acid, and indigestion, as a result of poor food breakdown. Caution on this one, for people who may already have acid problems, take medications, or have risk factors for peptic/stomach ulcers.
- Probiotics – Your digestive tract is lined with billions of microbes. These little bacterial colonies are power houses: they help control the internal climate or biome. To keep things simple I like to use the analogy of a garden. When the garden is full of weeds the flowers are out competed and can not blossom. Probiotics are used to weed the garden, and fertilize the garden, to let more flowers bloom. Probiotics are used to maintain a healthy internal environment, reduce gas, bloating, and regulate bowel movements. Probiotic make-up is disrupted by foods we eat, laxative and antibiotic use, fungal infections, parasite infections, etc. Probiotics also stimulate the immune system, therefore it is always wise to consult a professional to determine what strains and doses are safe and efficacious.
- Prebiotics – A good health promoting practice is make prebiotics a part of your diet. Prebiotics are like the fertilizer for the flowers; it feeds microbes in the gut (probiotics) – food sources are kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, chicory root, garlic, leeks and onions, globe artichoke, dandelion green leaves.
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Dr. Kristin Spark, BSc, B.Nat, CISSN, Naturopathic Doctor sees patients at: The Golden Mean Wellness Shoppe on Tuesdays & Thursdays, and at Flow Health and Wellness on Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays. For information about appointments, or to book your appointment, click here
The content provided is not intended as health or medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a prescription. Always seek the advice of your medical provider with any questions you have regarding medical conditions. Dr. Kristin Spark, Naturopathic Doctor is released from any liabilities resulting from the use of information contained here.