Over the years as I’ve talked to people that I’ve met, friends, and family, there seems to be one major concern that is central on everyone’s mind and that is gut health – or digestive health. Our digestive system is made of a wonderful collection of organs, tissues, and glands with each part doing their own specific job. When one part breaks down or becomes weak, the other parts work on overdrive until either all those other parts recover or break down entirely. Our digestive system keeps us healthy and alive and we wouldn’t live very comfortably if we don’t take care of it.
In order to take care of our digestive system we first have to understand what it is (and here I’m going to have to go a bit graphic with the wording.) The digestive system begins at the mouth and works throughout the body and ends at the anus. Certain parts of the digestive system, which includes the esophagus to the liver to the intestines all work together to turn food and liquids into building blocks and energy that the body needs. Throughout this intricate system of digestive tract the body breaks down every little morsel of food and liquid to turn them into nutrients that our body absorbs and assimilates. When we eat foods that are highly nutritious and beneficial, our digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break them down. And if we maintain the health of our body, the nutrients that we get from the food we eat gives us the important amino acids, sugar, and fatty acids that help keep us going.
But what happens when people get digestive problems such as ulcers, Celiac disease, and IBS? While food is an important factor in improving digestive health, so are other components that can damage or alter your digestive system. For instance, overeating can cause your body to be unable to properly break down foods or take longer than usual. Stress is a precursor to many health issues especially with digestive health illnesses. And eating too quickly slows down the process of enzymes traveling through your body to give it the proper nutrients. So what can we do to help improve our gut health? Well, simply put – listen to your gut. Below I’ve listed ways you can improve your digestive health and can be used for both adults and children.
1- Don’t eat before bedtime. Lying down with a full stomach can push stomach contents back toward the esophagus, resulting in reflux.
2- . Downsize meals. Trick yourself by using a salad plate, and eat until you feel almost full.
3- Chew food well. You’ll activate enzymes in your mouth that help break down carbohydrates, giving stomach acids time to work and minimizing the burden on the rest of the GI track.
4- Decrease stress. Stress can spike inflammation, increase indigestion, and worsen existing digestive conditions. To reduce stress, make a point to exercise, eat a balanced diet, develop a spiritual practice, cultivate a support network, and get plenty of sleep. Try deep-belly breathing for general relaxation and to control anger and anxiety.
5- Eat more fiber. **The average person gets about half as much fiber as she should. Aim for 25 to 30 grams daily. It encourages more regular bowel movements, keeps blood sugar more even, and acts as fuel for probiotics.
6- Adopt Mediterranean diet. Focus on anti-inflammatory, fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. (If raw vegetables give you trouble, cook them before eating.) Choose lean proteins and healthy fats, including cold-water fish, like salmon. Eat red meat infrequently, if at all.
7- Eat mindfully. Eating mindfully helps lower heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. Notice the color, the aroma, and the texture of each bite before placing it in your mouth. Try this for one meal a day, until it becomes habitual.
8- Take probiotics. Probiotics are critical in maintaining healthy intestinal flora, which can strengthen immune response and alleviate many symptoms associated with a range of digestive conditions.
9- Try an elimination diet. If you think you have a food sensitivity, keep a food diary for at least three days, recording everything you eat and any effects you notice. Symptoms may come on rapidly, or may not manifest for up to 12 hours. Once you’ve identified the likely food culprits, eliminate them for two to three weeks. If symptoms improve, gradually add the foods back in. Eat the test foods twice a day.
I’m a huge promoter of probiotics. I’ve been eating food rich in healthy probiotics since I was very young. Foods with probiotics are the easiest way to get children to eat better and have a healthier digestive system. Long term beneficial effects of regular probiotic food can improve children’s overall immunity and brain health. Probiotics are basically friendly bacteria that works throughout your body to increase immunity and decrease inflammation. Delicious probiotic foods include yogurt (low in sugar), greek yogurt, fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, cheese, sourdough bread, and miso. If your child is hesitant about trying foods that have the signature “sour” taste of fermentation, slowly add these type of probiotic foods to their meals. Try yogurt mixed in with fresh berries or the ever popular miso soup found in Japanese restaurants and markets. The more children are exposed to healthy probiotics, the better it is for them long term. But if they are disinclined to try any fermented foods, then supplements would help as well.
As we get older, our body works slower and harder to digest food properly and to assimilate the nutrients that we need. It’s important to help our digestive system by eating properly and practice proper exercising. For children, especially when they’re young, get them on the habit of eating low fat and low sugar yogurt to aid in their digestive health. Yogurt also contains dairy so it helps with their bones and muscles as well as other important vitamins.
For more info about digestive health, check out Delicious Living Magazine : http://deliciousliving.com/digestion-digest-manage-digestive-issues-naturally
*photos courtesy of KidsHealth.org and Delicious Living Magazine. ** Delicious Living Magazine
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