When it comes to getting the most from your digestion, it’s more than “you are what you eat” — it’s “you are what you absorb.”
That’s because even if you eat the highest quality foods, you need to digest and absorb their nutrients to get the benefits. Digestive problems keep you from doing this, plus lead to distressing symptoms like gas, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, weight gain and more.
You can take simple and practical changes to improve digestion and get the nutrients you need. Here are my top 10 steps for better digestion:
1. Drink hot water and hot herbal teas.
Both help detoxify the body and build digestive strength. Simmering a few slices of ginger root in boiling water makes a ginger root tea that stimulates digestion. Ginger in food has the same effect, as does candied ginger root eaten after meals. Other herbs that promote good digestion and make excellent herbal teas are chamomile, peppermint, and cinnamon.
2. Eat freshly cooked foods.
Freshly cooked foods are the most nourishing and are free of molds or staleness. It’s better to eat a simple, freshly cooked meal than a complicated one made of leftovers.
3. Chew your food well and eat at a moderate pace.
Ideally, you should chew each mouthful some 30 times, breaking the food into small particles and allowing the salivary enzymes to begin their work digesting the food. Try putting the fork down between each mouthful and swallowing one bite before taking another as a way to slow down if you’re accustomed to “bolting” your food.
4. Eat simply.
Mixing many different types of foods taxes the digestive system. Experiment with simple meals of just two or three different foods.
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5. Eat cooked foods instead of cold or raw foods.
As traditional Eastern medicine explains, food must be “burned” in the “fire” of digestion. Cold and raw foods must be “heated up” more than cooked foods and as such they dampen and weaken the fire of digestion. People with weak digestion would do well to eat no or little raw or cold food or drinks. This means favoring cooked vegetables and fruits over raw produce, and using hot soups, casseroles, or grain and bean dishes in place of sandwiches or snack-type meals. Avoid cooling the “fire” with cold drinks or ice water during meals.
6. Eat in a peaceful and relaxed environment.
If you do a little comparative test, you will note that you feel better and your digestion is smoother when you eat in a quiet, peaceful environment. Avoid watching television, reading, working, or arguing with others when you eat. You will see the difference.
7. Eat fruit between meals, not with meals, and choose cooked fruit.
Raw fruit dampens the digestive fire, especially during the winter when we are already cold. As such, those with weak digestion might find that eating raw fruit with meals causes intestinal gas and bloating. Cooked fruit is a fine dessert, and you can still use raw fruit for snacks — but know that even as an occasional snack, fruit might be a problem if your digestive fire is smoldering rather than blazing.
8. Avoid overeating.
Excessive intake of food greatly burdens the entire digestive system. Ancient Ayurvedic medicine recommends consuming the amount of food that will fit into two cupped hands at any meal. Practice moving away from the table while you are still a bit hungry.
9. Sit still and relax a few minutes after eating.
Digestion is an amazing process — it turns tofu enchiladas into blood and tissue cells. Resting a few minutes after eating gets this very complicated process off to a good start by allowing your body’s resources to focus fully on the digestive engine.
10. If all else fails, seek professional help to determine the source of the problem.
If these simple self-help steps do not resolve your digestive problems, you should consider consulting both a physician and a nutritionist. A nutritionist can help you figure out if probiotics and other nutritional digestive aids would be useful. Your physician can investigate the possibility that a medical problem is affecting your digestion.