Functional Nutrition Basics Part 2 – Digestion

Functional Nutrition Basics Part 2 – Digestion

‘You are what you eat and absorb’ is more accurate than the saying ‘you are what you eat’. More than 2,000 years ago Hippocrates stated that all disease starts in the gut, but we’re only now coming to understand just how right he was. In fact, many researchers now believe that supporting intestinal health will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century. If your digestion is not working effectively then you could experience health problems - even if you are eating healthily.

Aroma of cooking food

The digestive process starts with sight and smell. When we are cooking food, the aromas and sight of food sends signals to our brain that digestion is about to begin. Yes this is actually mouthwatering stuff!

Chewing releases saliva which starts digesting food before we have swallowed it. This is quite possibly the most important part of the digestive process, if chewing doesn’t happen successfully, our digestion may be inadequate, causing symptoms later. Further signalling to the stomach triggers the release of hydrochloric acid (HCL) which carries out protein digestion and kills off any bacteria on our food. Hydrochloric acid is very important for the absorption of nutrients, in particular Vitamin B12 and zinc.

Digestion then continues into the intestines where more breakdown of food happens. It is quite an astonishing operation combining the absorption of vitamins and minerals with by-products of fermenting bacteria all striving to help the body function optimally. However, in order for this amazing feat to happen, the body needs the right raw materials: good wholefoods and fibre.

High fibre fresh vegetables

Indigestion can be caused by many things and it is the most common complaint I see with my clients experiencing symptoms ranging from any or most of the list below:

Immediate Symptoms of poor digestion

  • Bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Gastric Reflux
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue after food
  • Excess gas / flatulence
  • Stomach cramps
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Chronic indigestion can lead to other symptoms you may not associate with digestive issues. Many of these are connected to our gut microflora and the imbalance of good to bad bacteria. Knowing that 70% of our immune system is found in the gut, it would make sense to feed the gut with the best foods possible.

More research is finding a link between our gut microflora, inflammation and chronic diseases ranging from obesity to Parkinsons and other autoimmune conditions.

Healthy raw food gut health

Long Term Symptoms of poor digestion Possible imbalances in our gut flora can have a domino effect of the following:

  • Food Intolerances
  • Skin Issues - Acne, Rosacea, Psoriasis , Eczema
  • Migraines or recurrent headaches
  • Fatigue
  • IBS
  • Inflammation
  • Poor immunity
  • Joint inflammation / pain
  • Nutrient deficiencies due to poor absorption
  • Low mood / anxiety
  • Belching

Here are some of the culprits that can cause indigestion.

  • Eating quickly - chewing, not hoovering your food is imperative to good digestion, remember we need to start that digestive process with chewing.
  • High levels of stress - the most common complaint! If you are stressed , your body will automatically respond by releasing cortisol which slows digestive juices and stomach acid being released.
  • Old Age - over 65 years of age - production of hydrochloric acid decreases as you age, so high protein foods like red meat are less easily digested.
  • Nutrient deficiency - zinc specifically is required for digestion but also decreases with poor digestion. While many other nutrients can become depleted due to malabsorption.
  • Infections - Helicobactor Pylori (common bacterial infection in the stomach which causes heartburn).

Eating outdoors

What to do? Here are some simple things to try to aid better digestion.

  • Eat at a table - I know that sounds obvious but it’s actually not that common! Light a candle, lay the table, make it a pleasant, stress lowering event (not just ‘a plate balanced on your knee in front of the TV’ experience).
  • Mindful Eating - Go for a short walk (10mins) before you eat, this (especially if working from home) lowers stress hormones and enhances digestion.
  • Chew your food! - your stomach doesn’t have teeth, if you are a fast eater; - put your fork down between each bite. - count to 5 (slowly!) while chewing each bite.
  • Try a bitters salad before food e.g. mustard cress, chicory or rocket.
  • Small glass of lemon juice with water or a teaspoon of cider vinegar in water 10mins before or during food (this is not advisable for anyone with a stomach ulcer or gastritis).
  • Use cider vinegar in salad dressings with olive oil.
  • Avoid large drinks with food - a small glass of water is preferable.
  • Eat more fibre! - vegetables, seeds, nuts, wholegrains. Fibre feeds the gut flora and also helps to get things ’moving’ in the bowels.
  • Drink more water in between meals, your whole body needs hydration, sometimes constipation can be due to not enough fluids.
  • Avoid tea and coffee with meals - can deplete nutrient absorption especially vitamin C. I was told this in home Economics when I was 12 and I’ve never forgotten it!
  • Introduce probiotic fermented vegetables to your diet, sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir, miso. (These have tons of bacteria to help your gut microflora thrive, thus helping the immune system, mood and digestion).
  • Avoid Trigger foods - dairy, gluten, soya, eggs & corn are common culprits.
  • Avoid artificially sweetened drinks and foods , these are chemicals that can play havoc with the gut microflora.
  • Drink Herbal Teas - ginger, fennel, peppermint, dandelion root, cinnamon, cardamon. (Ginger being especially helpful if bloated).

Homemade chia pudding

Chia Pudding Recipe, This is a great breakfast or snack that can be taken on the go. Chia Seeds have Omega 3 fats, protein and high fibre. The desired consistency depends on how much chia you use and can vary from a creamy yoghurt, which I prefer, to a more chunky version like cottage cheese.

Ingredients: Use 1 Clip Top Jar (size 1ltr, it fills just over half )

70gm frozen or fresh in season berries 1 tin full fat coconut milk from a can (I use Aldi’s version) Optional: 2-3 tbsp coconut milk from a carton or water, if you prefer the smoother yoghurt/creamier consistency 3 - 4 tablespoons whole chia seeds, the more added, the chunkier the texture 1 dessert spoon of maple syrup or honey or 3 dates for sweetness (optional) ½ tsp ground cinnamon to taste. Optional: (2 tbsp raw cacao powder available in Aldi/Lidl (not cocoa) - if making a chocolate version)

Directions: Blend the coconut milk , fruit, cinnamon and maple syrup/dates (if using) to a smooth consistency. Put into a 1ltr clip top jar. Add the whole chia seeds, stir and leave for 5 mins, stir again, close and leave in the fridge overnight. This can be served with granola, desiccated coconut, toasted almonds or any other seeds, toasted walnuts, almond butter, plain yoghurt, fresh berries.A jar should last about 3-4 days in the fridge for breakfast or snacks.

The information in this article is for informational & educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition or symptom. It is not meant to replace or substitute information given to you by your physician. Always consult your medical healthcare provider if you have questions about your health.

Siobhan Ofarrell functional nutrition