DIGEST LIKE A PRO
We can be eating the healthiest diet in the world but if we aren’t digesting it properly, it is doing us more harm than good. Good digestion begins in the brain when we sit down to eat, take a few breaths to relax, and look at and smell our food. This is a crucial first step of digestion that is easily missed.
How to digest like a pro? We have to rest to digest.
We cannot digest our food if we are on the go, stressed out, doing a million other things, or not paying attention to our food. We are either in REST & DIGEST mode or FIGHT & FLIGHT mode. It can be a simple, but hard shift to sit down at the table to eat, take a few deep breaths before a meal and put your body in parasympathetic mode in order to digest your food.
You are either in REST & DIGEST mode or FIGHT & FLIGHT mode.
Once your brain registers that you are excited for your meal, your mouth begins making saliva, which is full of enzymes that help break down your food, especially carbohydrates. Without this essential step, these carbohydrates can ferment in the gut and create gas, bloating, and digestive upset. This is also true for smoothies, shakes, and juices. We need to “chew” them in our mouth for a while to activate the digestive enzymes in saliva to help break them down.
Also a super important step is to chew your food properly. Yep, your mom was right. This one I am STILL working on. Your stomach doesn’t have teeth so you want to get your food into the smallest particles possible so your small intestine can work on extracting the nutrients not worrying about breaking down big food particles. These undigested food particles, can irritate the gut lining, leading to leaky gut, also called intestinal permeability.
This is typically a root cause of many other downstream issues in the body and correlated with conditions like autoimmunity, acne, brain fog, food allergies, and so much more. Ideally we chew each bite about 30 times. Putting my utensil down in between bites is a helpful cue for doing this. We want to try to drink our solids and chew our liquids.
Next you need to make sure your stomach has enough stomach acid. This is critical for many reasons and so many Americans are low in stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Stomach acid is the first line of defense against food borne bacteria and pathogens. It will properly sterilize the stomach, help digest food, and absorb nutrients. It helps digest protein by stimulating the release of pepsin in the stomach. Also Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid require the presence of stomach acid for proper absorption.
If we don’t have enough stomach acid, we will not completely break down our proteins into amino acids and peptides. This means we won’t have the raw materials the body needs to make neurotransmitters and build muscle. Also, these undigested proteins become an irritant for the body in the small intestine and can lead to leaky gut.
When the stomach pH is low enough (acidic), and the food has mixed with gastric juices, the valve between the stomach and the duodenum (upper small intestine) gets the cue to open and start allowing food to pass to the duodenum to continue digestion in the small intestine.
When the stomach never reaches proper acidity, the valve doesn’t get the cue and food can sit in the stomach and ferment, putrefy, and rancidity. This is where we see classic indigestion – bloating, upper GI distention, and belching.
Low stomach acid can lead to things like:
- Depression – we aren’t digesting our protein and creating usable amino acids to make neurotransmitters
- Acne – undigested proteins can lead to leaky gut and create gut dysbiosis
- Food Allergies – undigested food particles enter the blood stream and the immune system launches attack (also why autoimmune issues are correlated with leaky gut)
- Gut dysbiosis like SIBO, H. Pylori, and Candida overgrowth
- Pernicious Anemia – because we need stomach acid to absorb and utilize iron in our diet.
- Heartburn/GURD – this is the result of too little stomach acid, not too much, 99.9% of the time. When we don’t have enough stomach acid, our food sits too long in the stomach. This can cause indigestion and lead to the valve between the esophagus and the stomach to inappropriately open and the chyme (partly digested food and gastric juices in the stomach) to irritate the delicate lining of the esophagus, which is not designed to interact with even slight acidity.
So, what causes low stomach acid?
Well, we naturally produce less stomach acid as we get older. Also stress, eating on the go, gut dysbiosis, a diet full of processed carbs- all can cause low stomach acid.
What can we do to increase stomach acid?
Taking time to look at, smell, and appreciate your food before you eat is the first step. This sends the chemicals to the brain to produce saliva. It also puts you in rest and digest mode. Also taking some Apple cider Vinegar in a bit of water before meals can help stimulate hydrochloric acid production (stomach acid), as can lemon water.
Herbal bitters can be very helpful in stimulating stomach acid and gastrin production. Just make sure to taste the bitters for it to work. And finally, if you need the big guns, taking and HCL (hydrochloric acid) supplement before meals can make a huge difference for people with severely compromised digestion.
So, to recap:
- You need to rest to digest.
- Give your brain time to anticipate your meal so you can make saliva (digestive enzymes).
- Chew your food very well.
- Make sure you have enough stomach acid.
Want to Digest like a Pro? Work with me!