Our digestion should function like a healthy neighbourhood, absorbing nutrients, eliminating waste, and supporting the immune system and hormone production. However, factors including eating unhealthy foods, antibiotic use, and prolonged stress negatively alter gut flora, which leads to digestive upset and inflammation. It’s important to improve the diet, practice healthy eating habits and reduce stress, but providing additional support for healing the gut is the best thing we can do to get our gut-neighbourhood back on track.
- Eat slowly: Digestion begins with chewing! Chew slowly, put down your fork between bites, and enjoy your meals. This helps you break down foods better in the stomach so that it is more well-received in the small and large intestines.
- Get hungry: When your stomach grumbles, your body is ready to properly digest a meal. This is a sign you’re producing stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down foods. Think about your meal, smell it as its cooking, and allow yourself to get hungry. Lemon water or apple cider vinegar five minutes before a meal can also help to promote this action.
- Eat prebiotics: Prebiotics are foods containing soluble fibre, and they feed healthy gut bacteria. Great sources of prebiotics include oats, artichokes, bananas, apples, asparagus and flax.
- Be careful with fermented foods: In people with healthy digestion, fermented foods are a great way to promote a healthy gut microbiome. However, in people with digestive concerns, especially those with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), fermented foods often worsen symptoms because the types of bacteria in food items may not be best suited for them.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners: Sweeteners stimulate the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut. We should try to avoid all forms of sugar, but if we are using sugar, focus on natural substitutes like apple sauce, banana, maple syrup or honey.
- Adjust fibre: People with mild IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and well-controlled IBD tend to benefit from a high fibre diet. However, during flare-ups or if there is an unhappy gut-neighbourhood, high fibre diets tend to worsen symptoms because fibre feeds gut bacteria. These people feel best on a low-FODMAP diet. It can be confusing to know what type of diet is best, so please speak with your healthcare professional.
- Avoid inflammatory foods: In some people, foods like gluten and dairy can cause inflammation. Think of gluten and dairy like the red flag in a bullfight. They are large molecules that trigger a response from the immune system, worsening digestive symptoms and inflammation.
- Reduce stress: Make sure your body is in rest-and-digest state when eating, not in fight-or-flight mode. Try taking three deep breaths before you start each meal to promote calmness, avoid being in front of screens during meals, and remember that digestion functions best when stress is low.