Proper digestion is essential for overall health.  Everyone has probably heard the adage “You are what you eat.”  But, the more factual statement is, “You are what you can absorb.”  This simply means that if your digestion isn’t able to absorb nutrients and is inflamed then you will not experience optimal health.   

Overall, proper digestion is important for nutrient absorption, energy production, immune function and the elimination of toxins from the body.  When you neglect digestive health it may lead to various health issues including nutrient deficiencies, gastrointestinal disorders, susceptibility to autoimmune disease, cardiovascular issues, blood sugar imbalance and mental health issues…not to mention you may just flat out experience the discomfort of gas and bloating on a daily basis.

How Digestion Works  

The digestive system is much more than our intestines (though that is what most people think of when they think of this system).  The digestive system actually starts in the brain, travels down through the mouth and esophagus, into the stomach, utilizes the liver, gallbladder and pancreas, travels through the small and large intestines and finally out the colon.  This is a north to south process.  So, if you think of it like a digestive “river”, whatever goes in at the north end of the river will flow south and impact the other end. 

If for example, you are a person who experiences constipation, this is an issue at the south end of the digestive “river.”  What most people will do when they are constipated is try to fix the constipation at the source by taking laxatives or drinking coffee.  Ultimately, these are bandaid solutions to a more complex system because like any river system you can’t fix the pollution or disease at the end without first fixing what is happening further upstream. 

4 Signs of Optimal Digestion

  1. 1-3 bowel movements per day

Bowel movements should be well formed (like a long banana), easy to pass, eliminate fully and be medium to dark brown in color.  Conversely, signs of digestive issues are having less than one bowel movement per day, straining, not fully eliminating, having daily diarhea or loose stools and stools that are beige or even lighter or green in color.  There should not be any bleeding and if there is please consult your medical professional immediately.

  1. Healthy skin

The health of your digestive system can often manifest in the condition of your skin.  What doesn’t come out of your bowels, will eventually come out of your skin in the form of issues like acne and eczema.  Therefore, optimal digestion often correlates with clear, radiant skin.  

  1. No abdominal discomfort

When digestion is functioning optimally, you should not experience frequent abdominal pain, bloating, gas or discomfort of any kind after eating.  Your stomach should feel comfortable and settled between meals with no persistent feelings of heaviness or fullness and no heartburn.

  1. Stable energy levels

Efficient digestion helps ensure your body can extract nutrients from your food and convert them into energy effectively (remember, “you are what you can absorb!”).  As a result,  you should experience stable energy levels throughout your day without any significant energy crashes or feelings of fatigue after you eat.

Top 7 Tips to Improve Digestion

The way we live and eat directly affects how well our digestive system functions.  By taking simple steps to improve your digestive health you will experience a more efficient digestive system and improve your overall health.

  1. Soothe your nervous system

The body needs to be in a state of rest in order to digest.  The brain and the rest of the digestive system are intimately connected.  Stress, anxiety and a chronic state of fight or flight can lead to digestive issues like lack of stomach acid or possible issues like irritable bowel syndrome.  At a minimum take five deep breaths before you eat to put your body at ease and slow down.  Try to have healthier eating habits by not eating in your car or in front of your computer at work.  

  1. Chew…and then chew some more! 

So often we are racing through our meals and eating so quickly we are barely breathing, let alone chewing.  And chewing is a very underestimated tool to improve digestive health.  The more you chew, the more your food will break down and mix with important enzymes in your mouth that support digestion.  This means your digestive system doesn’t need to work as hard further south in the digestive “river.”  

  1.  Drink more water

The simple act of drinking more water can have a big impact on your digestive system.  Too little water can lead to harder stools, which are difficult to pass and may cause constipation.  When you add water to your diet it can help by dissolving fats and soluble fiber making it easier for food to pass through the intestines more efficiently.

  1. Eat Plenty of Fiber

It’s important that you eat enough fiber to keep things moving through your intestines.  Soluble fiber helps draw in water and prevent stool from being too watery by forming it into a gel.  It’s also important for satiety and blood sugar balance.  Soluble fiber is found in things like vegetables and whole grains.  Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool so that it is formed and easy to pass; it’s found in things like berries, nuts & seeds and legumes.

  1. Eat Warming Foods

Warm foods, like soups, stews and slow-roasted vegetables and meats, can have a soothing effect on the digestive system.  They are easier to digest compared to raw and uncooked foods and may have a relaxing effect on the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract.  Also, warm foods can stimulate the production of gastric juices and enzymes that are needed to break down food.  

  1. Focus on a Nutrient Dense, Whole Foods Diet

When you eat foods that are minimally processed and rich in essential nutrients you provide your body with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants & the building blocks of health while minimizing processed foods, added sugars, unhealthy fats and artificial ingredients that can all be digestive irritants.  Nutrient dense, whole foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, animal protein and healthy fats.  

  1. Avoid Known Food Sensitivities

When you avoid known food sensitivities it reduces inflammation in the body, can alleviate digestive problems, support restoration of the gut lining and normalize the gut microbiota.  It can be difficult to cut foods out of your diet so start small and celebrate every win!

Final Thoughts

In order to be in a state of general good health, the health of your digestive system is incredibly important.  As you assess whether your digestion is optimal it’s important to pay attention to various signs and symptoms, as well as consider diet and lifestyle factors that can influence digestive health.  If you notice persistent digestive symptoms or concerns, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance. They can help determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate interventions or treatments to support optimal digestion and overall health.

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