In Traditional Chinese Medicine we consider digestion to be a vital part of overall health. In fact there is a whole school of Chinese medicine called the "Spleen and Stomach" school in which it is believed that improper digestion is the root of all illness and imbalance. I would like to offer some simple steps that you can integrate into your daily life to improve digestion. For those with more complex digestive issues, it is highly recommended to work with a trained practitioner. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and Chinese nutrition therapy can be very helpful.
The first step is to eat in a relaxed setting in an unrushed manner. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated when we are in stress mode. The sympathetic nervous system does not allow for proper digestion of foods. Therefore, we want to be in a parasympathetic mode when we eat- this is a relaxed, stress-free mode. I recommend for you to set aside a proper amount of time to eat and to eat sitting down. It is best not to work while eating, and definitely you don't want to be thinking stressful thoughts while eating. To get into the parasympathetic mode, take five to ten deep breaths into your belly before eating.
The second step is to take time to eat and properly chew your food. Take smaller bites and take your time to chew your food until it is liquid. Digestion begins in the mouth. There are enzymes in the mouth that help digest starches, so it is important that you allow these enzymes to break down the food before you swallow. Practice gratitude for the food you are eating by being present and tasting each bite.
Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Ideally, you are preparing the foods yourself. Packaged and restaurant foods can contain rancid oils, artificial seasonings and flavorings, excessive amounts of sodium, sugar, and preservatives. Whole foods contain enzymes to help digest your foods. Packaged foods have been processed to the extent that these enzymes are no longer active.
Properly prepare your foods for optimal digestion. Seeds, nuts, grains and legumes require careful preparation in order to be properly digested. They contain enzyme inhibitors that need to be deactivated in order to make the foods more digestible and the nutrients readily available. The easiest way to prepare these foods is to soak them in water for a certain period of time before cooking or dehydrating.
Choose healthy flour products- especially bread and baked goods. As noted above, grains contain enzyme inhibitors. Flour is made by grinding grains. The enzyme inhibitors have not been deactivated in this process. Sprouting the grains before they are ground is one way of removing these inhibitors. Another way is to soak flours before baking- buttermilk is an especially delicious soaking fluid. Another way is to use a natural sourdough process to break down these enzyme inhibitors. If you want to buy flour products, choose ones that are made in small batches using sprouted grains.
Introduce fermented foods into your diet. Fermented foods naturally contain enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods include: sauerkraut, kim chee, naturally fermented pickles (should not contain vinegar, just salt!), apple cider vinegar, rejuvelac, beet kvass, kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, and kombucha. Include a variety of fermented foods in your diet to get a variety of beneficial bacteria. Most of these foods are very easy to make yourself. For some people, probiotic supplements (including acidophilus) may be recommended.
Test for possible food intolerances. Some foods are particularly known to be difficult to digest including pasteurized cow's milk, gluten, soy, and nuts. You can test for intolerance by doing an allergy elimination diet. It is advised to work with a practitioner to support you in this testing.
Being balanced in other areas of your life will maintain healthier digestion. Decreasing overall stress makes a huge difference in improving digestion. Exercise and a regular breathing practice will also make a big difference. With a holistic approach, we emphasize the mind-body connection in treating the whole person. Find ways to increase fun and creativity in your life in order to enjoy more overall radiant health.