In my previous post, I discussed some of the ways in which how you eat, not just what you eat, affects your overall health. Here are my 6 tips on good food hygiene for building optimal health:
1) Spend time preparing your food. I bet that if I took a survey about where digestion starts, most people would say that it starts in the stomach or at leas in the mouth with chewing. But digestion actually starts in the head with a cascade of nerve signaling and chemicals. The cascade is triggered in part by the sight and smell of food. This cascade is not triggered with the same force by the opening of a package or by picking up an already prepared fast food meal. Taking even ten minutes to prepare food will go a long way toward creating optimal conditions in your digestive tract which will allow you to better break down and absorb food and nutrients.
2) Enjoy ½ teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in about 6 oz of water 15 minutes before eating. The smell and taste of the vinegar in your mouth will also promote the digestive cascade. Specifically, it triggers a digestive hormone, cholecystokinin, to be released and this causes the digestive juices and enzymes of the stomach, pancreas and intestines to be released. It preps the whole body to be ready to break down and absorb food. Sometimes patients who have experienced acid reflux in the past worry that it will be too acidic for them. This is not so. Although we think of apple cider vinegar as acidic, it is much less so than stomach acid. In fact, it often greatly improves reflux by tonifying the overall action of digestion. There are many approaches to treating the cause of acid reflux without proton pump inhibitors or antacids, which only cover up the symptom of an imbalance and can predispose you to osteoporosis and as well as other preventable conditions. The apple cider vinegar is not a permanent ritual, but one that I have people do for a few months while digestion is getting back on track and also at times when they are unable to prepare a meal and benefit from that stimulus to digestion. Apple cider vinegar is also an excellent source of minerals and has many other health benefits, so if you choose to make it a lifelong ritual, more power to you.
3) Avoid drinking large amounts of any liquid during meals and for about 20 minutes afterwards. The idea behind this is very simple. It allows the digestive juices to stay concentrated and therefore better able to break down food. Better break down of food allows for better availability and absorption of nutrients. This is one way that conditions of nutrient deficiency, such as anemia, are linked to the way food is eaten. I still want you to drink plenty of water; please do it between meals.
4) Eat in a calm environment, eat sitting down, take a few calm conscious breaths first, avoid stressful conversations and concentrate on your food rather than a newspaper, a computer screen or other work. These suggestions are all designed to relax your nervous system. Input from the nervous system is super important for digestion. How many of us have experienced an upset stomach when we are nervous or anxious? This is first hand experience of the link between the nervous system and digestion. Have any of you heard of the flight or fight response? It is referring to a kind of a stressed out danger mode where your body is on alert; it is what kept our ancestors safe from predators. When in this mode, the body perceives that it has bigger priorities than digestion. The opposite state has been referred to as “rest and digest.” In other words, for proper digestion to occur the nervous system needs to be calm and relatively stress free.
5) Eat regular meals around the same time everyday. This simply gets your body in the habit of anticipating food and beginning the digestive cascade. This can also help greatly with blood sugar balancing and cortisol regulation. Unbalanced blood sugar (too high, too low, or simply not even) can contribute to anxiousness, fatigue and light-headedness among other things. Cortisol dysregulation can have devastating long term effects on your energy, sleep patterns and immune system. Eating regular meals contributes to overall harmony and rhythm in the body, two things which are generally lacking and needing to be reinstated in people suffering from depression.
6) Chew, chew, chew. Thirty-one chews per bite. This allows the food to begin being broken down both chemically through the saliva and mechanically by your teeth before hitting the stomach. Thorough breakdown in the beginning means fewer resources are used down the line. This preserves digestive enzymes for other necessary uses in the body including fighting inflammation and dissolving damaged tissue that does not belong in your body. Chewing 31 times also has the added benefit of making most people more aware of amount of food they are eating. When you chew thoroughly you will be able to realize when you are full when you first get there rather than 10 fork fulls and many calories later.
Start with fostering just one or two of these habits and eventually they will become just that, habits. You might start with eating breakfast at the same time every day, sitting down, taking a few conscious breaths and committing to chewing at least the first 5 forkfuls thoroughly. Over time you can add in more of these habits. and your digestion, as well as overall health, well benefit greatly.