Your immune system is, for all intents and purposes, ‘housed’ within your gut, so it’s vital that you digest, utilise and assimilate the food you consume to the very best of your ability. It’s not just about what you eat – good digestion covers other factors too, some of which might surprise you.
The Autonomic Nervous System: We have a central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), as well as an autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is the master regulator of metabolism and is responsible for all involuntary functions of the body (such as breathing, heart rate, digestion etc.).
It has two branches – the Sympathetic (concerned with fight and flight, energy utilisation) and the Parasympathetic (concerned with rest and recovery, or energy conservation).
These branches work in opposition to one another, but together ensure that the body stays in balance. For example, Sympathetic stimulation speeds up heart rate, while Parasympathetic stimulation slows it down.
In terms of digestion, Para stimulation switches the digestive system on and Sym stimulation switches it off.
Now, since the Para system is concerned with energy conservation and is responsible for digestion, you would need to be in a calm, unstressed state in order to ensure optimal utilization of the fuel you’re putting in.
If, though, you’re rushed, stressed, or occupied with other thoughts, you are likely stimulating the Sym system, which switches off digestion!
You can see why it’s so important that you create a relaxed eating environment and that you sit for a while after meals to further help digestion.
Try and go back to the (very wise) sociable tradition of eating round the table with your friends and family, instead of watching T.V. (which, by the way, increases stress hormone output) or rushing through your meal to move on to your next ‘task’.
At lunchtime, try and eat away from the office, so that you experience fewer distractions from your meal. If you can’t leave the office, strategically place a photo that brings good thoughts, so that you focus on this through your meal.
Chew, chew, chew: How well you chew your food is really important too. By chewing thoroughly, you stimulate correct enzyme production and in addition to this, the greater the surface area of your food (i.e. the more it is chewed), the more your stomach acid (HCL) can do its job of killing any potentially harmful pathogens on/in the food.
This acid also helps with digestion of certain key nutrients, such as protein and calcium. As an example of the link between good digestion and health, remember that you can’t keep bones healthy and strong without a good pool of amino acids (proteins) and adequate levels of calcium, so if digestion of these is impaired, due to, say, low levels of HCL, bone health will eventually deteriorate.
The importance of raw food: Raw food eaten before a meal provides essential enzymes to help digest food without impacting negatively on your existing enzymes. When enzymes aren’t provided by the diet, the body ‘steals’ metabolic enzymes – necessary for vital cell function – to help your body digest the food efficiently.
In studies it was shown that eating raw food towards the middle or end of a meal, didn’t provide much benefit in the way of digestion (although it did deliver important nutrients). Eating raw food before you eat cooked or processed food will provide huge digestive benefit, by delivering essential digestive enzymes.
In addition to salads, lightly steamed vegetables and raw soups, naturally-fermented vegetables are a great way to bring in enormous quantities of both enzymes and probiotics. Both of these will keep your gut healthy and well (and can assist you in your attempts to avoid picking up excess body fat).
These vegetables are eaten as a condiment with a meal so you would be looking to eat ¼ to 1/3 of a cup before meals, 1-3 times daily. Fermented vegetables can have a powerful detoxification effect, so start with small amounts (perhaps a tablespoon) and then slowly increase your intake.
If you’re interested in recipes for fermented vegetables, please email us on admin[at]thehappybody.co.za and we’ll send them to you. They’re easy to prepare, cost very little and are very tasty.
Allergies: The answer to resolving food allergies, as well as virtually all autoimmune disorders, is to heal your intestines. If you experience belching, gas or bloating, it is a sure sign that your digestive system is being taxed, so be sure to address any potential food intolerances or allergies you may have. The most common culprits are wheat, dairy, soy and gluten. Take these out of the diet one at a time and for at least 2-6 weeks and note how you feel.
Good gut health equals good overall health and wellness, so make the time and put the effort into making the above changes and you’re bound to feel the benefits…
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