Good, healthy digestion is one of the foundations of vibrant health. Too many people go through life with digestive problems that cause them minor or major discomforts- everything from embarrassing gas, uncomfortable chronic constipation, to serious autoimmune digestive disorders like Celiac or Chron's. As an herbalist, one of the first ways I begin to work with people on improving their vitality and health is through digestion and making sure that foundation is working properly. This can include complete dietary overhaul, or simply working with herbs that can improve the function on a daily basis. Here's a few things you can try TODAY to improve your digestion and vitality.
Drink Ginger Tea
Ginger tea is a warming, stimulating beverage that improves digestive function, moderates inflammation, stimulates secretions of digestive fluids, and warms the stomach making it ready for food. Enjoy a warm cup of ginger tea before meals, and sweeten or add lemon if you desire.
Stay away from Iced drinks at meal times
Ice is a sure way to slow down and hinder digestion. The stomach should be warm like a crock pot- to digest food properly- filling it with cold, icy liquids counteracts the warmth needed for digestion and dilutes digestive secretions, making digestion slower and less efficient.
Use bitters before your meals
Along with warming up your digestion with ginger tea, a few drops of a bitters formula will stimulate the secretions of HCl, pepsin, bile, digestive enzymes and fluids that protect delicate mucosal tissue from stomach acids. If you tend to heartburn or acid reflux, its possible that you aren't producing enough fluids, especially the protective ones, and bitters may improve things!
Eat bitter greens
Include bitter greens with your meals- this can be a small salad including dandelion greens, arugala or dock, or some cooked bitter greens like Kale, Collards or Broccoli Raab. These bitter greens do much the same as bitter herbs, and can be enjoyed every day for their rich mineral and vitamin content as well!
Cook with warming, aromatic spices
Using warm, aromatic spices in your cooking goes a long way to stimulating proper digestive fluid secretions, increasing warmth in the stomach, and improving the taste and increasing the anticipation of eating (which subsequently improves digestion as well! When you salivate in anticipation of eating, that indicates your body is preparing to eat!) Try cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, rosemary, oregano, clove, basil and many more! Look for ethnic recipes that use spices and spice mixtures to familiarize yourself with how to use them.
include all 6 tastes in your meal
The six tastes- bitter, sour, salty, sweet, pungent and astringent, should be included on your plate every meal to maintain good digestion, and increase satiety. When preparing your meals make sure you include foods or condiments from each taste category- for bitters try greens, or citrus rinds, sweets can include grains, meats, winter squashes, sours include lemon, vinegar or pickles, pungent tastes include spices like black pepper, or garlic, or vegetables with a spicy taste like radishes or mustard greens, astringent taste can include many herbs or some beans (black beans and walnuts) and some vegetables/fruits - apples are astringent and sweet, as are herbs like rosemary or rose.
Eat warm soup/broth at the beginning of your meal
Another way to warm up your stomach and make it ready for digestion to sip on a small bowl of warm broth or soup before your meals, especially if meals are of cold foods (sandwiches, salads, smoothies etc). This a perfect time for a small bowl of bone broth, miso broth, seaweed broth, or your favorite chicken or beef soup! It should be mostly liquid, and nice and warm. Just a little goes a long way!
sit down, say grace
Sitting down for meals greatly improves digestive function- eating on the run directs blood away from digestive organs into muscles- this can seriously impair digestion. Make sure to give yourself at least 30 min to sit and eat your meal, rather than grabbing something to eat as you run out the door. AT least most of the time. And say grace- really. Practicing gratitude, appreciation and positive thoughts improves our outlook and spirit, prepares us to slow down and relax, and puts us back into the present moment, and present with the sacred and the divine, by whatever name you call it. You can give thanks to deity, to the Earth, to the farmers that grew your food and the person who prepared it, even if you don't know them personally.
eat naturally fermented probiotic foods daily
Supporting our digestive system with naturally fermented foods on a daily basis is a wonderful way to maintain healthy gut flora and happy digestion, and stronger immune systems. This can include home made sauerkraut, lactofermented vegetables, a small amount of kefir or kombucha, yogurt, or miso.
Take nervines before mealtimes!
Stress is a digestion killer. If you find yourself stressed out at mealtimes, from work, emotional upheaval, fighting or any other reason, you should definitely consider beginning a practice of including of nervine herbs which can help you relax, get back into the relaxed parasympathetic state appropriate for eating, and manage stress over all. My favorites to work with are vervain, lavender, wood betony, and sometimes hops, along with herbs like milky oats or ashwaganda.
Use the law of 3rds
In Ayurveda, the reccomendation for meal times is to fill your stomach in 3rds- 1/3 food, 1/3 warm liquid and 1/3 empty space to allow for proper digestive function. Overfilling your stomach results in discomfort, gas, nausea, bloating, and slow and inefficient digestion. If you allow yourself 30 min to eat while sitting down- you will feel satisfied before you leave the table and will have a better indicator as to how much food you actually need to eat to feel satisfied. Practice leaving room in your stomach for digestion- and don't drown your food with a giant glass of ice water. Sip on a few ounces of warm tea or room temperature water with meals.
Chew your food
I know it seems obvious, but I still see way too many people who take very large bites of food, and literally inhale them without chewing. Slow down. Chew eat bite for 30 seconds or more. Put your fork down between bites. Really focus on the food at hand, in your mouth and TASTE it. Enjoy it. Relish it! Digest it!
If you have a serious digestive system imbalance, please know that you do not have to go it alone and there is so much that natural medicine offers to help- including herbs and nourishing food choices.
I offer long term wellness support and programs that can be particularly helpful to those with chronic digestive system conditions that impact your life in serious and unpleasant ways. If you are interested in getting support through herbs and nourishing food choices, please contact me today to set up your FREE Intention Consultation!