When scientists discovered that the gut microbiome (the bacteria, fungi, viruses and their genes) that live in the gastrointestinal tract didn’t just process food, it changed everything.
Gut health became a ‘thing’ and we are now well versed on the importance of certain foods to boost these good bacteria.
So, we know WHAT to eat, but what about HOW to eat to improve gut health?
Clarissa Lenherr is a registered nutritionist who specialises in digestive health.
‘I love re-educating, myth-busting and removing the stigmas and preconceptions around nutrition and health,’ she says.
‘People think gut health is only about the foods you eat, but your regime is also important.
‘We’re so used to rushing our food and eating on the go, but habits like this can cause symptoms like indigestion and bloating, and mindless eating is one of the biggest factors when it comes to digestive problems.
‘We are too often distracted when we are eating and miss crucial parts of our digestive process, but when our digestive system is working effectively, we can easily digest our food, absorb more nutrients and support good gut health,’ she continues.
With this in mind, we asked Clarissa to share some tips on how to optimise gut function by making small changes to your eating regime.
Chew your food
‘Digestion begins in the mouth. When you chew your food properly, you release saliva that contains digestive enzymes that help to break down your food. Missing this crucial step can lead to bloating and indigestion.
‘Start by focusing on chewing your food more effectively. Ideally you should chew until each mouthful is the consistency of apple puree.’
Avoid eating on the go
‘Eating on the go can lead to overeating, indigestion and potentially bloating. When we are on the move, our bodies are in a sympathetic state, AKA fight or flight, which can reduce digestive processes.
‘We ideally should be eating when we are in our parasympathetic state, or rest and digest, so our body is primed and ready to receive and digest food.’
Aim for regular meal times
‘If we stick to a schedule of regular meal times, we are less likely to snack, graze and overeat. Snacking and grazing can impact the MMC [migrating motor complex] which works to help clear out the intestines and keep our bowel movements regular. Stick to regular meals and aim to have a gap of three to four hours between eating intervals.’
Avoid drinking while eating
‘Drinking water may trigger reflux or heartburn for those who are sensitive to those symptoms. This is down to the fact that more water in the stomach can delay emptying of food and cause more pressure, triggering acid to be released into the oesophagus and throat.’
Avoid eating when stressed
‘When we are in a state of stress, we may experience gastro changes such as lowered/ increased appetite, bloating and loose bowel movements. This is partly thanks to the fact that the areas of the brain that control anxiety or depression also receive nerves that control gut function.
‘If you feel stressed around meal times, take a few deep breaths before eating. Deep breathing can help to calm the vagus nerve which controls many of the signals between the gut and the brain.’
‘Eating in front of technology – scrolling through our smart phones or watching TV – distracts us from focusing on our food and eating well. Our brain registers when we are about to eat and prompts the digestive process.
‘This initial stage of digestion stimulates around 20 per cent of digestive secretions needed to digest a meal, so when we are more focused on other things rather than the meal we are consuming, this cephalic stage is affected which can result in bloating.
‘Switch off the TV, put your phone away and honour your food by savouring the textures, smells and flavours.’
‘It can, take between 10-20 minutes for our stomach to send signals to the brain to tell us we are full and satiated. If we are eating slowly, we are less likely to miss these cues and overeat.
‘Overloading your digestive system with too much undigested food can take its toll on your gut and overall health, as your body has to focus on breaking down this undigested food, rather than other bodily functions and processes.
‘A great tip is to put your fork and knife down between each bite and aim for anywhere between 10-20 minutes to eat your meal.
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