I know, it’s not a pretty topic, but it’s an important one. We have to talk about poop.
Just for a moment, I promise.
Millions of people suffer from digestive issues every day, and because the topic is often taboo, a good percentage of them don’t even know that anything’s the matter.
But to know that something is off, first you need to know what is healthy.
An optimal digestive system will produce one decently sized, fully formed, stool that is easy to pass and sinks to the bottom of the bowl every morning.
If you experience gas or bloating regularly, if your stools are loose, contain undigested food, are hard, pellet-like, difficult to pass, happen too often, only happen every few days, float, or any other variation that deviates from normal (as defined above,) then my friend, your digestive system needs some help.
Here are 5 steps you can take to improve digestion:
1. Avoid Cold
Sure, iced beverages are en vogue and smoothies, salads, and sushi are glorified as the healthiest gastronomic choices available. But the truth is that unless it’s 100°F outside, cold foods are really hard for your GI tract to handle.
Warm soups, warm beverages, and steamed/sautéed/baked veggies are much better options most of the time. This is because cooking food begins breaking it down, essentially pre-digesting it for you.
When you eat cooked food your body can get right down to the important business of extracting goodies like vitamins, minerals, proteins, and good fats without the time and energy-consuming task of heating it up and breaking it down from scratch.
2. Take Probiotics
Our GI tracts are a veritable ecosystem of billions of microbes that work symbiotically with our digestive organs.
However, if you were a c-section baby, were fed formula instead of breast-milk, or took antibiotics at any point, chances are your gut flora aren’t blossoming as prolifically as you might like them to.
But don’t worry, you can repopulate your gut easily by eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickled veggies, yogurt, kombucha, and miso.
If you’re not a huge fan of fermented foods, or you want an extra bacterial bang for your gut, you can also buy probiotics like acidophilus at any health-food store to refurbish your digestive system.
3. Eat Bitter
There is an old Chinese saying that if you want to improve your skill you must eat bitter (do the unpleasant work it takes to get there). The same can be said for digestion.
Bitter foods give your digestion a head start.
Specifically, when your tongue detects bitterness it sends a signal to your brain, which then releases hormones to trigger your whole digestive tract to turn on and get ready for the task at hand.
Before you know it your salivary glands start secreting saliva. Your stomach churns out more acid. Your pancreas and gallbladder stand on alert, ready to release enzymes and bile to enhance nutrient extraction.
For maximum benefit it is best to eat or drink something bitter before a meal, however many traditional cultures top off their feasts with something bitter only after they are satiated.
Bitter foods include burdock, chicory, grapefruit, dandelion greens, and dark chocolate, but you can also enjoy an aperitif, a cup of dark coffee, or a spoonful of herbal digestive bitters for an easy boost.
4. Focus on Your Food
Another way to turn your digestive system on is by giving your undivided attention to the food you eat.
Eating should be a full-sensory experience.
When you smell and admire the food you’re about to eat, the same triggers are set off in your brain as when you eat bitters. So while you are admiring your food and anticipating the wonderful experience you are about to have, your organs get excited too, kick into gear and let their digestive juices flow.
But if you are distracted by watching TV, browsing the web, or driving while you eat, your digestive tract will be distracted too.
While it’s possible for your physiological network to multitask, it does best if it can focus its energy on one task at a time. So if you want to improve your digestion, focus on your food.
5. Get a Move-On
Along with its numerous other health benefits, daily moderate exercise is also a vital component to a fully-functioning digestive tract.
When you move your body it boosts your blood flow, which flushes your body of unwanted substances and thus boosts elimination. Increased blood flow also uses the food you’ve been eating by transporting desirable nutrients to where they are most needed.
Finally, exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, which is a prime culprit in many digestive disturbances.
Going for walks, practicing yoga and pilates, or swimming are great ways to incorporate gentle movement into your life to improve digestion.
These are just a few things you can do to improve digestion, but if you continue to have irregularities I would recommend seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner, herbalist, or naturopath to come up with a treatment specifically for you.