By Dr. Abigail Seaver
What is optimal digestion? Is it the absence of bothersome symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, and constipation? Or is it the efficient breakdown of food into nutrients that can be used for energy, growth, and cell repair? Taking care of your digestion can have far-reaching impacts, as we now know that the digestive system plays a significant role in immune function, inflammatory status, mood, hormone balance, and detoxification. Here are some of my favorite tips to get started treating your digestive system right!
- Increase your water intake to about half your weight in ounces of water daily. Sufficient water can prevent constipation and improve your body’s ability to excrete toxins through the stools. Drink room temperature water rather than ice cold water, especially if you are prone to bloating and gas.
- Gradually increase your intake of fiber from plant foods, aiming for an extra 10 grams per day above your current intake. Fiber bulks up the stool to signal the colon to contract and move everything through. It also binds cholesterol and compounds that the body is trying to get rid of, such as hormone breakdown products and toxins.
- Cook as much of your own food as you can! Packaged, prepared, and canned food often contains poor quality fats, preservatives, BPA or other plastic compounds, and extra sodium, and is lower in nutrients and fiber.
- Eat with the seasons: In late spring and summer, increase your intake of fresh raw fruits and vegetables. In the warmer seasons, we have more digestive “fire” to break down raw food. In fall and winter, switch to warm, cooked foods like soups and stews.
- Use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice on greens to enhance absorption of minerals. Consider apple cider vinegar or lemon in warm water in the morning to stimulate digestion in general.
- Include bitter foods to stimulate digestion, such as dandelion greens, arugula, kale, radicchio, cruciferous vegetables, radishes, and citrus zest.
- Add in prebiotic foods to enhance gut bacteria health. Prebiotic foods contain a type of fiber that is fermented into substances like short-chain fatty acids that feed the good bacteria in the gut. Examples include: apples, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, and jicama root.
- Add in fermented foods, which actually contain beneficial bacteria for the intestines. These include naturally fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and miso paste. Gut bacteria is involved in many aspects of health, including immune function, mood, bone health, inflammatory response, and more.
If a food allergy or intolerance is suspected, consider an allergy elimination diet or lab testing.
Dr. Abigail Seaver, ND, is a naturopathic doctor in family practice in Ridgway since 2004. She specializes in the treatment of hormone imbalance, fatigue, digestive disorders, and inflammatory conditions. She can be reached at 970-626-3188 or at drabigailseaver.com.