HOW we eat is just as important as WHAT we eat.
Our digestive system’s job is to take in and then break down food. It is through the process of digestion that bits of food are transformed into vital nutrients. A well-functioning digestive system has the wisdom to break down, absorb and utilize the nutrition it needs from the food we eat and let go of the parts and pieces that it does not. When digestion is not working well, one can eat the healthiest, most pure, organic food in the world, but not absorb any of the nutrients. Improperly digested food (whether of poor or high quality) over time, can lead to larger health concerns. We spend so much time focusing on WHAT we eat, I think we often forget to look at HOW we eat and whether or not our body is able to process and assimilate nutrition from that food.
Our digestive processes are connected to our nervous system. The enteric nervous system, which has almost as many neurons as the spinal cord, runs the length of our digestive system from our mouth to our anus. The enteric nervous system is responsible for the secretion of digestive enzymes, bile and other fluids, the movement of peristalsis and the opening and closing of sphincters that allow food to pass from one digestive organ to another. Tissues that contain these “communicating and thinking” neurons and neurotransmitters (the same as those found in the brain) surround the primary organs of the digestive system – esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine – and are responsible for much of its functioning. When our senses are stimulated (smell, sight or taste), the enteric nervous system is triggered to begin the digestive process. Hence, digestion begins at the first whiff of food.
That being said, our digestive processes are influenced by all the same factors that influence our nervous system and to all those things that relax and worry us. When the body is stressed out, anxious, sad or angry, these emotions trigger our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response). When the body is in this state, it goes into survival mode and digestion slows way down. On the contrary, when we are relaxed, happy and at ease, the parasympathetic nervous system is active (rest and digest state). When we are in the rest and digest state, the enteric nervous system functions optimally and there is better digestion, absorption and elimination.
So, if you want to get the most out of your food, to digest properly, the body has to be in a relaxed, (parasympathetic) state. Otherwise, the enteric nervous system, which makes all these amazing digestive processes work, will be impaired and sluggish.
Digestion is about breaking down, absorbing, processing and letting go of far more than just the food we consume. Supporting healthy digestion is also about acknowledging how we process experiences, emotions and energy. The state and health of our digestion can have a direct impact on our emotional state and vice versa. If you have an irritated, inflamed gut, you will feel irritated in your life. If you have sluggish, slow digestion, you will feel slow, unmotivated and perhaps depressed in your life. Supporting your digestion will positively influence how you feel, perceive, respond, react and initiate in your life. Here are a few tips to support better digestion:
1. Don’t eat late at night. Consider intermittent fasting.
2. Eat regular, balanced meals and don’t snack when you are not hungry.
3. Do not drink cold liquids with meals.
4. Do not drink more than 6 – 8 oz. of liquid with meals.
5. Be grateful for the food you are eating, for those who grew it and prepared it and for anything else you want to honor.
6. Take a quiet moment before eating to relax and take a few deep breaths.
7. Chew slowly and mindfully.
9. Prepare and eat your food with love regardless of how simple or elaborate the meal is.
10. Eat Bitter! Bitter is the most metabolically active of all flavors, it stimulates the entire digestive process, supports absorption and elimination and is excellent for liver health. Bitter foods include bitter lettuce, radicchio, dark leafy greens like dandelion greens and kale, and herbs like gentian, elecampane, angelica, artichoke leaf and dandelion root.
11. Support your digestive system with spices. Spices increase metabolism and the absorption of nutrients. They also help to relieve gas and bloating.
12. Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods are full of probiotic bacteria that help support the health of our colon. They support absorption of B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins and folic acid and play a large role in immunity. Healthy probiotic flora have also been linked to mental and emotional health. Fermented foods include: sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, kefir, lacto fermented pickles, miso, and raw apple cider vinegar.
Essential oils can help promote a feeling of calmness in your body. The sense of smell is the strongest sense. Smell goes immediately to the brain which is like sending an instant message to the limbic system. Emotions attach themselves to cell receptors which compromises the cell’s ability to function properly. If a cell is not able to receive the molecules/information it needs then you won’t absorb the nutrients you need, even if you are eating the healthiest food on the planet. Certain essential oils can help promote the body’s ability to clean the cell receptor sites, and therefore function properly.
The following is a list of 4 top oils that help calm the body for optimal nutrient absorption:
- Frankincense – to get clear minded.
- Fennel – helps when feeling overwhelmed
- Myrtle – relaxing to the limbic system (also promotes hormonal wellness)
- Lavender – promotes relaxation
Some other essential oils that can be used to create a sense of peace are:
- German or Roman Chamomile
- Citrus oils (lemon, orange etc.)
Oils to assist in and promote healthy digestion: