The Importance of a Healthy Digestive System

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ALL DISEASE BEGINS IN THE GUT” -Hippocrates

We’ve all heard the expression, ‘trust your gut.’ In natural medicine the gut is considered our second brain and oftentimes, when it comes to making choices that keep us healthy, it’s the one we should pay attention to. The importance of a well working digestive system cannot be overstated or under appreciated. Yet many of us consistently make choices that are counter productive to keeping this vital system working well. Too often we think of our bodies as disconnected, fragmented pieces when in reality (as holistic medicine and ancient healing systems understand) our body is a synergistic machine of connected parts- all relying on each other to work efficiently.

The big boss of this machine is the digestive system. More and more research links digestive imbalances to seemingly unrelated ailments, such as autoimmune disease, arthritis, depression, autism, allergies, compromised immunity, low energy, psoriasis, and acne. Lack of proper nutrient absorption, irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome can cause a toxic buildup and amp up our immune systems, having a direct effect on the many metabolic functions our bodies carry out on a daily basis.

So what does it mean to have a healthy digestive system? At first you may assume it means giving up all your favorite delicious comfort foods for a life of lettuce and birdseed but really it’s just about striking a healthier balance between the foods that truly serve us and increased awareness about our consumption of foods that are less than ideal fuel. One of my favorite pieces of advice is following the ‘80/20 rule.’ Basically, if we are in good health and 80% of the time we’re eating foods that are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, foods that really serve our bodies and make us feel good, then we should have a safe 20% of our diet to play with being less than perfect i.e. enjoying our favorite comfort foods, going out to restaurants, having ice cream every day on vacation, etc. Unfortunately many of us have this equation flipped with only the occasional healthy meal and a constant barrage of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed snacks, dairy, wheat and meat. A little more balance and a few simple tweaks can make a world of difference in our digestive health and create overall better wellness.

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5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Digestive Health Now:

  1. Add Fermented Foods or a Probiotic supplement to your diet every dayAbsorbing the beneficial bacteria in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chi and kefir is the best way to populate your gut with the essential bacteria it needs for healthy digestion. Make sure your fermented foods are raw and organic- if they’ve been pasteurized the good bacteria is gone. If you can’t get fermented foods in your diet find a good quality probiotic to supplement with daily.
  1. Increase fiber IntakeOne of the major reasons a plant-based diet is so beneficial is the increase in fiber that it offers. Vegetables, legumes, even many grains are chock full of fiber that helps sweep waste products through our colons and out of our bodies. Women should aim for at least 25grams a day and men 38g.
  1. Go Plant BasedA plant based diet does not mean becoming vegan or even vegetarian. It simply means that plant based foods become the majority of your diet while consumption of animal products, and nutrient void foods like processed snacks and refined wheat and sugar decreases. Consuming fruit and vegetables- especially leafy greens – provides the body with essential minerals, protein and fiber while creating a well-balanced, alkaline environment that supports digestion, immunity and a healthy weight.
  2. Try an elimination diet if you’re suffering from health issuesIf you’re struggling from chronic bloating, stomach pains, cramping or even non-digestion related health problems, try eliminating some of the most common allergens from your diet for a few weeks. These include wheat, dairy, soy, gluten and eggs. Add them back in one at a time to see how your body reacts and you may detect food intolerances.
  3. Stay hydrated.Your body needs water to keep bacteria and waste moving through your system. Even slight dehydration can throw off balance and cause sluggish digestion. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water daily.

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kristina-portrait

Kristina Hess is G&T’s Director of Nutrition & Wellness Programs.  For inquiries about meal plans and health consultations, please email: kh@greenandtonic.com

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