Around 300 BC, Hippocrates wrote that "all diseases begin in the gut." Without a healthy digestive system, other systems in the body don't get the nutrients they need to function, and can start to break down. Deficiency in vitamins and nutrients have been linked to problems ranging from depression or ADD to seasonal allergies and susceptibility to the common cold.
Here are 5 easy things you can do to naturally improve your digestion:
1. eat slowly and chew your food
Saliva contains enzymes that break down carbohydrates, starting the digestive process before you even swallow your food. Swallowing big un-chewed chunks of food also decreases the nutritional value you're getting from your food, because whatever is on the inside of the chunk doesn't get exposed to digestive enzymes. Eating more slowly and thoroughly chewing each bite will maximize how much of your food gets absorbed. Plus, you're less likely to eat more than your body needs - if you inhale your food, your brain doesn't get the "I'm full" signal from your stomach until it's way too late.
2. eat actual food
No matter how slowly you chew it, you're not going to get much nutritional value from a candy bar or a fast food burger. Cutting out processed food not only reduces your exposure to toxins like preservatives and inflammatory additives, it also makes room in your fridge for real, nutritious food. Not sure what I mean by "real food"? Here's a post about it.
3. eat more acid
Despite the huge marketing of antacids for conditions like heartburn or GERD, it's actually very common for people to not have enough stomach acid. Sometimes, what feels like heartburn can actually be food sitting in the stomach, not getting broken down. Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice are great for digestion, you can dissolve a teaspoon of either in hot water and add honey for a digestive tea.
4. eat fermented foods (no, not booze, sorry)
Fermentation has a ton of health benefits. The modern diet often doesn't include many fermented or cultured foods, and a diet high in sugar and processed food can kill a lot of the healthy bacteria and micro-organisms in the gut (or allow unhealthy ones to take over). An imbalance in gut flora is the secret culprit behind many digestive complaints. Fortunately, fermented foods like live-culture sauerkraut or kombucha can add beneficial organisms and restore the balance. Just make sure what you're getting is organic, alive, and minimally processed. The best way is to make it yourself, but if you don't have time, I love Farmhouse Culture's krauts.
5. de-stress before meals / don't eat and run
If you're always eating on the go, chances are you're not digesting your food as well as you'd like. Digestion happens in parasympathetic nervous system mode, which means your body is relaxed and your sympathetic nervous system is quiet. If you eat under stress, like while driving or doing work (yes, even if you like the work), your body stays in sympathetic mode and digestion is shut down. Eating while watching TV or looking at a computer screen does the same thing – even if you don't feel "stressed" per se, you're still in sympathetic mode.
So, shut the computer, turn off the TV, put down the work, and enjoy your food!
I am a huge food-nerd. I read cookbooks cover-to-cover like novels, and if I have downtime where I'm sitting in front of the computer, I'm probably reading food blogs. (Or feminist / political tirades, but that's a story for another day.)
Anyway, yesterday I found an amazing concept that I can't believe I never thought of before: home-made cup of noodles!
Put a few tablespoons of sauce base in the bottom of a jar. Add shredded vegetables and some kind of noodle that doesn't need much cooking - I like kelp noodles a lot, they taste a little like rice noodles (pretty neutral) but don't clump together as much. When you're ready to eat, fill the jar with boiling water and let sit for a few minutes... instant soup, only without 400 grams of sodium and MSG, and whatever else is in instant ramen packets. Genius!
For the past few days, I've been using kelp noodles, finely sliced shiitake mushrooms, and grated zucchini and fennel. I also got some spinach, but haven't used it yet. You could also use things like broccoli or cauliflower, I'd recommend pre-steaming them so they're slightly soft. I'd also recommend pre-cooking any greens you plan to add, otherwise they'll be too fluffy and take up the whole jar.
Here are some soup-base ideas. Use these ratios as a starting point and adjust to your own taste.
half tablespoon miso
1-2 inches grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or to taste, I use more)
1/8 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Put all the sauce ingredients in a small pot and cook until the miso is dissolved and ginger is fragrant. Add some sambal olek or sriracha if desired. Pour into the bottom of your jar and add veggies and noodles.
Thai curry broth:
1/8 cup chicken stock
1-2 inches grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
half teaspoon red curry paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
1/8 cup coconut milk (full fat, unsweetened)
Cook the ginger and garlic in the chicken stock until fragrant. Add the curry paste and soy sauce and cook until curry paste is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the coconut milk, and put in the bottom of the jar. Add the veggies and noodles, add some cilantro leaves and a slice of lime to garnish.
I'll post more "instant soup jar" recipes as I make them. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
I joined a Beachbody fitness challenge (no affiliation with this offensive ad campaign). I have to admit that I am probably the least competitive person ever. The good thing about that is that I can be genuinely happy for other people who succeed. My happiness for others is uncomplicated by competition. The negative part of being noncompetitive is that I can be lazy, especially about exercise. Being stronger / faster / thinner than someone else just doesn't get me out of bed. However, fitness is important! Exercise has so many health benefits, plus being strong is fun because you can do more things with your body. Like aerial dance, which I currently still suck at.
So, fitness challenge. The awesome thing about the group I joined is that it's not just working out. We're also meditating twice a day, taking time to appreciate nature, a gratitude journal, and daily acts of kindness. All things I want more of in my life!
For the workout part, I'm doing Beachbody's P90X3. It's somewhere in between the "fuck your body, get injured" of Crossfit and the "pretty much just yoga and walking everywhere because I have no car" workout routine I had before. I've only been doing it for a few weeks, so I'll post updates, but so far it's fun.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that I've struggled with having a stable routine over the past few years. My schedule is so crazy that it's hard to get to classes, so in theory I'm a perfect candidate for at-home workout videos. I've resisted them for various reasons, partially because the loud music and "Yeah! Pump it up!!" style of most workout videos is stressful, and partially because I associated them with terrible things like thinspiration and the whole fad-dieting industry. However... this one is good so far, and having the accountability of the group without actually competing with anyone is working well for me.
My plan is to gain 5 pounds of muscle and be able to do at least 2 real pull-ups in the next 3 months. This is my "before" picture. Look, I'm a person! Check out my post-workout hair! (ha, who am I kidding, my hair always looks like that)
Number of pull-ups: zero