When we think about a healthy life most of us know it’s important to consider exercise and what we eat but have you ever thought about how you eat and whether that might be impacting your health?
Why does how we eat matter?
The digestion of food and absorption of nutrients begins in our mouth, so how we eat is as important as what we eat for our overall wellbeing.
Digestive enzymes are produced all the way along your digestive tract – from your mouth to your small intestine. They help breakdown macronutrients like carbohydrate, protein and fat into smaller nutrient molecules which your body can easily absorb and utilise.
Like many things in life, it’s about synergy. There are many different enzymes which all work together to help your body access the nutrients in your food.
While each enzyme has a very specific job, for example lactase digests lactose (the protein found in dairy produce), amylase digests carbohydrates and cellulase digests fibre, they also work together, relying on the enzyme before them to have done their bit to be able to complete their job.
Think of it as a conveyor belt for opening a package. If the enzyme which is responsible for cutting the packing tape isn’t there, the next enzyme which is responsible for opening the box can’t do its job and the parcel will move along the conveyor belt unopened so we can’t access the goodies inside!
The production of digestive juices is stimulated when we think about food, when we smell food – mouth watering at the thought or smell of certain foods – your saliva contains amylase a digestive enzyme that supports the breakdown of carbohydrate molecules. But often if we don’t prepare our body to receive food it doesn’t produce the enzymes required and food can travel through the gut not fully digested causing issues including:
- diarrhoea and/or constipation
- food intolerances
- acid reflux/heartburn
- malnutrition as your body is unable to absorb the nutrients from food
Here are my top tips to help you improve how you eat.
Look at and smell your food before you eat – when you see and smell food it will often make your mouth water – this is your digestive system producing salivary amylase, an enzyme that starts the digestion of starches, step one of the digestion process.
Focus on eating mindfully without distractions – try to avoid multi-tasking e.g. eating while checking emails, or eating while on the go, and even eating in front of the TV. Experience the tastes and textures of the food you’re eating rather than just eating while distracted by something else. You’ll also be less likely to overeat if you take the time to savour your food and less likely to gulp down air with your food which can lead to bloating.
Sit upright preferably at a table when eating – eating while lying down or even sitting slouched over on a couch/sofa squashes your digestive system right when you’re trying to get it to work hardest. Research also shows people eat more when standing because they are paying less attention to their food. Also, avoid lying down or slouching for at least 20-minutes after eating. If you can get up and move around to allow gravity to help the digestive process.
Don’t eat when stressed – for optimal digestion your body needs to be in a ‘rest and digest’ state, so try to eat when you’re in a relaxed environment and mood. If you are in a very stressed state but need to eat something, stick to light and easy to digest foods like soups and smoothies.
Don’t hurry – eating quickly can lead to overeating as it takes your mind 20-minutes to register that the stomach is full. Try eating with your non-dominant hand – research has shown it can slow you down by 30%.
Don’t overeat – eating large portions adds strain on your digestive system. It’s also good to try to leave at least three hours between meals/snacks to allow your body to complete digestive the previous meal before having to start processing more.
Reduce water intake around meal times – Limit how much water you drink for 30-minutes before and after you eat as well as while you’re eating as this can dilute your stomach acid and lower your enzyme levels. Sip small amounts of water instead of gulping down lots.
Chew your food – the more you chew the more you’ll taste and enjoy food. This will naturally slow your eating.
Smile between bites – this slows you down and creates a feeling of calm and relaxation while eating helping push your body into a state of rest and relaxation.
After meals, to further aid digestion, sip on an Ayurvedic CCF tea. Mix together 1 tsp of cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds and 1 tsp fennel seeds. Add 1 tsp of the mixed seeds to a mug of boiling water, steep for 5-10 mins then drain the seeds and sip on the tea.