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Optimize Digestion

Optimizing Digestion for Thanksgiving… and Beyond.

You’ve likely heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” This isn’t far from the truth. The type of food you eat impacts your energy level, your mood, and every single function of the human body. Adequate digestion is essential for your body to obtain nutrients from the food you eat and if your body isn’t absorbing and assimilating these nutrients properly, your health is going to take a serious hit. 

According to The American Journal of Gastroenterology, about two-thirds of Americans experience gastrointestinal symptoms. Yet, when given the right tools and environment, the body has an innate capacity to function and work in harmony.

More often than not when other factors such as stress and lifestyle components come into play, bodily processes, including digestion, become compromised. So, let’s take some time to explore common digestive obstacles and how you can overcome digestive problems for your best Thanksgiving yet.

What Are Common Hindrances to Good Digestion?

Poor digestion is often inconvenient and straight-up uncomfortable. If most of us could avoid it, we would. The good news is that it actually is preventable. 

Prevention begins by understanding what is causing your digestive distress in the first place. Some of the most common reasons for bad digestion include:

1. Over-Eating

Eating too much food in one sitting places an unnecessary amount of stress on your digestive system. While the stomach does expand, it still has an upper capacity limit. When you fill your stomach close to or past this upper capacity, you’ll likely experience indigestion and nausea. 

Over-eating often results from eating too quickly. Surprisingly, experts indicate that it can take about 20 minutes for your stomach to communicate to your brain that you’re full. If you’re eating a big meal in five to 10 minutes, you’ll inevitably miss those satiety cues and potentially over-eat. This can happen because you’re in a rush or because you’re distracted while eating.

Additionally, eating too quickly often means you aren’t fully chewing your food. Taking the time to chew each bite is important for adequate digestion, since this is the very beginning of the digestive process. If you glaze over this first step, you might end up facing unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms.

2. Stress

Digestive issues don’t just happen because of the way you eat or what you eat. Increased stress can also play a part.

When you eat in a stressed state, your brain optimizes your body for the fight-or-flight mode. This means processes like digestion become secondary as your body is simply trying to survive the moment. Research shows that stress impacts gut physiology by altering gastrointestinal motility, changing gastrointestinal secretions, decreasing gastrointestinal blood flow, increasing intestinal permeability, increasing inflammation in the digestive tract, and negatively impacting the intestinal microbiota.

During holidays like Thanksgiving, some individuals might find their stress levels are particularly high due to being around family and other triggers. Finding ways to relax is of the utmost importance for avoiding the stress response and reducing digestive discomforts.

3. Eating Refined and Processed Foods

Refined and processed foods are filled with additives, preservatives, chemical and artificial flavoring, along with texturing and thickening agents. These components can significantly interfere with good digestion and lead to dysfunctions in the body. When it comes down to it, processed foods are harder for the digestive system to break down and absorb, and also contribute to increased inflammation along the digestive tract.

Further research links an ultra-processed diet to cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease. Other studies also show how consuming heavily processed food can lead to overeating and obesity. As mentioned above, overeating is a major cause of poor digestion.

4. Combining Too Many Types of Foods

There’s a reason certain foods are traditionally paired with other foods. For example, the traditional combination of quality bread and butter is no accident. Research shows how the fat in ghee, clarified butter, improves absorption and assimilation. This can make it easier for the body to digest the grains found in bread.

Overall, the combination of the foods you eat can promote good or bad digestion. For instance, eating a high amount of anti-nutrients, such as phytates, oxalates, saponins, and tannins, may interfere with the absorption of nutrients, leaving your digestion less than optimal. 

While this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t consume certain foods, it does mean you’ll want to pay attention to when you eat specific combinations of foods. You might think eating tons of plant foods all at once is a healthy choice. However, too many plant foods such as soybeans, spinach, kale, and broccoli, which all contain anti-nutrients, can lead to slow digestion, poor elimination, and indigestion.

How to Improve Digestion Naturally

Luckily, you can improve your digestion naturally in various ways. Your body has an innate drive to find that balance. Sometimes, it just needs a little bit of support and mindfulness to do so. Here are some ways you can improve your digestion during Thanksgiving and beyond:

1. Chew Your Food

Chewing your food is the first step in the digestive process. When you properly chew your food, this creates pieces small enough for the gastric juices in your stomach to break down. Chewing can also aid in slowing down how quickly you eat your food, which can help you register when you’re full and satisfied. In turn, this prevents overeating and the digestive discomforts that come with it.

2. Practice Gratitude & Savoring

Enjoy your food as you eat it! Many of us are privileged enough to enjoy such great and carefully prepared food. Others aren’t as lucky. So, practice gratitude during each bite. Savor the moment, relax, and truly cherish the experience. Again, this can help slow down how quickly you eat and how much you eat.

3. Try Stress-Reducing Techniques

Finding ways to relax and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest state) can help ensure good digestion. Some examples might include deep breathing, meditation, gentle stretching, and progressive relaxation. It all comes down to finding a stress and anxiety-reducing technique that works for you. 

4. Consume Primarily Whole Foods

Most of your diet should consist of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Many of these foods are easy for the body to break down. On top of this, when choosing pre-packaged and processed food items, it’s a wise practice to read the packaging. This helps you become more informed about what you’re putting in your body and potentially what is causing you increased digestive distress.

5. Pay Attention to the Combination of Foods You Eat

If certain combinations don’t sit well, avoid them. For example, heavy protein or heavy fat meals might lead to indigestion, such as heartburn. More specifically, bacon and eggs together without carbs can result in an upset stomach for individuals with already sensitive or compromised digestion. Additionally, you can do further research regarding what the best food pairings are. This can help you optimize your digestion during the holidays and in the future.

Natural Foods & Supplements That Can Aid in Digestion

In addition to altering your habits, you can also incorporate specific foods and supplements to support digestion, including:

  • Bitters – Bitters such as burdock, gentian, wormwood, and dandelion, are theorized to promote improved upper digestive function, including facilitating stomach acid.
  • Lemon water – Research shows how lemon water may help reduce kidney stones. It is also theorized that the soluble fiber found in lemons may help improve digestion and constipation.
  • Ginger – Many studies indicate how ginger can eliminate and expel gas in the digestive tract. Scientific reviews also suggest that ginger can help relieve nausea.
  • Digestive enzymes – Your body might not produce adequate amounts of digestive enzymes for various reasons, such as pancreatitis and diabetes. This can result in poor digestion. However, many foods, such as bananas, honey, ginger, mangos, and pineapples contain digestive enzymes. Alternatively, you can find digestive enzymes in supplement form online or at your local pharmacy.

Good Digestion is Natural

Your body wants to digest the food you eat with ease. Identifying and removing obstacles to good digestion can help you enjoy your Thanksgiving and beyond, without fear of digestive upset. The most important factor, aside from food quality, is to relax and enjoy your food. Let go of past baggage and live in the moment as you, your family and friends enjoy a beautiful meal together.

Optimize Digestion

Disclaimer: The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products or treatments mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult a licensed medical practitioner for medical advice.

At Innovative Medicine, we believe in transparency. We want you to know that we may participate in affiliate advertising programs pertaining to products mentioned herein.


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Meet the Author

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a Professional Freelance Writer, with an Honors Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She worked as a Kinesiologist at a health clinic in Ottawa, Canada for many years before pursuing a full-time writing career. She uses her extensive knowledge in health and science to educate others through well-researched and informative articles. Her passions include helping others, traveling, and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.
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