Digestive health is often overlooked but it plays a big part in our overall health and therefore in how much energy we have for daily activities. It’s one of our Six Signals®, and the whole area of gut health is one that I find fascinating. We are learning more every day about the microbiota, and the 100 trillion bacteria that reside in our guts and the role they play in our immune health, body composition and mental health among other things.
I’ll be blogging more about the gut and microbiota in future posts, but for now, let’s start with the basics of digestion. Digestion starts before we’ve even swallowed food; the mere smell of food makes us salivate in preparation – ever walked past a bakery and smelt the croissants inside? There are enzymes in our saliva that help us break down foods – especially carbohydrates – so that they can be further broken down once they reach the small intestine. How we digest our food is dictated by several factors, most of which we can control. The main goal with digestion is to ensure that we have absorbed all the nutrients from our food, but this isn’t always a given.
Hormones are involved like leptin which indicates to the brain that we’re full, and ghrelin which is the signal for hunger. Serotonin is also involved which is a feel-good neurotransmitter, and scientists believe that up to 90% of the serotonin in the body is found in the gut (the other 10% being in the brain), which might explain why some of us comfort eat. It’s important to minimise hormonal disruption for good digestive health – disruptors include sugar, alcohol, poor sleep, chronic or prolonged stress, nicotine, being overweight and poor gut health.
But there is much you can do to ensure you’re optimising your energy levels by digesting your food well. Here are my 7 tips for good digestive health:
- Eat mindfully – think about the nutrient density of your food and try to avoid reaching for the easiest thing available. Be aware of what you’re eating and the impact it may have on your body
- Maintain good posture when eating – sitting upright and at a table will help the complex digestive systems do their job
- Enjoy the preparation of your food by cooking from fresh – let the smells, taste and texture prepare the body for what is to come!
- Consider the provenance of your food – being mindful of where your food came from and caring about how the animals or plants were treated can help us appreciate it more
- Relax and slow down – chew slowly, and let the enzymes do the work of getting all the nutrients out of the food
- Make it social – make a meal about enjoying the food, the conversation and the act of sharing rather than just taking in fuel. Remember the concept of breaking bread?
- Take some deep breaths – the digestive function is governed by the parasympathetic nervous system so for it to work well, we need to be relaxed
What’s your Health IQ?
If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared. Why not talk to us and see how we can help.
Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email [email protected] to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.