The basic dietary “rules” for a healthy gut aren’t complicated: eat more vegetables, reduce red meat, and avoid highly processed foods.
But it’s not just what you eat; how you eat is also vital.
You might assume that if you ate the same food, in the same amounts, day after day, it would have the same impact.
In fact, where you eat, how you eat, how often, with whom, and what mood you’re in can all affect how you literally feel after a meal and the health benefits.
Here are six simple rules I use with my clients to help improve their digestion…
Everywhere you look these days, it seems you can’t avoid fermented foods: they’re all the rage in the world of nutrition and diet, and with good reason, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured)
1. Chew your food
This might have been something your parents told you to do to improve your table manners, but chewing is a vitally important part of the digestive process. It initiates digestion by stimulating the production of saliva. This contains the enzyme amylase, which breaks down starch, found in foods like bread and pasta.
Research shows that up to 30 percent of starches are digested in the mouth. So if you cut back on your food, you are missing out on this key stage.
(Experience the work of amylase firsthand by chewing a piece of white bread until it becomes liquid: it gets sweeter the more you chew, a sign that salivary enzymes have begun to break down the starch in the bread into sugar.) .
This also alerts the rest of your digestive chain that food is coming in, alerting your gut to start releasing the right mix of acids and digestive enzymes. You also swallow less air, another benefit that means smoother digestion with less discomfort.
But it’s not just about avoiding a stomach ache. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that people absorbed about 15 percent more nutrients when they chewed almonds 40 times than when they chewed a single bite ten times.
And if weight management is your goal, another study from China’s Harbin Medical University showed that people ate 12 percent fewer calories when they chewed each bite 40 times compared to 15 times. Their levels of ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone) were noticeably lower 90 minutes after the meal.
2. Do it right
‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper’ is not suitable for everyone, some people just can’t stand a big breakfast. But I still think this principle is worth following, especially if you’re having trouble with your blood sugar levels. This is because our bodies are better prepared to metabolize carbohydrates in the morning (eg, insulin release is more efficient) compared to the evening, which is related to our circadian rhythm.
This was seen in a study from Tel Aviv University in Israel, where researchers compared the impact of consuming the same number of calories, but consumed differently.
One group of participants ate a large breakfast (700 calories, with a 500-calorie lunch and 200-calorie dinner); another had a large dinner (700 calories, with a 500-calorie lunch and 200-calorie breakfast).
Those who ate a large breakfast had 20 percent lower blood sugar levels throughout the day and higher insulin levels despite eating the exact same meal.
‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper’ is not suitable for everyone, some people just can’t stand a big breakfast. But I still think this principle is worth following, especially if you’re having trouble with your blood sugar levels.
3. Do not eat late
This is partly for the simple reason that if you eat a lot and then go to bed, you are likely to have heartburn and indigestion. But most importantly, by avoiding eating late (stopping at least a couple of hours before bed) you’re increasing your overnight fast.
There is some evidence that this break from digestion means our gut microbes can work on other essential tasks, such as helping the immune system remove old cells to make room and stimulate the production of new ones.
A break of about 12 hours is considered optimal. While some fasting protocols suggest a break of 14, 16, or even 18 hours, there isn’t enough strong evidence to suggest greater benefits for longer fasts.
The exception to the night eating rule is if going to bed hungry interferes with your sleep. So a small, fiber-packed snack like a handful of nuts and seeds or my favorite ‘Dorito’ popcorn (see recipe) before bed won’t do any harm.
4. De-stress your gut
As I’ve said before, a stressed gut doesn’t digest food well or absorb nutrients completely.
Of course, de-stressing is easier said than done. But when you’re relaxed, more blood can flow to your gut, and this fuels more efficient digestion.
I often recommend that my clients practice three minutes of diaphragmatic breathing (also known as abdominal breathing) before each meal, as this can dramatically reduce gastrointestinal discomfort, ranging from reflux to indigestion.
Step 1: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep, relaxed breath through your nose, then gently exhale through your nose. This is diaphragmatic breathing, and making a conscious note to switch to it can have a powerful calming effect.
Step 2: On the next inhalation, allow your belly and rib cage to expand, feeling your lower hand rise while your chest hand remains still. Then exhale: the hand on your chest moves further (known as chest breathing).
And try not to eat on the run, something I’m also guilty of, but you’ll probably eat more than you need, not enjoy the food as much, and not chew properly. The perfect storm for bad digestions.
5. Three meals a day
If you’re prone to constipation, science shows that periods of fasting between meals—that is, not snacking—can help keep you more regular.
This is due to the ‘migratory motor complex’, which is activated about 90 minutes after a meal. Essentially, it pushes food through the intestine.
Now, I’m not against snacks. Personally, I really like snacks, especially high fiber ones that help keep hunger at bay. But if you’re struggling with constipation, it’s worth trying to stick to three meals a day.
6. Make it social
When was the last time you were entertained at a meal with friends or family? I’m willing to bet it’s a pleasure rather than a habit.
However, studies show that friends and family who eat together are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives with a greater sense of community, compared to those who always eat separately.
And a study published earlier this year in Frontiers in Nutrition involving more than 40,000 teens found that those who eat with their parents reported doing better in school.
Practice these six steps and you will definitely see the difference!
did you know
Some phytochemicals (plant chemicals) are actually hormones. For example, melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, which our bodies produce naturally, is also found in black rice (a type grown primarily in Asia), pistachios, and bell peppers.
Try This: ‘Dorito’ Popcorn
Swap out low-fiber, additive-rich potato chips for this delicious, high-fiber popcorn to banish afternoon cravings in minutes.
1 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ tablespoon nutritional yeast (from most supermarkets and health food stores)
- A large pinch of garlic powder, onion granules, smoked paprika, cumin and salt
- Chili powder, optional
- A brown paper bag
Place the corn kernels in a brown paper bag and fold the top over twice to seal. Microwave on high for 3 minutes, or until you hear a pause of about three seconds between pops.
Let sit for 20 seconds, then carefully open bag. Drizzle in oil, followed by flavoring. Reseal bag and shake.
Is there a way to stimulate a rapidly declining metabolism after menopause? I lost 7th through a slimming and exercise club. But ever since I hit menopause, it’s getting harder and harder to lose the pounds. And I still have another 2 st to lose.
Weight control can definitely be a challenge for many people going through menopause. This is due to a number of factors, including hormone-related changes in our gut microbiome.
Evidence on calorie counting for long-term weight management is limited, mostly because calorie information isn’t as accurate as we’ve been led to believe. But also because the number of calories our bodies burn during digestion differs depending on how processed the food is. Calorie counting also ignores our gut microbes, which play a key role in metabolism. Instead, try these three science-backed principles:
- Make plants the basis of your diet (and add eggs, fermented dairy, fish, etc., as you prefer).
- Try to eat more than 30 different plants a week, mostly vegetables, followed by whole grains, fruits and legumes (beans, legumes), nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices.
- Opt for whole plants that have been minimally processed (for example, a homemade chickpea burger instead of an ultra-processed vegan burger).
Contact Dr. Megan Rossi
Email [email protected] or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT; include contact information. Dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter personal correspondence. Answers should be taken in a general context; Always see her GP if she has any health problems.