Approximately 60-70 million Americans suffer from digestive issues. And though a plant-based diet helps, it’s not the end-all be-all. As vegans we are proud of our love for fruits and veggies, and all the life energy we consume from plants gives us plenty to celebrate. Recent vegan converts are surprised by the transformation they experience in terms of…ahem…waste elimination. But even the healthiest vegans can experience some hiccups in their digestion from a few things like sleepless nights, a stressful work week, or eating too many vegan packaged goods like chips and cookies. And some conditions, like Crohn’s disease, may be strongly influenced by hereditary and environmental factors. Poor digestion means lower energy levels, and an overall sluggishness that weighs us down.
After several years of being vegan, and learning how to tune up my eating habits so that my metabolism and digestion are working optimally, I give you my 5 tricks for better digestion.
1. Wake up with lemon water! Before I started this habit, I used to roll out of bed, shuffle my feet to the fridge to pour myself an ice cold glass of filtered water, and chug it as quickly as possible. There is a better way to wake up your system in the morning in a more natural and soothing way. Aside from being a great source of vitamin C and potassium, lemons are full of antioxidants and flavanoids, help protect our immune system, and create an environment in which good bacteria can thrive. Lemons aid in flushing out unwanted materials from our bodies. I squeeze a nice chunk of organic lemon in warm water. Warm water as opposed to cold is more soothing, takes less energy to process, and is less shocking to the system first thing in the morning.
2. Take the time to chew. I know as children we all got scolded for chewing with our mouths open, but I wish I had understood the importance of chewing my food slowly from an early age. In present times we are all busy multi-tasking, and it is becoming more common to unconsciously wedge in the action of eating as we drive or do work at our desks. Taking the time to enjoy our meals helps us focus on the actual act of chewing, makes us be more mindful toward eating, and helps us appreciate what’s in front of us. It is also important to chew down our food enough so that those bits can then be processed into micronutrients that will eventually end up in our bloodstream. In fact, your digestion doesn’t begin in the esophagus, stomach, or the small intestines, but in your mouth, as you chew and your digestive enzymes begin to mix and break down your food. Chewing your food slowly also gives your body enough time to realize that it is satisfied. Putting away smart phones and electronic devices can help us focus on chewing and overall give us a mo1re positive relationship with food.
3. Probiotics and cultured foods can really rev up your metabolism. I started taking quality vegan probiotics about a year ago, and the changes were dramatic. My immune system strengthened, I was eliminating waste more efficiently, and I was able to break down all the bulk fiber I was consuming from the raw produce I was eating. When I went vegan, I didn’t want to rely on dairy yogurts for that good bacteria anymore, and it is vital that we have good bacteria in our guts so our intestines are protected from microbial attacks and other unwanted intrusions. So I opted for some vegan sources of the good bacteria like non-dairy kefir, miso, and fermented foods like sauerkraut.
4. Yoga first thing in the morning! Even a 5 minute yoga-stretching and breathing session will help stimulate your digestion and metabolism. I like doing poses that ignite a heat at the core of my body, and doing simple spinal twists to get my tract moving.
5. Have a serving of nuts 30 minutes before lunch or dinner to prevent over-eating and over-stressing your metabolism. If I don’t have a little snack here and there before meals, I end up sitting down at the table ravenous and not conscious of how much and how fast I am devouring the food in front of me. Eating a small amount of quality fat stimulates the production of the gut hormone CCK (Cholecystokinin) which helps with digestion while reducing hunger so that you can sit down to enjoy your meal without stuffing your face. If you are allergic to nuts, avocados and seeds are great alternatives. I personally love raw almond butter spread on some celery for a snack!
How do you keep your digestive system healthy?
Also by Irena: Why I Went Gluten-free and Vegan- Benefits and Results
Photo: Ashley Rose via Flickr