Your immune system is, for all intents and purposes, ‘housed’ within your gut. It is therefore vital that you digest, utilise and assimilate the food you consume to the very best of your ability.  It’s not just about what you eat. Good digestion and gut health covers other factors too, some of which might surprise you.

The Autonomic Nervous System

We have a central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), as well as an autonomic nervous system (ANS).  The ANS is the master regulator of metabolism and is responsible for all involuntary functions of the body (such as breathing, heart rate, digestion etc.). It has two branches. The Sympathetic (concerned with fight and flight, energy utilisation) and the Parasympathetic (concerned with rest and recovery, or energy conservation). These branches work in opposition to one another. Together they ensure that the body stays in balance.  For example, Sympathetic stimulation speeds up heart rate, while Parasympathetic stimulation slows it down.

In terms of digestion, Para stimulation switches the digestive system on and Sym stimulation switches it off. The Para system is concerned with energy conservation and is responsible for digestion. This means you need to be in a calm, unstressed state in order to ensure optimal utilization of the fuel you’re putting in. If you’re rushed, stressed, or occupied with other thoughts, you are likely stimulating the Sym system, which switches off digestion!

You can see why it’s so important that you create a relaxed eating environment and that you sit for a while after meals to further help digestion. Try and go back to the (very wise) sociable tradition of eating round the table with your friends and family. Do this instead of watching T.V. (which, by the way, increases stress hormone output) or rushing through your meal to move on to your next ‘task’. At lunchtime, try and eat away from the office. That way you can experience fewer distractions from your meal.  If you can’t leave the office, strategically place a photo that brings good thoughts, so that you focus on this through your meal.

Chew, chew, chew

How well you chew your food is really important too.  By chewing thoroughly, you stimulate correct enzyme production in yur gut. The greater the surface area of your food (i.e. the more it is chewed), the more your stomach acid (HCL) can do its job. HCL kills any potentially harmful pathogens on/in the food.

This acid also helps with digestion of certain key nutrients, such as protein and calcium.  As an example of the link between digestion and health, you can’t keep bones healthy and strong without a good pool of amino acids (proteins) and adequate levels of calcium. If amino acid and calcium digestion is impaired, due to low levels of HCL, bone health will eventually deteriorate.

The importance of raw food

Raw food eaten before a meal provides essential enzymes to help digest food without impacting negatively on your existing enzymes.  When enzymes aren’t provided by the diet, the body ‘steals’ metabolic enzymes. These are necessary for vital cell function – to help your body digest the food efficiently.

Studies show that eating raw food towards the middle or end of a meal, doesn’t provide much benefit for digestion (although it does deliver important nutrients).  Eating raw food before you eat cooked or processed food will provide huge digestive benefit, by delivering essential digestive enzymes.

Salads, lightly steamed vegetables and raw soups are a good place to start. In addition, naturally-fermented vegetables are a great way to bring in enormous quantities of both enzymes and probiotics.  Both of these will keep your gut healthy and well. They can also assist you in your attempts to avoid picking up excess body fat.

You eat these vegetables as a condiment with a meal. You are therefore looking to eat ¼ to 1/3 of a cup before meals, 1-3 times daily.  Fermented vegetables can have a powerful detoxification effect. Start with small amounts (perhaps a tablespoon) and then slowly increase your intake.

If you’re interested in recipes for fermented vegetables, please email us on admin@thehappybody.co.za and we’ll send them to you.  They’re easy to prepare, cost very little and are very tasty.

Allergies

The answer to resolving food allergies, and almost all autoimmune disorders, is to heal your intestines.  Your digestive system is taxed If you experience belching, gas or bloating. So be sure to address any potential food intolerances or allergies you may have.  The most common culprits are wheat, dairy, soy and gluten.  Take these out of the diet one at a time and for at least 2-6 weeks. Then note how you feel after this exercise.

Good gut health equals good overall health and wellness. So take the time and effort to make these changes and you’re bound to feel the benefits…