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DR MEGAN ROSSI’s helpful tips to help you digest your food

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The basic nutritional rules for a healthy gut are not complicated: eat more vegetables, limit 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 consumed the same meal, in the same amounts, day in and day out, it would have the same effect.

Where you eat, how you eat, how often, with whom, and what mood you’re in can all affect how you feel after a meal — literally — and its health benefits.

Here are six simple rules I use with my clients to help improve their digestion…

Everywhere you go these days, it seems you can’t avoid fermented foods — these are very much in vogue in the nutrition and diet world, and for good reason, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (photo)

1. Chew your food

This may be something your parents told you to do to improve your table manners, but chewing is an essential part of the digestive process. It stimulates digestion by stimulating the production of saliva. This contains the enzyme amylase, which breaks down starch found in foods such as bread and pasta.

Research shows that up to 30 percent of the starch in your mouth is digested. So if you’re screwing on your food, you’re missing out on this important stage.

(Experience amylase firsthand by chewing a piece of white bread until it liquefies: it gets sweeter the more you chew, a sign that your salivary enzymes are starting to break down the starch in the bread into sugar.)

This also alerts the rest of your digestive chain that food is entering, alerting your gut to release 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 stomach aches. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 found that people get about 15 percent more nutrients when they chew almonds 40 times than when they chew just 10 times in one bite.

And if weight management is your goal, another study from Harbin Medical University in China showed that people took in 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. Time it right

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a beggar’ won’t suit everyone – some people just can’t stand a full breakfast. But I still think it’s worth following this principle, especially if you have problems with your blood sugar. This is because our bodies are better prepared to metabolize carbohydrates in the morning – the release of insulin is more efficient, for example – compared to the evening, linked 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 amount of calories, but eating differently.

One group of participants had a full breakfast (700 calories, with a 500-calorie lunch and a 200-calorie dinner); another had a large dinner (700 calories, with a 500-calorie lunch and 200-calorie breakfast).

Those who had the full breakfast had 20 percent lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels throughout the day, despite eating the exact same foods.

'Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a beggar' won't suit everyone - some people just can't stand a full breakfast.  But I still think it is worth following this principle, especially if you have problems with your blood sugar levels

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a beggar’ won’t suit everyone – some people just can’t stand a full breakfast. But I still think it is worth following this principle, especially if you have problems with your blood sugar levels

3. No late dinner

This is partly for the simple reason that if you eat a lot and then lie down, you are likely to develop heartburn and indigestion. But most importantly, by not eating too late (stopping at least a few hours before going to bed) you increase your nighttime fasting.

There is some evidence that this interruption of digestion means our gut microbes can work on other essential tasks, such as helping the immune system clear out 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 14, 16 or even 18 hour break, there is not enough robust evidence to suggest increased benefits for longer fasts.

The exception to the nighttime eating rule is if going to bed hungry interferes with your sleep. Then a small, fiber-rich snack such as a handful of nuts and seeds or my favorite ‘Dorito’ popcorn (see recipe) in your pocket won’t hurt.

4. De-stress your gut

As I mentioned before, a stressed gut doesn’t digest food properly or absorb nutrients completely.

De-stressing is of course easier said than done. But when you are relaxed, more blood can flow to the intestines and this makes for more effective digestion.

I often recommend that my clients practice diaphragmatic breathing (also known as abdominal breathing) for three minutes before each meal as it can significantly reduce gastrointestinal distress ranging from reflux to indigestion.

Step 1: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in relaxed and deeply through your nose, then gently release the air through your nose. This is diaphragmatic breathing, and a conscious note to switch to it can have a powerful calming effect.

Step 2: On your next inhale, let your abdomen and rib cage expand, feel your lower hand rise while your chest hand remains still. Then exhale – your chest hand moves the most (known as chest breathing).

And try not to eat on the run – something I am also guilty of, but you will probably eat more than you need, not enjoy the food as much and not chew it properly. The perfect storm for bad digestion.

5. Three daily meals

If you’re prone to constipation, science shows that periods of fasting between meals — not snacking — can help you stay more regular.

This is due to the ‘migrating motor complex’, which kicks in about 90 minutes after a meal. Essentially, the food pushes through the gut.

Now I’m not against snacking. Personally, I love snacks, especially high-fiber snacks that help keep your hunger at bay. But if you’re constipated, it’s worth sticking to three meals a day.

6. Make it social

When was the last time you lingered over a meal with friends or family? I bet it’s more of a treat than a habit.

Still, studies show that friends and families who eat together are generally happier and more content with their lives with a greater sense of community, compared to those who always ate separately.

And a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition earlier this year 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 a difference!

Did you know?

Some phytochemicals (plant chemicals) are actually hormones. For example, melatonin – or the sleep hormone – that our bodies naturally produce, is also found in black rice (a variety grown mainly in Asia), pistachios and peppers.

Try this: ‘Dorito’ popcorn

Swap low-fiber, high-additive chips for this high-fiber, delicious popcorn to stave off those afternoon hunger pangs in minutes.

Serves 2

50 g popcorn kernels

1 tsp olive oil

Aroma ‘Dorito’:

  • ½ tbsp nutritional yeast (from most supermarkets and health food stores)
  • A generous pinch each of garlic powder, onion kernels, 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 in half to seal. Microwave on high for 3 minutes, or until you hear a pause of about three seconds between pops.

Let stand for 20 seconds and then gently open the bag. Drizzle with the oil, followed by the aroma. Close the bag again and shake.

AskMegan

Is there a way to boost a rapidly declining metabolism after menopause? I lost the 7th to a weight loss club and exercise. But since menopause has been reached, it has become increasingly difficult to shed the pounds. And I have 2 more to lose.

Jan Warner.

Weight management can certainly be a challenge for many going through menopause. This is due to a number of factors, including hormone-related changes in our gut microbiome.

The evidence for calorie counting is limited for long-term weight management, not least because the calorie information isn’t as accurate as we’ve been told. But also because the amount of calories our bodies burn during digestion differs based on how the food is processed. Counting calories also ignores our gut microbes, which play a key role in metabolism. Instead, try these three science-backed principles:

  • Make plants the foundation of your diet (and add eggs, fermented dairy, fish, etc., as you wish).
  • Aim for more than 30 different plants per week – mainly 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 (so a homemade chickpea burger over an ultra-processed vegan burger).

Contact Dr. Megan Rossic

Email drmegan@dailymail.co.uk or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — provide contact details. dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter into personal correspondence. Answers should be taken in a general context; always consult your doctor in case of health problems.

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