As it turns out, consuming an ideal diet is not the end of the nutritional story and just because something makes it to your stomach doesn’t mean your body will actually use it as you intended.
Poor nutritional absorption can lead to a whole host of nasties, such as skin conditions, abdominal pain, constipation and low energy use. Yes – even if you’re eating relatively well! That’s because whether it’s food or supplements, nutrients aren’t technically in your body until they’ve been absorbed. So if until then things are just “passing through”, what can you do to ensure a happier ending to the nutrient story?
As it turns out mum was right, the first and most important step to optimising nutrition is to chew your food properly. All digestion begins in the mouth as the enzymes in your saliva start to break down your food, so when large particles of improperly chewed food enter your stomach, they may remain undigested upon entering your intestines, leading to putrefying bacteria and a whole host of other unmentionable digestive problems. And who would want that?
The popularity of green smoothies of late is largely due to their ability to liquefy your food adequately in this manner. Whether its kale, cucumber or coriander, that hit of vitamins and fibre goes straight to your tum, without the risk of being improperly broken down. And ever heard people say “chew your juice”? Yep, that’s so you can mix your drink with some of that enzyme rich saliva. So even your smoothie must be drunk slowly. But of course, not every meal can be blended, so it’s important that you get into the habit of chewing properly if you want to look and feel your best.
Take a deep breath, slow down and really savour your meal. Endeavour to chew each morsel at least 20 times and make it your goal to liquefy your food before each swallow… then watch what happens! Research has shown that by chewing your food thoroughly allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food, helps you maintain a healthy weight, allows for easier digestion, and leads to fewer digestive issues like gas and bloating.
Another great idea to fast-track your nutrient absorption is to add lemon to your water. Lemon has an acid very similar to your stomach juices, so a warm glass of water with a squeeze of lemon in the morning will have a positive effect on the gastrointestinal tract by helping cleanse the bowel, flushing out waste more efficiently and stimulate the release of gastric juices. Make it a ritual to have this every morning, instead of your usual coffee.
Ah, yes. Coffee.
The one thing that can reduce your nutrient absorption faster than you can say “what diuretic?!” is oft-beloved caffeine. Researchers confirm that it can hinder iron absorption by up to 80%, while also wreaking havoc on calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B absorption. However, it’s not all bad – one cup of coffee a day is still considered OK, so if you seriously can’t live without it, at least wait an hour before consuming your nutrients. Also, adding full cream milk or even butter to your coffee can slow the caffeine release and lower the digestive impact. For the rest of the day, switch to herbal tea – or even green tea, which is full of antioxidants and is a much gentler caffeine source.
Finally, reduce your lifestyle stressors if you want your system to be working like a dream. Stress, drugs, alcohol and even too much exercise can all put your body in a state where it’s working too hard to stay in balance and therefore isn’t directing its full resources to deliver your nutrition. Digestive problems like indigestion and heartburn are common responses to being in “fight or flight” status says nutrition expert, Ph. D Earl Mindell , stating that “a bodywide nervous-system response is antithetical to digestion and most nonemergency bodily functions”. What that means is that stress can negatively affect absorption, so learn to get back to homeostasis through new stress coping mechanisms and taking inventory of an overly busy lifestyle.
The point is, to get the most of your nutrition it’s important to keep your body in balance with plenty of rest, fulfilling activities and healthy relationships. Then, you can help your body along by giving it more of what it loves and slowly phasing out the stimulants that don’t serve you. If you apply some of these principles for a week, such as chewing better, flooding your tum with enzymes or improving overall quality of life, there will be an unrecognisable glow to your face, right in time for spring.
Alina Berdichevsky is a personal branding coach and regular contributor to the Open Colleges Careers blog. When she’s not writing about leadership, communication and success, she loves reading about inspiring women in history, working on her soufflé and of course – perfecting an inner zen.
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