Love your gut 7 day programme
The gut is at the centre of good health. It plays a critical role in digesting and absorbing the goodness from our food, eliminating our waste and it is also home to our gut microbiome: trillions of bacteria that support our health in a multitude of ways. The research is still evolving on this, but we know that our gut bacteria influence our immunity, our mood, our hormones and our weight (to name a few!), so taking care of these microbes is an essential step towards better health. Ayurveda, the ‘science of wellbeing’ that developed in India over 5000 years ago and is still practiced today, has long recognised the importance of gut health and suggests that poor digestion can be linked to most diseases.
Our modern diet and lifestyles are presenting an increasing number of challenges for our guts, and unfortunately this means digestive issues are on the rise. Some signs that indicate the gut may need some extra support include frequent bloating, trapped wind, urgent or sluggish bowels, low mood, fatigue and skin issues. But the good news is that there is a lot we can do to improve our gut health naturally, through diet, herbs and lifestyle changes, and we can get started right away!
By adopting some of these tips below and building them into your daily routine, you will hopefully come out the other side feeling more nourished and energised, and ready to take on whatever life throws at you.
Chew your food
This may seem obvious, but it’s often helpful to start with the basics of eating, and most of us don’t chew our food nearly enough. This often comes down to eating in a hurry, eating while distracted or eating foods high in sugar, salt and flavour enhancers that we just can’t wait to swallow. Chewing both mechanically breaks down our food into smaller pieces to make it easier to digest, and activates nerves that stimulate the release of our digestive juices, so it’s a critical step not to be rushed. Different foods will require different amounts of chewing, but the key is to keep going until it’s a purée consistency. Ayurveda suggests chewing each mouthful 32 times though aiming for 10 times is a great start.
Did you know that good digestion involves all the senses and it starts before food even enters the mouth? The sight and smell of food both help alert the body that food is coming, which allows it to start preparing for digestion and secreting digestive juices. If we’re eating while distracted by work or the TV, we’re unlikely to give our full attention to our food and may not even notice how it tastes, let alone how it looks and smells, meaning the food comes as more of a shock to the body. So have a go at eating more mindfully, by eating your meals at a table, without your phone, TV or laptop, and make your food the main focus.
While we all have moments when we might need a little something extra to eat, snacking regularly is not helpful for our digestion. Our ancestors would typically go several hours at a time without food as it simply wasn’t available, so we have evolved to have significant gaps between our meals. However, the rise in food availability and snacking culture means we are often now eating every 2-3 hours, which can overwork the digestive system and make our secretions weaker come meal-times, reducing our digestive ability. It's fascinating to know that ancient Ayurvedic texts have been discouraging snacking for thousands of years!
If our meals are balanced and substantial enough, then we shouldn’t need to snack, so ensure your meals contain plenty of protein, healthy fats and fibre to help carry you through to the next mealtime.
Finish dinner by 7pm
As the evening draws in, the strength of our digestion starts to dwindle. This is because the body is beginning to slow down and prepare for rest, and there is simply less energy being directed towards non-essential processes like digestion. This means that if we eat late at night, we may be more likely to experience digestive symptoms such as heaviness, bloating and discomfort. Another consideration is that the digestive process takes a few hours, so if we go to bed too soon after eating, we’re likely to experience poor digestion and disturbed sleep, as we may struggle to sleep while we’re still digesting and vice versa. Bringing dinner time forward is a simple and effective way to support these two key processes.
Minimise drinking for 30 minutes before and after meals
Hydration is essential for so many aspects of our health and it plays an important role in good digestion, however drinking too much liquid with our meals may actually have a negative effect. This is because fluids can dilute our digestive secretions, weakening their effects. This can be easily avoided by having a window of 30-60 minutes before and after meals without drinking, although a few small sips within this time is absolutely fine if you feel you need it.
Drink teas containing digestive herbs after each meal
Herbal teas are an easy and delicious way to support your health and there are many herbs that are especially helpful for the digestion, such as ginger, aniseed, mint and fennel. Ginger and aniseed are both warming herbs that can help to stimulate a sluggish digestion, while mint and fennel are more soothing, helping you to feel more comfortable after a meal. Try Three Ginger, After Dinner, Three Mint and Mint Refresh. Peppermint & Licorice is also great if you fancy a sweet treat. As mentioned above, it’s best to wait until at least 30 minutes after your meal to get the most benefit.
Skip the raw food
Put simply, raw food is harder to digest. The process of cooking helps to break down the structure of the food, so if this hasn’t happened, our digestion has to do all the work. We are often told that raw food is more nutritious, and while that may be true in many cases, it is irrelevant if we can’t digest the food well enough to absorb its goodness. It is for this reason that Ayurveda, and indeed all other traditional healthcare systems, unanimously recommend eating mostly cooked food. Steaming is a great way to retain nutrients in food, as well as any methods where the cooking liquid is consumed with the food, such as souping and stewing, as this captures any nutrients that are released during the cooking process.
Start your journey to a happier gut over the next 7 days and get ready to reap the benefits. After the 7 days, why not try focusing on each change for 1-2 weeks to help you really embed the habit, before adding in the next one. Making these changes for the long term will help you to enjoy good gut health for years to come.
Author: Jo Webber
Head of Herbal Education
As a BSc qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher, Jo is passionate about bringing these two ancient sciences together to help people feel empowered about their health. Jo has put her post-graduate certificate in education to good use, co-founding the Ayurveda academy to help others learn of the wonders of Ayurveda. Jo has also earned a Masters degree in human sciences from Oxford University and has taught in several schools
BSc qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher
Years of experience:
20 years as a Hatha yoga teacher/ayurvedic practitioner
Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association