The events leading up to eating your meal are the most important for optimizing your digestive power. This is known as “food hygiene”. This is the most important and easiest modifiable factor in a healthy digestive system.
For a quick lesson on elements involved in digestion, click here.
What is food hygiene?
Food hygiene is a way to power up your digestion before you eat your meal. This is known as the cephalic phase of digestion. It relies on your senses (smell, vision, touch, hearing and taste), and causes the release of digestive enzymes, stomach acid and increase gut motility BEFORE food enters the body. Therefore, once you finally sit down to eat your meal, there is an abundance of resources available to optimally digest and absorb your nutrients. This maximizes your digestive potential; allowing you to get the most nutritional value from your meal.
Eating your food while working, commuting or in front of the TV, engages your senses attention towards the task at hand. This reduces your awareness towards your food. Additionally, and stress associated with the task you’re doing diverts blood AWAY from your digestive tract. As you can imagine, this is the last thing you want to do while eating.
When should you practice good food hygiene?
Short answer, always 🙂 Sadly, eating while working or watching TV is the new norm. This in combination with take-out or another food service is a recipe for a very poorly primed digestive tract. Overtime, this may lead to a long list of downstream effects, including:
- Sluggish secretion of digestive juices & poor breakdown of food
- Large (inadequately digested) food particles are poorly absorbed in the small intestine & irritate the gut lining
- The same large food particles may feed the microbiome in the large intestine and cause excess gas and bloating from fermentation
If you suffer from digestive concerns (abnormal poops, food sensitivities, gas, bloating etc.), have a history of a gut infection or are currently trying to heal your gut, implementing good food hygiene is especially important.
A good analogy would be like trying to air out a freshly painted room, if you turn on the fan but forget to open the window, it’s going to take awhile to air the place out. Same with your digestion, if you take supplements and modify your diet, but continue to have poor food hygiene practice, it will take awhile (if ever!) to fully heal and optimize your digestive system.
How do you practice good food hygiene?
- Cook from scratch and give yourself time to prepare the meal.
- Take time and mindfully cook – engage your senses. Smell your ingredients, taste your ingredients and enjoy the food preparation process.
- Sit down at the table with your fully prepared meal. Avoid eating things as they are prepared. Feel free to sample small tastes, but prepare a full meal and sit down to enjoy.
- Turn off the TV, put away your work and allow yourself the time to fully enjoy your meal.
- Eat slow. Chew thoroughly.
Dr. Ashley Damm, ND
Naturopathic doctor- Vancouver BC.
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