Natural Health Tips

Ways to Improve Digestion

Correctly combining foods is associated with considerably improving digestion. Good digestion is crucial for our long-term health and well-being. If we don't digest and absorb nutrients from our food properly, every bodily function can be affected.

Digestion is not just about getting food in and out; it is the absorption and assimilation of nutrients for the nourishment of the whole body, as well as construction and repair of cells.

Food combining has been found to improve digestive malfunctions like indigestion, heartburn, bloating, constipation and flatulence, as well as easing symptoms of more complicated gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colon cancer, etc.

Many of these problems are often related to food in some way, and can be resolved by watching what we eat and how we eat it.

For optimal digestion and superior health, here are some digestive rules:

Don't Over-Eat

Our stomach and digestive system have limits and can only handle so much food. The body can function on a third of its daily food intake and over-consumption of food is the major cause of indigestion, and leads to obesity and many chronic diseases.

Remember the hadeeth:

Miqdaam bin Ma'dee Karib said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam) say: "The son of Adam does not fill a container worse than his stomach. Sufficient is it for the son of Adam to take enough morsels (of food) to keep his back straight. And if it is necessary, then a third for his food, a third for his drink and a third for his breath." [Ibn Maja, At'ima, 50]

Establish Regular eating habits

Food that is eaten late at night sits in the stomach and gets poorly digested because the digestive organs are in their rejuvenation and resting phase. Also, when you lie down straight after a meal, the secretion of digestive enzymes is reduced because the body is in a horizontal position. Aim to eat your final main meal of the day at least 3 hours before going to bed, to allow sufficient time for the food to be processed.

It is important to eat meals at regular times and at the same time everyday. Regularly consuming the same foods also promotes good digestion. Structuring your diet around a group of foods that are routinely consumed has a regulating effect on the digestive system, as opposed to constantly adding unusual foods, which forces the digestive organs to constantly adapt.

Ideally, a diet should consist of a group of primary foods that are eaten every week, and secondary foods that are eaten alongside them, but in smaller quantities. Other foods that are unusual to you should be included in the diet perhaps once or twice a month, as they may sometimes cause digestive discomfort.

Being regular in your diet, both in timing and types of food, creates an efficient digestive system - remember regularity in means regularity out.

Eat Consciously

Consciously eating means being aware of what you are eating, and how and where it is eaten. Eat only when you are truly hungry, and know when you are full. This will significantly increase the body's ability to digest and assimilate food.

Eating too fast can also cause problems. Try to pace yourself when eating and chew more slowly. Food rushed down suffers incomplete breakdown which results in flatulence, bloating, poor absorption and vitamin deficiencies.

Ideally, eating should take place sitting down in a relaxed environment. Chewing is the first stage of the digestive process, so ensure it is done properly. Chew your food into the smallest pieces possible, as this creates more surface area on which the stomach acids can act. Large pieces of food entering the stomach cause fermentation, flatulence and indigestion.

Order of Eating

A well-ordered meal means smoother handling of the digestive system's tasks, including faster digestive times and better assimilation of nutrients. This results in less gas, bloating, heartburn and more energy.

The correct order of eating food for better digestion is to eat the easiest to digest foods before the more complex foods. Problems arise when different types of food, requiring different processing times and different enzymes, clash with foods from other groups.

Sensible order of digestion:

  • Water and juice
  • Fruit, soups and smoothies
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and grains
  • Meat, fish and poultry

Food can be categorized according to their water content, densities, and complexity of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The denser and more complex a food, the longer it will take to pass through the digestive tract. Mixing foods of different categories complicates digestion and slows the whole system. A digestive tract that is constantly clogged up sets the stage for digestive disorders and ultimately for diseases like colitis and colon cancer.

Good food combining

Good food combining involves not mixing the different food groups in one meal. Proteins, starches, sugars, fruit etc have different chemical compositions and are therefore digested in different ways.

For example, starch digestion begins in the mouth with the salivary enzyme. However, this enzymatic action stops if a protein food is eaten at the same time. The starch then leaves the stomach in a semi-digested state and the system has to work harder to fully digest and absorb this food.

For similar reasons, fruit and sugars also inhibit the digestion of starches and proteins. Aim to eat fruit on its own, at least thirty minutes before any other food. Don't combine foods high in concentrated starches like bread and rice, with concentrated proteins like meat or fish. This is explained in more detail in the article Food Combining for Optimum Nutrition: Food Categories.

By adding a few simple changes or eliminating bad habits, our digestive efficiency can be optimized, which can result in increased energy and better health, insha'allah.