Eating too much, too fast, under stress or eating too much fat may cause poor digestion and intestinal problems such as constipation or gas. Would you like to know how to prevent them?
Heavy digestions are very common when our social life increases as we have many lunches and dinners with lots of fat and alcohol. This means we do not have to miss any social or family events, but just know how to help our digestive system. Which factors contribute to good or bad digestion? How can we avoid flatulence and gas? Could we prevent bad breath?
Good digestion sometimes seems impossible for many people, but digestive problems may be solved by taking preventive measures, by knowing how the digestive system works and by being aware of the symptoms and sensations of poor digestion.
How does the digestive system work?
The digestive system is the gear that allows us to live and feed ourselves. It is composed of the oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and is closely related to the liver and pancreas, the circulatory system and also the nervous system. In other words, digestion makes most of our vital organs work. Therefore, if digestion becomes poor, we may feel sick all over.
The stomach is responsible for gathering and combining the food with gastric juices and slowly moving it into the small intestine. There, it will be dissolved into assimilable molecules that will be carried by the blood to the cells of the whole body. That which cannot be assimilated, such as fibre or dead cells, will be pushed into the rectum to be disposed of.
What are the symptoms of poor digestion?
The main symptom of poor digestion is stomach pain. If the stomach or small intestine does not work as it should, the emptying process may take much longer. In that case there is a sensation of heaviness, digestion seems to continue forever and we feel sick all over.
If you have dyspepsia, such as spasms, flatulence, stomach pain or heartburn, it means your digestive system has troubles absorbing the food you have just enjoyed. Spasms are those annoying involuntary contractions of the stomach or oesophagus. Flatulence, better known as gas, is due to air that we involuntarily get into the body when we are chewing (aerophagy) or is the result of chemical responses in the digestive process. When the air is caught and cannot get out, this causes pain and swelling of the belly. Finally, heartburn is the result of the gastric juices that cause a burning sensation in the stomach and can even reach the throat.
What foods and drinks help our digestion?
- We should avoid very fatty foods: fried and battered, or badly prepared (with excess oil), fatty stews and casseroles, sauces with excess fat (cream, butter, lard, bacon, strong cheeses…).
- Grilled, baked, grilled or steamed are our best allies for cooking meals and dinners if we want to avoid heavy digestion.
- Carbonated drinks cause a feeling of bloating, so we must be careful with the amount of carbonated drinks we take.
- Water is the most recommended drink for good digestion, although it should not be taken excessively during meals either.
How to have good digestion after eating?
Many factors are involved in good digestion. Not only what we eat and drink, but how fast we eat, how much we chew, whether we are talking and, of course, the health of the digestive system and the amount and sort of food we eat. Amongst carbohydrates, proteins and fats, the latter are the ones that spend longer in the stomach. Keep this in mind at Christmas, Easter or any other time of year when social lunches and dinners increase. Avoid eating a whole menu of heavy and fatty foods. . You can alternate lighter meals and moderate your intake of alcohol and sweets. If your stomach is uncomfortable, it will make you feel it.
If stomach pain, gas and feeling unwell are your “bread and butter” after every meal, take note of these tips for good digestion!
Eat and drink slowly… And chew!.
Did you know that Arabs keep quiet when they eat? Yes, according to traditional Arab culture, people do not speak during the meal but afterwards, during the tea. The reason why they do so is that they believe that lunchtime is time to eat, and teatime is time to talk. In fact, all this improves the digestion.
However, the idea is not to eat in silence and quickly, but quite the opposite. Eating and drinking slowly, quietly, and without rushing, chewing food well and avoiding taking in too much air, is the main recommendation to prevent gas and a heavy feeling after meals. Lunch should take a least half an hour, with a break between the first and second course, and also between the first and second course and dessert.
Remember that it is much more convenient to have light meals (five or six meals a day) rather than large ones; the best thing is to avoid the feeling of complete satiety. It is also important to avoid excessively hot or cold meals.
How to avoid gases and acidity.
Stress, anxiety and some foods and drinks, such as beans, cabbages, pasta, apples, red wine or beer, may cause gas. Gases that are usually produced in the gut are nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. If health is good, all of them are normal and there is no need to worry about their presence. Excessive gas makes us feel uncomfortable, often even physically swollen. Would you like to know what remedies are available for stomach pain and gas?
Try to reduce sugar, soda, dairy products and certain eating habits such as drinking through a straw or eating too fast. As usual, physical exercise and keeping an eye on your diet will help you avoid excessive gas.
A few recommendations and tips to avoid stomach discomfort from gas and heartburn are:
- Be sure to cook pasta well to make it digestible; avoid freshly-baked bread and flatulent vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, onions…) or take them cooked to avoid gas. As for vegetables, leave them to soak for more than eight hours and break the boil halfway through cooking, so that they do not become flatulent either.
- To prevent stomach acidity, it is essential to avoid alcohol and tobacco, as well as black coffee, which causes irritation to the walls of the stomach. Instead, it is recommended to brew mint, anise, sage or fennel, or to add a few green aniseed, fennel or cumin grains to an infusion of camomile.
- Small servings. Large servings usually make us eat too much and too fast. Try serving small servings and eating them slowly. Should you get hungry, have a smaller serving again.
- Be careful about intolerances. Some intolerances could be caused by gas or poor digestion, so check with your doctor that your stomach pain is not due to gluten or lactose intolerance, for example.
- Activated charcoal for gas. Activated charcoal, or activated charcoal, is a great adsorbent of gas, bacterial residues and waste. It may come from various sources, being the best one coconut shell. When it is heated to high temperatures, small holes are made where substances can accumulate. Activated carbon is considered as a great ally to reduce excess intestinal gas and deflate the abdomen.
- Aniseed for gas and spasms. Aniseed is another medicinal plant that has traditionally been used to help digestion, eliminate gas and reduce intestinal spasms. It is similar to mint as regards its digestive and carminative action. It helps us eliminate excess gas accumulated in the intestine and therefore reduces bloating and pain. In Roman times, people used to add flour to mint and take it after meals to improve digestion.
Constipation is also a real headache for those who suffer from it, and is related to digestion. It may be avoided by changing your diet and some habits. If you are affected by it sometimes, it may be due to changes in the normal rhythm of life, such as travelling, stress or dietary changes, but if you are suffering from it beyond this time, it is very important to look into the cause.
The most common causes of chronic constipation are a diet low in fibre and rich in refined foods, inadequate fluid intake, physical inactivity, long periods in bed, pregnancy, older age, etc.
However, although each situation needs to be studied separately, there are various dietary recommendations which are useful in many cases:
- ACIDIC FRUIT JUICES. Make juices with citrus fruits such as lemon, orange, apple or prunes soaked the night before. It is preferable to drink them before breakfast.
- NUTS AT BREAKFAST. In moderate amounts. For example: hazelnuts or almonds peeled with a natural soya yoghurt. It is essential to chew them well.
- VEGETABLES AT MEALS. If possible, raw or steamed (salads, vegetables…). A diet rich in meat produces fewer residues.
- DRIED FRUIT. In the afternoon, sweet fruit may be eaten with moderation: oat flakes and sultanas or dried apricots boiled in almond milk.
- INTEGRAL CEREALS at breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. These are more healthy and help with intestinal transit.
- OLIVE OIL. When taken on an empty stomach it has a lubricating effect on the intestine.
- LIQUIDS BETWEEN MEALS. Once the digestion has been done, it is recommended to take water or fruit juices, preferably from the season.
No more bad breath.
Halitosis or bad breath is often associated with poor digestion, in fact, bad breath is usually a matter of the mouth. Bleeding gums, food leftovers or other conditions may be causing an unpleasant smell. Fortunately, we can use oral hygiene (brushing, rinsing, etc.) as well as refreshing foods or plants such as mint or aniseed, which are known in our culture as the best remedies for bad breath.
Mint to relieve bad breath.
It is well known that mint is a great remedy for bad breath, but it also has many properties such as its digestive, carminative and antispasmodic action which has been traditionally used for disorders of the digestive system, the respiratory system and even the skin. As regards slow and heavy digestion, the carminative action of mint helps prevent and relieve the accumulation of gas in the intestines during digestion and its antispasmodic action may reduce involuntary contractions of the stomach.
Remember the above recommendations if you are planning to have a large meal, and keep some of these remedies around to enjoy lunch and dinner.
- Fink, et al. (2001). Intestinal Gas. Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology.
- Shojaii, et al. (2012). Review of Pharmacological Properties and Chemical Constituents of Pimpinella anisum. ISRN Pharmaceutics
- McKay, et al. (2006). A Review of the Bioactivity and Potential Health Benefits of Peppermint Tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytother. Res.