Our digestive system is SO important for the health and functioning of our entire body. We like to think of it as the hub of our health, organising what nutrients enter our bodies to give us energy, protecting us from harmful pathogens, and communicating with our other body systems to carry out essential functions. Within this journal entry, we will be exploring with you the foundations of gut health and the little things we can begin to bring our attention to, to support this important system.
Pay attention to bowel movements
We are here to say it’s time to get comfortable with looking into the toilet bowl. Our bowel movements can tell us so much about the health of our digestive system. Things like the colour and texture can help guide us to understand what issues might be going on, and how to best support our gut health.
Brown – the colour we are aiming for.
White, grey, pale – often occurs due to a lack of bile and can indicate issues with liver, gallbladder and pancreatic health including blockages within the bile ducts.
Yellow – can indicate malabsorption and issues with the digestion of fats. Can also indicate coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis, and intestinal infections.
Green – can be due to dietary changes, too much bile release from the liver, and diarrhoea/short transit time.
Black – can indicate bleeding in the upper organs of the digestive tract. Can also be due to iron supplementation.
Red – indicates bleeding in the lower digestive tract due to conditions such as haemorrhoids and ulcerative colitis.
Fully formed and easy to pass – what we are aiming for.
Mushy/shapeless – can indicate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)/stress, issues with digesting fats, food intolerances/sensitivities, coeliac disease, parasites, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Hard/pebbles – can indicate dehydration, lack of dietary fibre, lack of exercise, medication side effects, irritable bowel syndrome, stress, poor liver function, SIBO, and IBD.
Watery/diarrhoea – intestinal infection, IBS, IBD, and food allergies/intolerances.
Floating – can indicate an excessive amount of gas in the bowel movement, malabsorption issues, lactose intolerance, and celiac disease.
Mucous – indicates inflammation within the digestive system, intestinal infections, constipation, dehydration, and IBD.
Undigested food – it is normal to see foods that contain cellulose e.g. corn in our stools because our body doesn’t contain enzymes to break cellulose down. Eating quickly and having a fast intestinal transit time (the time it takes the food we eat to be turned into stool and excreted) can also contribute to seeing undigested food in the toilet bowl.
When it comes to the ideal bowel movement, we like to see them occurring at least once a day (bearing in mind everyone’s normal frequency will be different), and for them to be fully formed, brown, easy to pass, and without a foul odour.
Bowel movements will vary every day depending on diet and lifestyle habits, but if you start to notice a consistent change and are concerned then contact your health care provider.
Stop eating on the run. Sit down and enjoy your meal.
When we are busy or stressed our bodies simply do not prioritise digestion. During these times all the energy and blood flow that is required to digest our food is diverted to other areas of our body such as our heart, lungs, brain, and muscles.
We tend to not chew our foods as thoroughly or pay attention to the taste and texture when we are distracted. Because digestion starts in the mouth with the release of enzymes in our saliva, eating unconsciously impacts the release of other essential digestive juices further down the system. When these juices stop flowing, we can see issues like indigestion, bloating, reflux/heart burn, abdominal pain and constipation pop up.
Taking a moment before each of our meals for a deep breath or two, sitting down, chewing, and paying attention to our food helps our body to recognise where our energy is needed, and supports our digestive processes.
Cold/raw foods aren’t always what I need.
A few years ago, the raw food movement took off. We loved the way this movement highlighted fresh fruits and vegetables, however what we didn’t love is how it was sold to everyone as the answer to all their health issues.
Raw foods have their place in our diets due to their high amount of nutrients and fibre - but sometimes they can make our digestive system feel worse, especially if our digestion is already suffering. This is because our digestive system needs to work harder to break down the fibres and nutrient components of raw foods. When we eat cooked foods the heat from cooking starts the breakdown process, meaning less energetic demand is placed on our digestive system to retrieve nutrients from our foods.
If we notice raw foods triggering our digestive symptoms, it is time to take a deeper look at the overall health of our digestive system and understand why a weakness is occurring.
Eating more warm, cooked foods such as stewed fruits, steamed greens, and roast vegetables whilst we heal our digestive system will help take the burden off. Adding herbs and spices to meals such as ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric can also add an extra energetic warmth to our meals and help with our digestion.
Skipping meals messes up my rhythm.
Often we skip meals if we are stressed, emotionally overwhelmed or busy. When we don’t regularly eat our blood sugar levels drop, and our body perceives this as a physical threat to our survival. This threat kicks our stress response into gear and directs blood flow away from our digestive system, towards organs needed for survival. Because of this response our next meal might be a little harder to digest and may cause us more discomfort. More stress = worse digestion.
Not eating for an extended period can also impact on our food choices. When we are super hungry or ‘hangry’ we tend to reach for high carbohydrate/low nutrient foods, eat extremely quickly, and over consume foods past the point of fullness. All these combined can trigger nausea, indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation.
Bitter foods can be my best friend.
Our tongue contains sweet, salty, sour and bitter taste buds, yet so many of us lack good quality bitter foods in our diets. The modern western diet hasn’t made much room for bitter foods on our plate, but it is time to bring them back.
Bitters have been used for centuries to support digestive processes. Within many traditional cultures bitter herbs are used in alcoholic beverages to stimulate digestion before a meal, and support digestion after a meal – think aperitivo’s like Campari, and digestif’s like Grappa.
Bitter herbs and foods help to encourage the flow of digestive juices to improve the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in our meals. This improves our ability to absorb nutrients from our foods and reduces the likelihood of our meals sitting/stagnating in the digestive system which can cause excess gas and bloating.
We can gently introduce bitter foods back into our diet to improve our digestive health by adding rocket or radicchio into our salads, making homemade dressing with apple cider vinegar, and cooking with more dark leafy greens.
Large amounts of fluid with meals makes me unhappy.
From an energetic perspective we think of our digestive system as a fire. We like it burning at a certain temperature to effectively break down our food and absorb the nutrients we need. Drinking large amounts of cold fluids with our meals is essentially like throwing a bucket of water onto our fire, and can lead to bloating, indigestion and pain.
To support our digestive health we need to avoid gulping cold liquids and stick to sipping small amounts of room temperature water with meals, or having our glass of water 30 minutes before/after a meal.
If you are suffering from chronic digestive issues and feel you are ready to seek support please reach out to us. We offer online Naturopathic consultations for our community all over Australia.