For something we do every day, most people don’t think too hard about how digestion works. Food goes in one end and out the other. It all works out, right?
Sometimes it does! Let’s talk about the times it does not.
If you’re one of the 70% of people experiencing GI distress and feel like your gut is always working against you, keep reading. GI distress can cause us to cut out food groups, plan meals around how quickly we can get to a bathroom, and keep that not-so-tidy collection of chalky medicines in our cabinet. Some of us may even avoid eating socially or trying new food altogether. At that point, we live in fear of food.
“HOW CAN I PREVENT ISSUES LIKE GAS, BLOATING, AND DIARRHEA?”
As a gut health company, we get these questions A LOT. We’re constantly creating new strategies for gut relief because we know just how seriously an imbalanced gut can affect quality of life. To better understand how gastrointestinal (GI) issues happen, let’s break down what happens during digestion, what could go wrong, and how you can manage it.
POSSIBILITY #1: YOU’RE NOT CHEWING FOOD THOROUGHLY
This sounds like a no-brainer, but hear us out.
Chewing kicks off our body’s mechanical process of breaking down food. Of course our teeth are tools for cutting and grinding food. What’s more, our saliva contains chemicals called enzymes which help our teeth break down food further to something digestible.
There’s our keyword: Digestible. From the moment you take a bite, your teeth and saliva get to work breaking down food to make it digestible for your gut. Now, if you’re an adult, you’re probably thinking “I’ve been a five-star food chewer for years.” Absolutely! But just like meditation and breathing, sometimes better results can come from putting a little extra effort into an otherwise “mindless” bodily function.
Taking smaller, slower bites helps, too! Not only does this ease the job your teeth and saliva enzymes have to do, but it actually gives your stomach more time to signal to your brain that it’s full. If it helps you remember, imagine your stomach can’t communicate that well with a mouthful. Try taking a break every few bites. Even for the most mindful foodies, accidental overeating can cause GI stress.
POSSIBILITY #2: YOUR BODY IS NOT PRODUCING CERTAIN ENZYMES
Once food travels down the esophagus, it makes its way to the stomach for further digestion. That food is met with acids, gastric juices and enzymes in a churning motion of the stomach. You guessed it: Enzymes are the swing vote in what food is broken down, and what food consistently gives off that “disagreeing” feeling.
Our bodies naturally produce digestive enzymes to break food down into its simplest compounds. However, biological factors like age or genetics can affect how effectively your body produces enzymes and what type of enzymes it produces.
For example, when you have a food sensitivity like lactose intolerance, your body produces a low amount of lactase enzyme, which leaves your stomach less prepared to digest that food. Enter pains, gut bubbles, and that run-to-the-bathroom feeling.
POSSIBILITY #3: YOUR UNDIGESTED FOOD IS TRIGGERING GUT ISSUES
Once the stomach is finished with its part in digestion, food moves through the small intestine for nutrient absorption. At this point, most of your food is broken down into the simplest compounds so that your body can readily use it. That is, with a few exceptions. Fibers will move into the large intestine. And remember the food your stomach didn’t break down because it lacked the right enzyme to do so? Well, that food moves on to the large intestine. Which could be problematic.
If undigested food makes it to the large intestine, that food is introduced to trillions of bacteria. The bacteria in your gut essentially eat your leftovers and convert them into beneficial compounds through a process called fermentation. The byproduct of this process is gas, which in itself is natural. Everyone has gas! Though, everyone would probably like less gas.
Problems occur if significant amounts of undigested food make it to your large intestine. See: a lactose sensitive person and a cheese platter every Tuesday. Those foods will be fermented too, amounting to excess gas, bloating, and general discomfort.
When these foods make it to your colon, they can inadvertently feed what we call bad bacteria, or bacteria that specialize in processing the type of foods that cause you discomfort. Feeding those bad bacteria too often can lead to a more serious issue: Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is the imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, and could be the underlying cause for issues such as chronic inflammation, GI pain, and discomfort.
Where there’s a gut problem, there’s a gut solution. Be prepared for post meal discomfort with our new Jetson After Ate.
“WHAT CHANGES CAN I MAKE TO START FEELING BETTER?”
Fortunately, there are several strategies that you can try to relieve digestive discomfort, and they don’t have to involve chalky medicine. These are a few of our most-effective tips:
- Chew food all the way through: If you’ve ever heard the advice to chew your food thoroughly (maybe one too many times!), that’s because the practice is scientifically proven to have a host of benefits. Not only are you giving your stomach a head start, chewing thoroughly can help prevent unwanted weight gain.
- Track your triggers: Everybody is different and our bodies are constantly evolving. Some food sensitivities are with us from the get, and others develop as we grow. The next time you get that ick in your gut, take inventory of recent meals. Common triggers include (but are not limited to) dairy (milk, cream, cheese), legumes (beans, lentils, peas) or cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower).
- Reconsider the right diet for you: Certain dietary choices like vegetarianism, veganism, keto or high-protein diets mean your body is getting more of a certain macronutrient (carbohydrates, fat, proteins) than others. If you’re experiencing GI issues, it could be that your body is not producing enough enzymes to accommodate extra macronutrients once they arrive. This is a complex conversation that one of our health professionals would be happy to have with you.
Try an elimination diet: An elimination diet (like a low FODMAP diet) can help you to identify foods that may be triggering GI issues. Elimination diets are not meant to be a long-term solution, as the sole goal is identification. Before you try any restrictive diets, we recommend talking with a trusted physician.
And if you haven’t yet – be sure to check out Jetson After Ate. Our small but mighty digestive enzyme mints deliver immediate, soothing relief so you can feel alive inside.