Years ago while traveling in New York with a colleague, I had the most unusual conversation over lunch. If you have ever been to New York, you know the endless dining options around any corner. We had found a great restaurant the day before but with the world at our fingertips, I suggested we try some place new. “Why would I want to do that?” my co-worker replied. “Yesterday was amazing. Why risk it?” Our perspectives were completely different; where novelty and diversity might have been on my radar, nourishment was on his. I conceded without issue, and passing up dozens of options on our four block walk, we sat down to a lovely, yet predictable, lunch. I pressed him on this. “How is it that one of the smartest people I know is not interested in discovering new cuisine or seeking a novel experience?” His answer astonished me. “Dorrie, when I was younger I realized there are three things I plan to do every day for the rest of my life. I plan to do each one of those well, and this will greatly contribute to the quality of my life.” Given the context of the conversation, I knew eating was among the list, and sleep is a pretty obvious daily occurrence. What was the third thing he plans to do every day for the rest of his life? I wondered. It wasn’t really an appropriate table topic, but the big reveal…Poo! We departed from that conversation as our salads were served, but I have thought about it ever since. I know what you are thinking, “Is she really going there, right now?” Yes and no. I’m actually going to leave that part of the conversation right there, but highlight a few things I have learned relative to digestion, gut health, and quality of life.
Being mindful of how and what we eat contributes to our quality of life and the things we want to do each day. Good nourishment starts with quality ingredients. How they interact in our digestive systems contributes to absorbing those nutrients, and a well-functioning gut keeps things flowing in the right direction.
Here are my five tips for a healthy digestive system and improved quality of life:
- Slow down and chew your food! Digestion begins with the saliva in your mouth. The more you chew your food, the less work your intestines have to do once the food gets there. Give your gut a break and chew your food well.
- Eat your veggies! Fiber contributes to maintaining your gastrointestinal health, aids in regularity, and helps prevent inflammation. Soluble and insoluble fiber food sources to add to your diet include: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
- Mix it up! Increase diversity of bacteria in the gut by eating different foods. Keep your palette interested, and find new things to enjoy.
- Empower the Dynamic Duo! Prebiotics and probiotics work together to promote gut health. Probiotics are the good bacteria that help balance the flora in our digestive tract. These can be found in yogurt, and other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, kefir, and miso. Prebiotics are the fuel for these good bacteria and are easily provided through bananas, asparagus, garlic, honey, avocado, oats, beans, and berries.
- Eat real food and cut out the fake stuff! Preservatives, additives, and artificial sweeteners introduce chemicals that make extra work for your body to process and can have a negative effect on your gut.
I never know where lifelong wisdom is going to show up, and that conversation at lunch years ago was a great surprise. Before I pull an all-nighter, I remember my quality of life is affected by the quality of my sleep. While I still prefer to try new restaurants and cuisine, I am mindful to seek nutrient dense food that tastes good and is prepared well. With those two things on the list in place, EVERYTHING else usually goes pretty smoothly.