Poop. One of my favourite topics on earth. Naturally, it's episode Number Two of the magnificent Sugar, Poop & Dreams series. And since we are around St. Andrew’s Day, it fits perfectly in the future-telling topic. Instead of predicting fortune from pouring wax into water bowl, how about looking into your toilet bowl, to predict your health?
Poop is one of the best direct visualisations of the state of our bowels. How we eliminate (do you spend hours on the toilet or 1 minute?), how often (every couple days or 6 times a day?), what's the consistency of stool (like stones or banana puree), any accompanying feelings related to your bowel movement (bloating, gas, etc) can tell us A LOT about the state of your guts, and through there, about the state of your health.
Today we will discover helpful, easy tricks to apply in everyday meal & poop rituals, to make toilet visits as smooth as (peanut) butter.
Did you know digestion starts even before you have food in your mouth? Just the sole smell or sight of food sends signals to the brain, and creates a physiological reaction - we start to salivate. The saliva carries enzymes which will help with digestion of food, and also activates the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and pancreatic secretions, which together will help breakdown and digest different macronutrients in the yummy food we eat.
It’s called the cephalic phase of digestion, and it starts in the brain. Essentially, when you see or smell the food, you prepare your body to receive it! A trick used by many fast food restaurants to get into our bellies and pockets.
So here is tip number one to improve digestion:
Taking time to prepare and cook a meal, and taking a moment before eating to smell and appreciate the nourishing food.
And actually, it doesn’t have to be 'nourishing' at all - if you are about to eat something that you know is not the healthiest option ever - HELP YOURSELF and smell that food!! Appreciate, remove the guilt feeling, and make your next food choice is one of the greener side :)
Taking that moment before, whether it’s an official prayer, a moment of silence, wrapping hands on your bowl, or a deep satisfying sniff of the food - it will activate the powers of digestion!
Ideally, the sense of appreciation and mindfulness lasts throughout the meal and each bite, accompanied with relaxed conversations and undisturbed attention.
Simply, when you eat, you eat!
After the chemistry in the body does its job, here comes the best part - the first bite of food.
Oh, the explosion of flavours and structures, all mixing and turning in our mouths. What a joy, what a feast! We often like it so much, we swallow the barely chewed food, just to get to that ‘next first bite’.
That brings us to trick number two - chew chew chew!
(Did you also just read it aloud? :D)
There is such an important part of digestion happening in the moment of chewing. First, the mechanical breakdown of the food. We were given molar teeth for a reason. The better we do the job in the mouth, the easier it will be on the stomach, and the more energy we have for other daily activities - ones we are actually aware of.
The second part is the chemical breakdown - here those tiny heros, the ENZYMES can really shine. In the mouth the enzyme amylase is mainly present, whose job is to break down carbohydrates, to get this glucose as fast as possible in the system. By chewing food properly, we increase the surface area for the enzymes to work and break down food. This also applies to liquid foods, like soups or smoothies!
A helpful trick to focus more on chewing is to add crunchy, chewy foods to whatever liquid food you are eating, to be constantly reminded about it. What helped me personally was putting down the spoon or fork when I am busy with the chewing. You can also try taking smaller bites, and count the amount of ‘chews’ - somewhere between 30 and 50 would be enough, but ultimately what we aim for is this:
Chew your solids until they are liquid, and chew your liquids as if they were solids.
Think about these two tricks whenever you are about to eat something - whether it’s a home cooked veggie meal, or a croissant from a bakery. Make it easier for your GI tract - smell it, appreciate it, and chew it good!
From the mouth, the next stop on the food tour is the oesophagus. This is the transit part from the mouth to the stomach, one we are often only aware of while having an uncomfortable reflux.
By the way, did you know that most cases of acid reflux are not because there is too much acid, but just the opposite - when there is not enough stomach acid!
That’s right. When the hydrochloric acid (HCl) is deficient, the muscle tissue of the stomach becomes ‘loose’. In such case, the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter at the lower end of the oesophagus, (which is a round muscle) whose job is to protect the oesophagus and mouth from the stomach acid, becomes looser and allows the acid to move up!
You see, the stomach needs very specific conditions to do its job right - that job being digestion, but also protection from all sorts of bugs we unknowingly swallow. It has to be a right temperature, acidic pH, and muscles need to be toned as well.
So that brings us to tip number 3.
Boost your stomach acid with morning lemon water or water with ACV (Apple Cider Vinegar).
For best results, drink on empty stomach. To boost metabolism you can also drink it 15 minutes before meals, especially those heavy on protein. Adequate water intake is also necessary for the production of HCl.
This will help in protein digestion, increase the lining of the stomach (and through that, help with absorption of iron and B12), boost energy, help with weight loss, protect from pathogens, and help in digestion overall.
Ok, so we haven’t talked much about poop yet! What is your poop telling you?
First, you can analyse the stool consistency and compare it to the Bristol Stool Chart.
If it’s around number 1&2, you are likely constipated. There are a number of things you can do to help here, but your first thought should be - WATER!
If the poop, on the other hand, is around numbers 5 to 7, there is too much water in stool, especially number 7 is diarrhoea. Again, there can be a lot of causes for it, but if it persists for a longer time, and becomes chronic, it is something to check out with a professional.
If you can see undigested parts of your yesterdays meal, this brings us to the first tip - focus on the chewing!
If it’s floating on the water, there might be an issue with fat digestion or consumption.
Poop can come with a lot of different colours, smells and shapes - each can provide a clue about what’s happening inside.
Ultimately we aim for a brown, smooth passing poop (Bristol Stool Chart number 4), eliminated 1-3 times a day.
Variety is normal - we eat different things from day to day, and have different schedules and activities, but the general trend should be that.
We will come back next time to discover what happens below the stomach, and really get to the guts (and liver) of it!
What is it that you want to hear about most?