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healthy gut

Upgrade Your Digestion & Upgrade Your Health

Written by
September 9, 2019
Updated April 15, 2024
Category: Nutrition
Tags: Digestion

The digestive system is responsible for turning food into much smaller molecules that can be used as energy. The nutrients we gain from our food also aids in the repair, growth and maintenance of the body.

Our health relies on the ability to breakdown and absorb nutrients from our food while efficiently eliminating what the body has no use for. If you can’t absorb the nutrients the body requires, or if you can’t eliminate waste effectively, your overall health will suffer.

By optimizing digestion, you will be taking the right steps to ensure that you’re healthier on a cellular level. You can have the best diet on planet earth with organic, local and pasture raised foods, but if you can’t break down and use the nutrients from the food because of digestive dysfunction, you will lose many of the benefits from those foods.

Addressing digestive dysfunction in a north to south fashion can alleviate problems further downstream that would appear seemingly unrelated to higher up function. These tips will be covered in a way that addresses digestive dysfunction at each stage of the process.

Relax: Rest and Digest

We need to be in a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) for the body to get ready for food. This sets the stage for proper mechanical and chemical breakdown of foods in the stomach, and causes digestive fluids to be secreted in anticipation of food.

Most people don’t take the time to relax before eating. This causes digestive distress because the body is not in an optimal state to begin digesting a meal.

Take a moment and allow the brain to communicate and prime the digestive system for the food you are about to eat. Put away all electronics and move away from the TV. Smell, see and even touch your food before eating to allow the body to begin digestion with the brain.

Chew Your Food

The next stop in digestion after the brain is the mouth. Chewing is an often ignored part of our digestion that plays a fundamental role in the breakdown of foods on a mechanical and chemical level. The more you can break a food down in your mouth, the less of a burden is put on the stomach to make up for lack of chewing.

Enzymes in your saliva are responsible for the chemical breakdown of foods. The main enzyme in your saliva, amylase, is responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates. The more you chew, the more predigested those starches will be.

Try chewing each bite 20-30 times. Your food should be closer to a liquid than a solid by the time you swallow it. You can also put your fork down as a reminder in between bites. Once you get started on this habit, you will realize how little you really chew your food.

Support Your Stomach Acid

When you are deficient in stomach acid, your ability to break down foods and trigger further digestion is hindered. Foods have to be at a certain acidity before they are allowed to pass from the stomach into the upper small intestine.

Stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) is responsible for creating the acidic environment necessary to unfold proteins into smaller molecules named amino acids. Amino acids are the raw materials for neurotransmitters, enzymes, hormones, muscle tissue and bone formation. Amino acids are required head to toe, but to get them from proteins, you need adequate stomach acid production.

When someone is lacking stomach acid, foods are only partially digested and sit in the stomach longer than normal. Rather than being digested, these foods begin to rot and form gas.

This gas from the rancid food in your gut is the reason for bloating, burping, heartburn, digestive pain and excessive gas. If any of this sounds familiar, you may need a hydrochloric acid supplement to get things moving along.

Hydrochloric acid is also the first line of defense against pathogens and bacteria you ingest. Without the proper acidity in your stomach, pathogenic microorganisms can survive the digestive process, enter your bloodstream and make you sick. The normal acidity of a healthy stomach helps prevent bacteria and parasites from spreading by killing and digesting them.

If you need to kickstart the production of stomach acid, drink 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in 4 ounces of warm water 15-20 minutes before a meal.

Digestive Enzymes

When food leaves the stomach, it enters the small intestine. 90% of all the nutrients will be absorbed here. Digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas break food into molecules small enough that they pass through the walls of the small intestine and into the bloodstream. These food molecules are delivered to the area where they are needed.

Unfortunately many people do not produce enough of these digestive enzymes anymore because of inflammation, chronic stress, aging, insufficient stomach acid and food allergies.

By supplementing with digestive enzymes, you will be able to extract and use more nutrients from your foods. The discomfort that comes from incomplete breakdown of foods such as occasional gas and bloating can be avoided by supplementing with enzymes.

Make sure you are taking a full spectrum high quality digestive enzyme supplement with your meals to help you break down and absorb nutrients efficiently.

Consume Probiotic-Rich Foods

The intestine is home to over 100 trillion bacteria. There are roughly 4 pounds of bacteria living in your GI tract alone. On a cellular level, you are outnumbered by bacteria 10 to 1 in your own body.

While the roles of these bacteria are just beginning to be understood, it is very obvious they are vital to our health. These healthy gut flora help protect you from infection, assist gastrointestinal function, manage metabolism and help with immune system function.

But many aspects of the modern lifestyle are not conducive to keeping healthy gut flora. Some of the things that create problems are stress, infections, sugar and processed carbohydrates, and not eating enough fiber.

To help give these beneficial bacteria a boost, you can consume fermented, probiotic-rich foods such as; sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and beet kvass. You can also take a high quality multi strain probiotic supplement.

Digestion Requires Water

Diuretic beverages are drinks that pull water from the body such as fruit juice, coffee and soda. When you combine diuretic beverages with a severe lack of water consumption, it is a recipe for dehydration and a sluggish digestive system.

Digestion is an energy and fluid-intensive process that requires liters of fluid just to digest a single meal. The body will pull that water to the digestive system from other areas because it is crucial to function properly. This becomes a problem when you no longer have enough water to support proper digestive function and your bowels become sluggish and less frequent – preventing your body from eliminating waste.

It is amazing how many clients I have seen that suffered from chronic constipation that was resolved by consistently drinking more water and reducing diuretic beverage consumption.

Start by taking your body weight in pounds, divide that in half and drink that many ounces of water daily as a baseline. Remember to sip water instead of chugging to let your body absorb it.

Bone Broth Heals the Gut

There are a number of ways that bone broth nourishes your body, but a key one is that it provides exceptional support to your gut. The gelatin that is extracted during making bone broth is helpful for healing and sealing the digestive tract.

Glycine is an amino acid found in bone broth that helps to stimulate the production of stomach acid to break foods down. Glycine is also a crucial ingredient in bile acids, which are responsible for the breakdown of fats into their usable form.

Glutamine provides fuel for the cells in the intestinal walls to regrow and repair damaged areas of your gut. Glutamine also supports the immune system, which is predominantly located in the digestive system.

Bone broth has a ton of gut healing nutrients, and can be made easily (recipe below). If you have any kind of digestive issues, try having at least 4-8 ounces of bone broth a day to support overall digestion and gut health.

Gut Check Recap

Here is a quick recap of the habits you can begin doing today to improve your digestion:

● Relax and take a few moments to ready for the body for digestion. Experience your food through sight, smell and touch before eating.

● Put your fork down and chew 20-30 times between bites. Turn your solids into a liquid before swallowing.

● Drink 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in 4 ounces of warm water 15-20 minutes before a meal to support stomach acid production. You can also take a hydrochloric acid supplement with meals.

● Use a broad spectrum, high quality digestive enzyme to breakdown and absorb more nutrients from your food.

● Consume fermented probiotic-rich foods such as; sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and beet kvass on a daily basis.

● Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water a day. Sip, don’t chug!

● Add 4-8 ounces of bone broth twice a day to your routine.

Bone Broth Recipe


● 3-4 pounds of bones (from pasture raised, grass-fed animals)
● 1 gallon of water
● 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
● Any spices or vegetables you want to add for flavor


● Put all the ingredients in a large crock pot
● Cook on low for 24-72 hours
● Cool the broth when done cooking
● Strain and place into a container
● Store in refrigerator or freezer
● Enjoy better digestion!

Alex McMahon is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and founder of Evolve Nutritional Therapy LLC. He practices nutrition in Portland Oregon helping clients achieve optimal health using whole foods, nutritious movement and lifestyle adjustments. Alex writes for Barbell Shrugged, and runs his own blog; E​at To Evolve.​When he isn’t meeting with clients, giving talks or researching nutrition, Alex can be found training Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu and lifting. To learn more visit his website at: w​
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