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A Digestion Experiment and My Top 5 Secrets for a Happy Tummy

Posted Nov 11 2013 4:30am

Get ready friends, I’ve got lots to say today!

Recently I’ve been doing a little experiment. As you may remember from the post about my spinach sensitivity and why it’s important to rotate your greens , I’ve been on a LOT of naturopath-prescribed supplements over the past month. In addition, we’ve also been working on finding an iron supplement that my body responds well to. This has led to the addition of even more supplements to combat the issues that some of them were causing. (If you’ve ever been on iron of any kind, you’re probably very familiar with slow digestion – not fun!)

green juice

Reality Check

Last weekend I went to a long-awaited appointment with my family doctor so that I could get her take on my predicament. I packed up everything I’d been taking and made a list of my daily supplement intake – brands, quantities, number of capsules, and timing. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the waiting room with my bag of bottles that I realized I was 1) toting around a small pharmacy, and 2) probably taking more capsules each morning than most senior citizens. How did this happen?

The buzzer I was given from the receptionist started vibrating and I was assigned to a room. The doctor walked in and I almost felt embarrassed handing over the list. As it turns out she wasn’t interested and didn’t read it anyway. She didn’t even ask me what medications or supplements I was taking, which seemed a little odd. (My thoughts about this appointment could be a rant post on their own, but we won’t go there today.)

supplements

I didn’t need my doctor to tell me this, but I had become a supplement junkie. Were they even doing anything? It sure didn’t feel like it. Even though I’d replaced spinach with other greens and cut gluten-containing products out entirely, a happy tummy day could easily be followed by a crappy tummy day, leaving me feeling bloated, heavy, and sluggish. Yuck.

The digestive troubles, the attitude and advice of my doctor on the topics we discussed (which left me feeling rather insulted and belittled), and a few other frustrations all culminated into what seemed like a tornado in my head on the drive home. Content about health and nutrition makes up a very large chunk of my reading on a daily basis and although I’m certainly not a doctor, I like to think I’ve got a pretty good handle on my own health. All of these things however, had me feeling like I didn’t know which way was up any more.

So what was my experiment?

It’s simple really. Since last Sunday….

  • I’ve been taking only 3 of the 8+ different supplements that were recommended to me. These are my liquid iron formula, omega 3 capsules, and a daily probiotic.
  • I’ve continued to avoid the foods that I was told I’m sensitive to – spinach, wheat, gluten, and crab. The only one that has been a big adjustment is spinach – the others I can happily live without.
  • I’ve had no protein powders, protein bars, or supplements other than the 3 listed above - at all. As someone who drinks smoothies daily, this seemed a little weird at first. Instead, I’ve been enjoying a lot of omelettes made with just as many veggies as I’d put in a smoothie. And no bars – yes, that means Quest bars . I honestly don’t know how I’ve managed because they are so freaking good. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.
  • I’ve continued to eat whole foods. This isn’t a big departure from my usual, so I guess it’s like a constant in the experiment (if we’re going to get all science-y). Heaps of fruits and veggies (many of the veggies have been cooked, which helps with digestion), a little bit of gluten-free whole grains here and there, healthy fats (salmon, avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil), and lean protein – a mix of animal and plant-based. As for condiments, I don’t think I’ve had any other than tamari, rice vinegar, miso, and balsamic vinegar.

Sesame Citrus Tempeh Dragon Bowl

 The Result

The short answer: I was blown away. I haven’t felt this good in over 2 months! I’m suspecting that the key variable was ditching the tablet and capsule supplements I’d been prescribed, which seemed to just be combating against each other and doing me no good. As far as Quest bars and my preferred protein powders go, I plan to experiment with them over the coming weeks (and maybe months) to see if I notice any differences.

fruit bowl

In addition to the changes already listed, I’ve also added/changed a couple of things that I believe have really helped. Cutting the supplements aside, these are my 5 secrets for a happy tummy:

1. Slippery elm powder.

It’s about as gross as it sounds. Slippery elm comes from the inner bark of a tree, and has a range of medicinal uses including soothing sore  throats, constipation, bladder infections, GI inflammation, and in my case, healing a leaky gut. It works its magic by encouraging mucous secretion, which helps to cure problems in the stomach and intestines.

slippery elm

I did a bunch of reading about slippery elm before I went to get some from one of my local health food stores. Before breakfast and dinner, I mix together 1 tsp of the powder with a bit of water. After letting it sit for about a minute, it turns to goo. Then I knock it back like a shot while plugging my nose so I don’t notice the taste (because it tastes like a tree), and chase it with a glass of water or a bite of fruit. After 2-3 doses, I’d already started to notice a big difference.

You can read more about slippery elm  here , and remember, this is not meant to be interpreted as medical advice – always check with a medical professional first. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take slippery elm.

2. Drink less with meals.

In the past, most of my daily water consumption has happened at meals. It ‘s not unusual for me to be able to drink up to a liter of water with my dinner, especially if it’s something spicy like curry or a stir fry. I read a while ago that drinking too much with meals clears your stomach of the acids it produces that aid in digestion, and although I knew about this, I never actually tested it out for myself. Lately I’ve been having 1 glass of water (about 12 oz, or 1.5 cups) with dinner, and waiting about 30 minutes after to drink more. In order to ensure I don’t fall short on my daily water intake, I’ve made an effort to drink more throughout the day.

3. Eat lots of fermented foods, as well as foods that are known to help aid digestion.

And there are SO many! Kombucha, tempeh and miso are my fermented faves, and I’ve eaten at least one of these things each day since last Sunday. Fermented foods contain probiotic strains, enzymes, various B vitamins, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. As much as I love our Canadian kombucha brands Rise and Tonica , my most frequent picks are Synergy Trilogy and Raw Gingerade Kombucha (both made by GT’s Kombucha ) because they have the lowest sugar content of the bunch.

GT's Kombucha

Other digestion-helping foods I’ve been eating heaps of include apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, ginger, and peppermint. Fennel tea is another item I purchased for this experiment, and although I still can’t say I love it, I’ve been drinking a cup after lunch on most days at work. If you don’t like liquorice, you likely won’t enjoy fennel tea, but it does have lots of digestive health benefits. It’s made from fennel seeds and helps ease bloating, IBS, and other GI issues. Chewing fennel seeds after a meal works as a natural breath freshener, but I don’t quite love them enough to do that. Ginger tea on the other hand, is something I love. To make it, all you need to do is put a couple of fresh peeled ginger slices in hot water, with a little squeeze of lemon if you want to make it even better (and detoxifying).

fresh ginger

4. Reduce gum chewing.

Many months ago I published a post about how I’m done with artificial sweeteners . I had been addicted to Crystal Light and chewed a TON of gum, and my stomach suffered a lot from both. If you’ve ever had an overload of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose etc, you’ll know how uncomfortable it feels. While I still do my very best to avoid all artificial sweeteners, I’ll admit that I’m human and sometimes feel the need for a piece of gum to freshen my breath, or to help me concentrate while doing work. Over the past few months I’ve gone through way more gum than usual (a sign of stress perhaps?!) but have made an effort to cut back and my belly feels so much better.

5. Eat slowly, chew more.

As I’m sure you know, our digestive systems don’t work well when we’re stressed. It’s amazing how much of a difference not being in a rush and actually making an effort to chew each bite more can make.

So what’s next?

My doctor ordered a few tests for me which I’ll be doing tomorrow. These should shed some light on what sort of state my guts are really in, but tests aside, I’m confident that things are healing because of the way I’ve felt over the past week. This whole experience has taught me to be very careful about the supplements I choose to take, and my motto now is that fewer is better!

Alright, that’s more than enough chatting on my part. I’d love to hear from you! Tell me…

  • Do you have any tricks or tips for better digestion?
  • Do you take a lot of supplements, or have you done so in the past and realized the need to scale back?
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