There’s nothing like grilling up some grub in the great outdoors! But the menu choices and party dynamics of summer barbecues often leave the gut grumbling in grief. Follow these digestion do’s to take the biggest bite out of the season!
Your Body on Food Digestion begins before you’ve even taken your first bite! When you see, smell, or hear food being cooked, your brain sends signals telling your mouth to secrete saliva, and your stomach to secrete acid. When you take a mouthful of your hamburger, chewing breaks it down physically, while the enzymes in saliva help to break it down chemically. Stomach acid speeds up the digestion process, and then food eventually gets passed along to the intestines, where enzymes and probiotics help with the absorption of nutrients in the gut. If all goes well, your hamburger goes in one end and comes out the other efficiently and without pain. But often enough, that hamburger causes heartburn, flatulence, and constipation, which aren’t likely to support your social spirit!
Meet You at the Meat Most barbecue parties have people gathering for one star food group: meat. Because meat is highly protein-dense and rich in fat, it is particularly difficult to digest. It requires more stomach acid than other food groups for proper breakdown, as well as more enzymes to be secreted from the pancreas (The World’s Healthiest Foods). To add to the problem, we don’t make as many enzymes as we age, so meat becomes increasingly more difficult to digest.
Choosing lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, make digestion easier than fattier meats like beef. Reducing the amount of meat you eat will also lighten the burden on your gut. A portion size of meat is about the size of an average person’s palm, or a bar of soap.
Once you’ve picked your appropriately sized meat of your choice, chew it well! Aim to chew 20 times per mouthful, which may be way more than you’re currently doing. This will make the pieces smaller and will help your salivary enzymes get to work – ultimately making it easier on the rest of your digestive tract! Adding a digestive enzyme supplement to your daily routine will further improve digestion. Look for a full-spectrum formula that assists in the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as a source of HCl to improve low stomach acid (a common cause of heartburn).
Greening Your Plate Picture your plate as a pie chart. Allocate a quarter of the plate for meat, another quarter for grains like rice or quinoa, and fill up one half of the plate with greens. Having a healthy serving of salad or raw veggies will not only give you a whopping dose of nutrients and antioxidants, but will assist in your digestion. Lots of the enzymes found in food are lost in the cooking process, but raw food has enzymes intact to assist in its own breakdown.
Veggies are also high in fibre. On top of keeping you regular, fibre feeds the probiotics in your gut. These good bacteria play myriad roles in health maintenance in addition to nutrient absorption. A probiotic supplement gives your gut some serious love. Look for a formula that doesn’t require refrigeration so it can be your plus-one at summer barbecues and copilot on road-trips!
Mindful Eating Being mentally and physically engaged during your meal will make a world of difference on your gut. When you’re at the barbecue party, pay attention to what the food looks like, note how its texture feels in your fingers and in your mouth, and try to perceive its more subtle flavours. Be aware of your body’s signals about being full, the beginnings of indigestion, or your telling “I’ve eaten too much ____” toots! And even if you’ve had your eye on seconds, wait 20 minutes for your brain’s “I’m full” signal to kick in before you go get more.
Social Cues We eat about 30 to 50% more food in social settings than we do when we’re alone, according to a study conducted by the University of Toronto (Women’s Health Magazine). Social overeating obviously plays a role in the barbecue bloat at day-long summer parties! Once you’ve enjoyed your nutritiously balanced plate and feel satiated, hang out away from the food table to keep it out of reach. If you’re standing up, keep one hand in your pocket and your other holding your glass. You won’t have a hand available for gluttonous grabs! And use the party setting to your advantage by engaging people in conversation. When your mouth is talking, it won’t be chewing – at least not if your manners dictate!
Originally written for Healthy Directions magazine.
Click below to learn more about:
The World’s Healthiest Foods. Is Meat Hard to Digest? http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=75.
Women’s Health Magazine. Overeating in Social Situations. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/overeating-in-groups. April 3, 2006.