Eating like the French is good for Digestion
As well as many of us admiring the French countryside during the recent Tour De France, we can also admire the cultural traditions of their eating habits…
The French and other Europeans demonstrate the benefits of dining in a relaxed state. During the early afternoon, the French and many other Europeans take hours to eat lunch. Lots of high-fat food and wine is served, and the meal tends to be the largest of the day. The ingredients are fresh, and the company is enjoyable; there is plentiful conversation and engagement between eating with others, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, or others. They are dining rather than simply eating. They are experiencing pleasure. In this relaxed state, the body is aware of eating, and digestion is efficient. This presents quite a contrast to the fast food, rushed lunch “minutes” we tend to experience with our busy lifestyle.
French consistently eat under parasympathetic dominance (opposite of the stress response) the physiological state of relaxation and maximal digestive function. Even if they are busy, taking a generous amount of time to eat a meal and savour it allows them to switch off from the external stress of their schedules or factors on their mind, and prioritise their time to re-set. It is the optimum state of digestion and assimilation.
Eating a ‘mindful meal’ means completely focusing your mind on the ‘process’ of eating. You take it moment by moment and focus on the here and now. You begin by looking at the food, noting the different colours and shapes. You also become aware of the manner in which you reach for the food or utensils. Food doesn’t automatically end up in your mouth. You are consciously aware that your entire body is involved in getting it there. From ingredients to atmosphere, whether appealing or appalling, both the psychological state of mind and the physical movements that you engage in when you eat may influence the way in which you metabolize food and in turn your health and wellbeing.
Mindful eating is the full experience of our meal. Mindful eating is being present, with moment-by-moment awareness for each sensation that happens during eating, such as chewing, tasting, and swallowing. When you take time to experience your food through all your senses; taste (flavour), smell (aroma), sight (appeal) sound (comfort of your surroundings), and touch (movement of utensils and the feel of the food), you are being truly nourished.
Tips for improving digestion when you eat:
- Turn off the television and avoid being on your phone so you can focus on the food you are eating, and the act of eating. Notice how your food looks, tastes, smells and feels in your mouth. This is mindful eating which is great for digestion!
- Eat in a relaxed environment and focus on eating. Just eating.
- Try not to eat when you are upset or in a bad mood. Your brain and your digestive tract are interconnected so these feelings can impact the effectiveness of your digestive system.
- Chew each mouthful thoroughly (15-20 chews per bite) before swallowing it. The more you chew your food, the better it will be broken down which will help with the digestive process. Breaking down your food mechanically is actually considered to be the first phase of digestion. As you chew your food, saliva is released from glands in your mouth and which then begins the chemical digestion of the food before it even reaches your stomach. Additionally, the presence of saliva triggers the stomach to produce acid and its own digestive enzymes in preparation for the arrival of your meal.
- Water only to help wash down your meal if needed, and keep it to 1 cup sipped slowly. Even better, limit drinks to 10 mins before or after eating to optimise digestion.
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Dr Rachel Murphy
In clinical practice, I continue to pursue passion for treating infants and children as well as pregnancy care, including pre and postnatal support. I have a strong belief that environment plays a crucial role in health and well being, and therefore treatment management must also include advice on exercise and nutrition, ergonomics, stretching, rehabilitation and lifestyle modification.
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