Food Hygiene

Food Hygiene what is that?  Sounds like keeping your food clean, and while that is important, what I mean when I say food hygiene is something else.  I learned this term in Naturopathic medical school.  What it means to me is putting the ritual back in eating, and eating in such a way that it helps your body get the most out if your food physically, and emotionally.  Food should nourish us on many levels, but for it to do that we need to pay attention to how we eat not just what we eat. 

Good digestion is not just about your stomach; it requires the participation of your nervous system, your emotions, your nose, your jaw muscles, and a vast array of chemicals in your body.

There is a complicated soup of chemicals involved in digestion, not just stomach acid.  There are enzymes and hormone signals, which tell you when you are full, and tell your intestines to move food along and make room for what is in your stomach. 

One of the problems we often encounter is eating too quickly.  When you eat too fast you can get ahead of that signal that tells you when you are full, and by the time the message gets to your brain you have eaten more than you would have if you had eaten more slowly and the message had a chance to get there. 

Our nervous system has 2 complimentary divisions called the sympathetic or “fight or flight” division, and the parasympathetic also called the “rest and digest” division.  When the “fight or flight” system is engaged we produce cortisol and epinephrine and our body prepares to fight off a tiger or run from a bear.  All sorts of stressors including work deadlines, arguments, and getting cut off in traffic trigger this system.  The key piece to understand is that when the “fight of flight” system is turned on or dominant, the “rest and digest” system is shut down.  There would be no need to digest your food when you are trying to run from a bear right?  This means that when we are stressed out about work, or rushing to pick up the kids at school and eating on the run, our rest and digest system is often turned off.  This not only keeps you from digesting your food well but it will also interfere with your bodies chemical signals that tell you when you are full.  The good news is our nervous system is very elastic and research shows it only takes a moment to shift us from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance.  So how do you do that?  You take a deep breath and sit still for a few seconds.  Take a moment to be present and think about the fact that you are about to eat food.  Smell your food, and take a moment to let your brain and body register that it is time to slow down and eat.  As you might imagine this is near impossible to do while driving, or watching the nightly news.  So sit down, take a minute to think some words of gratitude, say grace, or simply think about digesting your food well and all of its nourishment getting to you cells.  Then chew each bite of food until it is a liquid before swallowing, eating slowly and enjoying the benefits of improved digestion!