Digestion is a key foundation of optimal health, but it’s often something we ignore until things are obviously very wrong. Maybe it’s not until we’re suffering with acid reflux or severe bloating that we start to acknowledge that something with our digestion is suffering. These are obvious symptoms, but there are many other uncomfortable signals, as well as less noticeable signs, that our body sends to let us know our digestion is not working as it should. These can include lack of hunger, constipation, skin problems like acne or eczema, and fatigue after meals. If we wait until these symptoms become noticeable and begin to affect our quality of life then we are being reactive to our health, instead of being proactive.
Even if we are trying to be proactive with our health and eat “perfectly,” we could still experience bothersome digestive symptoms which can feel extremely frustrating. We might have had the thought “I feel like I am doing everything right and eating all the foods I am supposed to be, but I still don’t feel great. What am I doing wrong?” Unfortunately, we can eat really well, but if our digestive fire is lacking we’re not able to break down and absorb the key nutrients we need from your food, thus leading to those pesky symptoms. Food is fuel for our bodies and cells, and it needs to be broken down into small enough pieces so that we can absorb and utilize the nutrients our food contains. So, I guess you could say we aren’t really what we eat, but more like what we absorb.
Igniting your digestive fire means that you are supporting your digestive system in ways that help it produce digestive enzymes and gastric juices that are important for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. Digestive enzymes like pancreatic amylase, pepsin, and lipase, as well as gastric juices like hydrochloric acid can become diluted due to lifestyle and dietary factors. These include age, excessive consumption of processed foods, certain medications, toxic fats like canola oil and margarine, excessive alcohol intake, vitamin B or zinc deficiencies, and chronic stress.
Signs You’ve Lost Your Digestive Fire
You’re having trouble digesting fatty foods
The breakdown of fat takes longer than both carbohydrates or proteins which is why it is such a satiating nutrient. The body relies most heavily on the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas for fat digestion. The liver produces bile that is stored in the gallbladder until it is ready to be released into the small intestine when fat is eaten. Poor fat digestion often presents itself as nausea after meals, greasy stools, or dry skin and hair, and could indicate that your liver or gallbladder could use support.
You’re experiencing common symptoms of hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)
Stomach acid is essential for neutralizing pathogens and breaking down your food into small enough pieces so that it can continue on throughout the digestive tract. Possible clues include frequent bloating or gas after meals, acid reflux or a diagnosis of GERD, chronic constipation, lack of hunger especially in the morning, chronic constipation, increased fatigue after meals, and nutrient deficiencies with an otherwise well-balanced diet.
The digestive system is complex and there is a lot of room for things to go wrong. It can feel overwhelming, but the good news is there are so many easy things you can do to start to ignite your digestive fire and improve your digestion.
Ignite Your Digestion
Be wary of drinking a lot of water too close to meals
Don’t get me wrong, staying hydrated is super important. In fact, dehydration is the most common deficiency in the United States. However, drinking too much water can dilute your stomach acid and thus decreases your ability to digest the meal you are eating. The best practice is to try to consume a majority of your water or beverages away from your meals to allow stomach acid to work as intended.
Chew your food fully to trigger your digestive enzyme production
The mechanical act of chewing helps to stimulate the release of digestive enzymes and sends signals further down the line to prepare for food. Ideally your food should be the texture of a smoothie before swallowing, as it essentially needs to be in liquid form before it can move from the stomach into the intestines. If you are not chewing fully your body needs to work harder to break down your food during this step, which might be difficult if you’re lacking stomach acid and gastric juices (your digestive fire).
Drink warm lemon water in the morning
Warm lemon water or 1-2 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar diluted in water before meals to wake up and stimulate the digestive system.
Eat bitter foods
Arugula, radishes, kale, dandelion greens, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Compounds in these bitter foods help to stimulate the liver, gallbladder, and bile production which helps to break down foods, especially fats. Digestive Bitters in supplement form are also an easy way to jumpstart digestion.
Eat zinc rich foods including shellfish, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, legumes, eggs and red meat. Zinc is involved in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body including production of pancreatic enzymes and the breakdown of food. Deficiencies in zinc could impair your ability to digest your food, leading to a whole cascade of other issues.
Our Digestive Fire curation was designed specifically to support individuals looking to improve their digestive fire. Looking for more individualized support? Consider scheduling a 1:1 consultation with one of our Curated Practitioners.
About the Author
Emily Alexander, M.Ed, FNTP—Emily is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with Curated Wellness. She is passionate about supporting others in their journey to improve their relationship with food and their body through gentle nutrition, and is a firm believer that understanding the bio-individual components of nutrition is one of the best ways to do so. Emily completed her Master’s of education in health education and promotion with a concentration in eating disorders, and draws from both her educational background and life experience to help her clients improve their energy, understand their bodies, boost their athletic potential, and break down diet myths one at a time. Read more about Emily.
The information presented on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Statements within this site have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any specific condition or disease, nor is it medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health conditions or concerns. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle change or new health program. Curated Wellness does not take responsibility for any health consequences of any person or persons following the information in this educational content.
2. Brugger D, Windisch W. Subclinical Zinc Deficiency Impairs Pancreatic Digestive Enzyme Activity and Digestive Capacity of Weaned Piglets. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016.