7 Habits for Optimal Digestion

Sadly, the modern diet has introduced a plethora of digestive issues, and it’s amazing how these discomforts, both minor and severe, can greatly impact one’s health, sense of well-being, and quality of life. The paleo-based Dr. Brown Diet does much more than promote a healthy weight. Adhering to the following biochemically correct suggestions can reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, optimize metabolic function, and finally, promote proper digestion.

1. Hydrate Adequately:

Hydration plays such a critical role in the body’s ability to properly digest food. Water keeps waste moving through the intestines by keeping the stool soft and lubricating the digestive tract. Like most experts, Dr. Brown suggests drinking 8 (8 oz) glasses of water a day as a general guideline. Spring water bottled directly at its source into glass containers is ideal, and Mountain Valley Spring water is a great go-to brand.

It’s important to note that alcohol is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, so it is best avoided or consumed only occasionally and with caution. Coffee and tea in excess can also have a dehydrating effect on the body, so Dr. Brown suggests limiting their intake to 2 cups a day before noon. Organic is best.1

2. Choose Foods Wisely: 

On our site, we spend a lot of time discussing which foods to eat and which foods to avoid for optimal overall health, but in the following paragraphs I will describe how each food group affects digestion specifically.

  • Foods to Eat:
    • Animal protein: Proteins contain the building blocks necessary for many physiological functions in the body including growing and repairing muscle, oxygenating the blood, and boosting immunity, just to name a few. In regards to digestion specifically, protein is necessary for the production of the digestive enzymes necessary for the break down of food.2 Animal protein has better digestibility and usability than other sources of protein, among other benefits, making it the staple protein source recommended in the Dr. Brown diet. Remember to look for “organic, grass-fed meat,” “organic, pasture-raised poultry and eggs,” and “wild-caught fish.”3
    • Vegetables: Vegetables contain fiber, which promotes regular bowel movements, phytonutrients, which reduce inflammation, and digestive enzymes, which help break down food. Eating fresh veggies is best, with frozen as an adequate second choice. Avoid canned, and remember to always buy organic when possible.4
    • Fruit: Like vegetables, fruit contains beneficial fiber, phytonutrients, and enzymes. However, due to the sugar content of fruit and the speed at which it breaks down, food pairing and timing are important factors to consider, which is further discussed in the food pairing section below. For optimal nutrition and fiber, eat fruit in its most natural state. Organic is always best. Fresh, or frozen as a second choice, is preferred over canned, juiced, or dried. While dried fruit is high in fiber and commonly considered helpful for digestion, Dr. Brown suggests to avoid it due to its concentrated sugar content.5
    • Nut and Seed Butters/Flours: Nuts are a good source of fiber, however, due to their hard texture, they can irritate the intestinal tract. Hence, Dr. Brown recommends eating nut butters and flours instead. Raw, sprouted, and organic is best.6
    • Healthy Fats & Oils: Contrary to popular belief, many components of fat, including cholesterol and saturated fatty acids, actually play a critical role in digestion when obtained from healthy sources such as flax oil or pasture butter. For example, cholesterol is the precursor to bile which is necessary for the break down of fats, and saturated fats are involved in the process that results in muscle contraction within the gastrointestinal tract, a necessary function for proper digestion.7 For greater detail on this subject, read the blog post titled “Fats and Oils: What’s the Skinny?”
  • Foods to Avoid:
    • Grains:  Grains, as well as legumes, nuts, and seeds, have several issues that affect digestive health. First of all, these foods often contain GMOs which in and of themselves are suspected to cause gut problems. They also contain what is referred to as “anti-nutrients” including phytic acid, which affects mineral absorption, enzyme inhibitors, which block enzyme function, and lectins, which cause inflammation. Lectins are proteins that bind with carbohydrates and stick to the walls of the intestine and damage the villi. These small, finger-like projections are responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food and transporting them to the bloodstream. Diets rich in anti-nutrients, especially lectins, can ultimately lead to leaky gut syndrome where the villi are completely destroyed and waste products wind up in the bloodstream, a condition that has been linked to various autoimmune diseases.8
    • Legumes: Legumes, especially beans, are widely known to be difficult to digest given the gas and discomfort they often produce. According to the Weston A. Price foundation, this is due to their high starch content and the presence of complex sugars that often end up in the intestines mostly undigested and then ferment.9 Therefore, Dr. Brown generally suggests to avoid all legumes. Soybeans are probably the most problematic due to their negative effect on hormones within the body, so soy products should be particularly avoided as diligently as possible.10
    • Whole Nuts and Seeds: Along with their hard texture, nuts and seeds also contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with the function of important digestive enzymes such as trypsin, for example, whose role is to break down proteins.
    • Dairy: Due to over-processing, dairy products at a typical grocery store are highly allergenic for most people and cause similar gut issues that the above food groups cause. Cow dairy is especially allergenic because the proteins are very foreign to our bodies and therefore difficult to digest. The proteins found in goat and sheep dairy, however, are more similar to those found in human breastmilk and often are better tolerated. Raw and unprocessed goat and sheep dairy is best as the naturally occurring enzymes are still present to aid in digestion. To read more on this subject, read the recent blog post titled “The Scoop on Dairy.”
    • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are not recognized by the body and therefore can slow down the entire process of digestion. For this reason among others, Dr. Brown suggests avoiding them completely.
    • Sugar: Sugary foods can cause havoc to many systems in the body, and the gastrointestinal system is one of them. The sugar content in refined foods such as breads, rice, pasta, pies, cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream, soda, doughnuts, brownies, as well as white potatoes can lead to digestive problems such as distention and gas, especially when paired with certain other food groups.11

3. Pair Foods Synergistically:

Certain combinations of food can optimize digestion while others may lead to digestive disturbances. For instance, animal protein should be eaten alongside non-starchy vegetables because the enzymes in these vegetables help to break down the protein in the meat.

On the other hand, fruit (and other sugary foods) should not be eaten with protein. Proteins take much longer to digest than fruit and when paired together, the body focuses on breaking down the proteins first. In the meantime, the sugar (from the fruit or other foods) can ferment and can cause a myriad of problems including gas and bloating.

Similarly, when starch and protein are eaten together, the body once again prioritizes the digestion of the protein and a halt is put on the production of digestive enzymes for the starches, resulting in partially digested starches entering the intestines. Partially digested food can lead to digestive discomfort as well as that tired, sluggish feeling that’s so common after a big meal. This article does an excellent job explaining this topic in further detail.

4. Pattern Meals Carefully:

Dr. Brown suggests eating meals consisting of meats, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). In between meals, healthy, unprocessed snacks should be eaten every two hours to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Fruit is best eaten in between meals as a snack.

Eat at similar times each day and stick to a diet that consists of similar foods on a regular basis. When you develop and stick to a predictable eating pattern, the body naturally gets into a rhythm and can actually begin to make digestive enzymes before you eat in anticipation of the upcoming meal. This head start can improve the overall process and result in more complete digestion.11

5. Drink Water Methodically:

Contrary to what is customary, water should actually be consumed in between meals for optimal digestion. Drinking water with your meal dilutes digestive enzymes and stomach acids which in turn hinders the process of breaking down the food. Also, drinking cold water with your meal adds another delay in digestion in that the body must first expend energy to heat up the water to body temperature. So as a general rule, it is best to drink water 20 minutes before a meal and to wait at least 1 hour after before drinking more.12

6. Chew Food Mindfully:

Proper digestion starts in the mouth. Purpose to eat slowly and carefully to adequately chew the food. This simple mechanical tip can have a big impact on the entire process.

7. Move Regularly:

A sedentary lifestyle can have a negative impact on your digestive system. On the other hand, regular moderate exercise strengthens the muscles of your digestive tract and makes them more efficient. It can even relieve constipation by stimulating these muscles during exercise and moving things along. That being said certain precautions must be taken to avoid possible digestive disturbances during or after exercise, such as waiting 2-3 hours after a big meal before exercising and increasing water intake while you exercise to avoid dehydration.13

So in summary, the Dr. Brown Diet, is more than just an eating plan that might help you shed a few pounds, although weight management is a nice, natural by-product. Instead, it is a comprehensive approach to healthy living where each suggestion is carefully determined and backed in science. I hope this post provides valuable insight and gives you even more reasons to commit to a paleo-based lifestyle! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.

In health,



Kristen Barkley
Kristen Barkley
Kristen is a happily married mom to four beautiful and active children and is the co-founder of Marpé Wellness. She has a BBA in Marketing from the University of Houston and completed extensive coursework in the areas of nutrition and fitness. She is excited to be putting her education to use in an industry that she is passionate about where she can help others live a healthier and happier life.

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