A look at digestion with Holistic Nutritionist, Alison Cowell

We work under the same roof as Alison from Healthy Eating and we often refer patients to her who are experiencing long term upset stomachs, indigestion, constipation and other digestive problems. As a Holistic Nutritionist, she knows all too well how our food can influence our overall health. So, as we were planning this column on digestion, I asked Alison if she could shed some light on the matter. Thanks Alison.

The human body is simply a series of cells waiting for nutrients, and we get those nutrients from the foods we eat. Simple, right? You know all about healthy eating and you make the best choices (most of the time!). So, the ‘fuel’ for your bodies ticks all the boxes, but what if you have digestive issues preventing the nutrients reaching your cells?  If your digestive ‘engine’ doesn’t work very well – neither do you! 

Poor digestion can lead to inflammation of the gut wall and may cause it to become ‘leaky’ so undigested proteins are absorbed into the blood stream. Your body doesn’t recognise these large proteins so may try and fight them with the immune system and start an inflammatory reaction. The inflammation may make food allergies more likely and is thought to be a factor in many health conditions including eczema, asthma, sinus, itchiness, acne, arthritis, migraines and even depression -  after all, 90% of serotonin (our feel-good brain chemical) is manufactured in the gut.

In over 11 years of practice here in Hawke’s Bay, I’ve found that the most common cause for digestive issues is food intolerances (and not always gluten!) but there are many other reasons too. Rather than keep treating the symptom, it’s much better to identify and address the cause.

Here are some common conditions and tips that can help,

Bloating and gas:

Ensure you chew your food thoroughly before you swallow.  Drink before or after your meal. Avoid high FODMAP fruits and veggies. Do not combine fruits with other food and do not have a fruit dessert until an hour after a meal.  


Sit up straight when you eat (unkink your tube!). Begin your evening meal with a few mouthfuls of raw food to stimulate your digestive juices. Try 2 tsps apple cider vinegar in warm water 20 minutes before your meal. Have 1tsp bicarbonate of soda in water.

Tummy aches: 

Identify food intolerances. Avoid any green discolouration in potatoes and chips as they contain toxins called glykoalkaloids which can seriously interfere with digestion. Avoid sprouted potatoes for the same reason. Be aware of your portion sizes and don’t overload your plate (your stomach is about the size of your fist)


Increase your fibre intake and be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Try taking a magnesium supplement and a probiotic.


1 tsp of slippery elm powder in a little warm water.  Avoid any foods you are intolerant to.

Avoid having foods and drinks that are either very hot or very cold because you may cause damage to your digestive tract 

Ongoing digestive issues should not be ignored.  Keeping a food and symptom diary can be useful to highlight potential food culprits and digestive patterns. In my Healthy Eating clinic at Ahuriri pharmacy I offer a number of tests to check for food intolerances, as well as a comprehensive health and nutrition assessment which includes digestive health.



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