Nutrition 101: Digestion
Welcome to the second installment of my Nutrition 101 Blog Series, where I share with you the core of my nutrition education.
In the first blog in the series, I discussed the importance of a properly prepared, nutrient dense diet as the most important pillar of optimal health.
In this post, I’m describing DIGESTION as the second pillar of optimal health. When I ask people what words they think of when we talk about nutrition, they usually say food, vitamins, minerals, etc. Even though they usually don’t mention digestion, I believe that it’s the second most important component of good nutrition behind REAL food, because you are what you eat, digest and absorb.
Digestion is defined as the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food, and it’s goal is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells in your body. Here’s what you should know about digestion, in a nutshell…
Digestion in the BRAIN. The sight and smell of food tells your brain to trigger the production of saliva, with starts to break down food, particularly carbohydrates. Digestion takes place when you’re in a calm and RELAXED state. If you are stressed, your body will shut down digestion to prioritize survival. So stop eating in the car, looking at a screen, fighting with your spouse during meal time! Instead, light a candle, put on some music, take some deep breaths, or say a prayer.
Digestion in the MOUTH. In the mouth, saliva moistens food to help with swallowing, and your teeth break down food into smaller pieces so that your stomach does not have to work so hard. Your food then passes through the esophagus into the stomach, where the break down of protein begins.
Digestion in the STOMACH. The stomach continues the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food, particularly protein. In order for proteins to be broken into amino acids, the stomach needs the proper amount of hydrochloric acid (HCl). This stomach acid also protects the body of any pathogens you might ingest.
Digestion in the SMALL INTESTINE. The contents of the stomach then move into the small intestine, where they are bathed in enzymes and bicarbonates. Digestive enzymes released from the pancreas also help to digest food. Bile, which is stored in the gall bladder, helps to break down fats. The breakdown of food into nutrients continues until they are small enough to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. These nutrients then travel through the blood stream to be used as needed by your body.
Digestion in the LARGE INTESTINE. Finally, the leftovers enter the large intestine (or colon), where water is recycled, waste is processed, and excess nutrients are captured. The remaining waste is eliminated through the anus as stool.
Digestion is a NORTH TO SOUTH process. This means that any trouble in the northern regions (i.e., the brain or mouth) is likely to spell trouble for the southern regions (i.e., the stomach and intestines). So if you’re eating under stress and not chewing your food well, then your stomach might have problems breaking down the food, maybe resulting in gas and bloating.
That’s it folks! Not too complicated, but if you remember nothing else about digestion, here’s the BIG IDEA: You are what you eat, digest and absorb, which means you MUST digest & break down the food if you want optimal nutrition and health.
3 THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR BETTER DIGESTION.
- Eat in a relaxed state. Take 3 deep breaths and give thanks for your food and your blessings. Eat slowly and mindfully, enjoying with all your senses your food.
- Chew 30 times. I know, this is a lot of chewing, but it really works! If you don’t want to count, then just chew until it’s the consistency of applesauce!
- Ensure adequate levels of stomach acid. If you are experiencing digestive symptoms such as bloating or gas, loss of taste for meat, or excess sense of fullness after meals, you may need to increase your stomach acid. You could start with some Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar. Just dilute 1 tablespoon in 1/2 cup of water, and drink before each meal. Or you might consider a supplement if that’s easier. Please see me for a full evaluation so that we can find just the right supplement for you!
Digestion is so fundamental to nutrition and good health, but is a commonly ignored part of health care. Please make sure that your digestion optimal and not getting in the way of your best health!