Today I want to get back to the very basics of nutrition and talk about digestion! It’s one of those processes that’s always going on, even though we rarely consciously think about it. I want to talk about the basics of this process because I think the knowledge could empower you to better understand your own body.
Why is digestion important?
We can’t live well without absorbing all of the carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients we need from food.
When the digestive system is out of balance, we can become less efficient at breaking down food and absorbing what we need from it. This can lead to not-so-fun symptoms like nausea, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. If this goes on for a long time, nutrient deficiencies and unintended weight loss can also result – along with the whole slew of issues that comes along with malnutrition.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of causes of damage to the digestive system. Everything from stress, chronic diseases, infections, activity, and diet can play a huge role in digestive health.
How does digestion work?
The digestive process begins as soon as we see, smell, or even think about food. We salivate to get ready for swallowing and begin to break down a small amount of carbohydrates as soon as food enters our mouths.
Once we swallow, food travels through the esophagus and into the stomach. In the stomach, food is combined with acid and enzymes that break down our food a little bit more.
Once our food reaches the first 100 centimeters of the small intestine, there’s instantly a ton of activity. Just the presence of food in this area leads to the secretion of powerful digestive enzymes (from the pancreas) and bile (from the liver) that helps us break down food and absorb nutrients. As our food travels through the small intestine, almost all of the macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein), vitamins, minerals, and fluids are absorbed.
Our colons help absorb what’s left of the fluids and nutrients before we form stool to get rid of what we don’t need. Fiber, as well as some sugars and amino acids, are fermented in the colon with the help of our gut bacteria. Fermentation can cause gas but it also leads to the production of beneficial short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help keep our digestive tracts running smoothly.
Healthy belly tips:
After reviewing what’s actually going on inside of us, I hope you find it simpler to implement some of my best tips for improving digestion.
Keep in mind that these tips are geared toward a generally healthy person. We’ll be talking about tips for specific ailments in upcoming posts or you can set up a consult with me if you’d like personalized recommendations.
- Diet and lifestyle have a huge impact on how well the digestive system works. Drinking enough water and exercising regularly are two simple actions we can take to improve digestion.
- Increasing fiber from plant foods is another way to support your body’s digestive system. Fiber helps bind and excrete toxins and provides food for our healthy gut bacteria. Be gentle when increasing fiber intake though – large increases can mess with your system and there are times when a decrease in fiber intake is actually necessary.
- “Drink your solids and chew your liquids” I’m not sure where this saying originated but I think it’s really helpful! By chewing your food well and drinking liquids slowly, you can give your digestive system a chance to prepare for the incoming food. Remember digestion begins in the mouth, so be sure to give it a chance to do it’s digestive thing!
- You can also help yourself out by spreading out meals and snacks. This also gives your digestive system ample time to do it’s thing.
- Your (emotional) stress levels also play a big role in healthy digestion. Remember to spend sometime doing whatever it is that makes you feel alive and free!
(Krause Nutrition textbook was also referenced to write this post and is recommended for more information on the topic.]
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