Eating is only the first step in the digestive process. The actual eating of food is the easy part, but to actually receive nourishment and benefit from food requires a little more consideration. Let’s explore the digestive system and its processes.
he purpose of the digestive system is to extract nutrients from food. In order to do this, food must be broken down into smaller and smaller parts for use by our bodies. A host of bodily organs and functions are involved in this task. The bodies’ digestive process is initiated when we first smell and taste food and salivary glands in the mouth begin secreting digestive enzymes that will mix with and begin breaking down the food. The chewing process itself is important for mechanically breaking down the food and making it more readily exposed to digestive juices in the stomach. After the chewing process, food passes down the esophagus into the stomach where it is churned and further mixed with digestive juices and acids. Next the food enters the small intestine where the bulk of nutrients are absorbed. Bile that has been produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, and enzymes and insulin produced by the pancreas are released and begin to break down carbohydrates into sugars, fats into fatty acids and proteins into amino acids for use by the body. At the same time, these juices and enzymes begin to extract micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Friendly bacteria in the small intestine and throughout the digestive system also play an important role in this process. Healthy flora bacteria enhance the performance of enzymes and vice versa. After passing through the small intestine this processed food then moves into the large intestine or colon where it is held until elimination.
Food itself can be placed in four basic categories: Carbohydrates, Fiber, Proteins, and Fats. Carbohydrates are the bodies’ energy source and come in the form of simple, complex, and fiber. Simple carbs are basically sugar such as that found in fruit. They break down quickly and are easily absorbed. Complex carbs such as in whole grains break down more slowly. Either way, carbs are broken down into glucose and the pancreas produces insulin to help the body use the glucose as energy or store it as fat. Fiber can be thought of as soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in the digestive tract and forms a thick gel that can help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. This fiber also acts as a sponge and absorbs toxins throughout the digestive process and acts as a food source for healthy bacteria in the gut. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve and therefore adds bulk to the feces for better elimination. It also helps to literally scrape clean the walls of the small and large intestine. Next are proteins, which are the basic building blocks of the body for everything from bones, skin, hair etc. Of the 21 amino acids necessary for protein utilization, the body can make all but 8. If a protein does not already contain these 8, they will have to be obtained from other food sources in the diet. Fats come in the forms of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and artificially hydrogenated. Saturated fats such as those found in animal fats and tropical oils have as many hydrogen atoms as they can hold. Monounsaturated fats from foods like olive oil and avocados have only one hydrogen atom. Polyunsaturated fats, which include Omegas 3 and 6, from food sources like hemp hearts and sunflower, have more than one and less than four hydrogen atoms. Partially hydrogenated or trans fats are fats that have hydrogen atoms artificially introduced into them and are considered to be very detrimental to human health. Lastly, food is made up of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and probiotics that play vital roles in every aspect of our bodies.
There are many things that irritate the digestive system and hinder absorption. The short list is things like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and artificial ingredients, medications, artificially hydrogenated fats, genetically modified foods, and foods that have been pasteurized, refined and processed to the point of almost being sterile. Any combination of these things or more can set the stage for unpleasant and uncomfortable digestion and ineffective absorption. A misfiring digestive system can lead to things like food allergies, food intolerance, gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, leaky gut syndrome and potentially cancer especially in the colon. The body will attempt to digest and absorb whatever is put into it. If there is excessive alcohol and caffeine or things like chemical-laden foods, the liver will be working overtime to filter out these toxins and have little time to properly participate in healthy digestion. A diet high in trans fats and highly processed foods will have few healthy enzymes and bacteria in the gut for proper digestion. If the diet is mainly simple sugars, the pancreas will work overtime to assimilate the glucose and there will be the potential for diabetes. Now here is an interesting take on this subject. It is actually possible to be overweight and be extremely undernourished. A person could actually get more than there need of calories and sugars that are being stored as fat and be overweight, yet lack vital nutrients such as protein, healthy fatty acids, enzymes, and vitamins and minerals.
Healthy digestion and absorption starts with healthy food. Raw food contains the most nutrients and the highest levels of healthy enzymes. The higher the level of enzymes, the less work there is for the pancreas. Organic food is even better because it has higher levels of nutrients yet has lower levels of chemical toxins that could interfere with digestion and absorption and tax the liver. Foods high in fiber aid in digestion, help clean the digestive system, and speed elimination. Unrefined and unprocessed foods that are not artificial and laden with chemicals are, quite simply, easier on the digestive system and make for a much more comfortable digestive experience. Foods with healthy fats such as Omega 3 and 6 are more easily digested and provide far more benefit than trans fats for example. Complete proteins do not require the production of amino acids or additional amino acids for digestion and are more easily absorbed.
Choosing raw over processed, chemical free over chemical laden, high fiber over low fiber, healthy fats over trans fats, complex carb over simple carb, and complete protein over incomplete protein could help to point you in the direction of a healthy comfortable digestive experience with maximum absorption.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains