Digestion is far more complex than just putting food in your mouth, chewing, swallowing, and then eventually using the bathroom. The rate at which you eat, how thoroughly you chew you food, your mindset, positioning, and the food's actual structure ALL PLAY A ROLE in how your body can potentially respond regarding digestion.
Knowing that digestion seems to be a frequent topic of conversation lately with regards to optimizing the nutrients which we consume, I want to provide some basic yet often overlooked digestion tips.
Before I dive into the digestion details, I feel that it is important to specify what digestion is, where it occurs, and how.
Digestion is the process of breaking food down into substances which can be absorbed, assimilated, and transported throughout the body to aid in various bodily functions.
Digestion occurs in a three step process. The first step is called mechanical digestion. This occurs in the mouth during the act of chewing, when it is physically broken up into smaller pieces.
Once the food is chewed, and swallowed the 2nd step known as chemical digestion will begin to take place inside of the gastrointestinal tract. As food passes through the GI tract, it mixes with digestive juices, causing large molecules of food to break down into smaller molecules. The body then absorbs these smaller molecules through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream, which delivers them to the rest of the body. This process will continue as it makes it's way through the entire 26ft long GI tract. (The small intestine absorbs most digested food molecules, as well as water and minerals, and passes them on to other parts of the body for storage or further chemical change.) Eventually reaching its final destination; the last and final step of digestion, which would be excretion.
Now that we know (in simple terms) what digestion is, and how it occurs, I want to offer some tips on what you can do to IMPROVE yours.
(Please realize that I am not a doctor so these tips are based upon my own knowledge, experiences, and client experiences)
The body follows the mind. How you approach a meal, how you feel, and thoughts going through your head can all play a role in how your body handles nutrients. When sitting down to eat a meal; RELAX! Take a deep breath, your food isn't going anywhere. Use this time for yourself as a way to relieve stress. When you eat stressed out or on the run, the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” nervous system engages to address the stress which can activate muscles to “run for your life” and this significantly inhibits proper digestion. When you take time to relax during a meal, the parasympathetic nervous system turns on. This increased parasympathetic activity while relaxing and enjoying a meal encourages healthy and adequate digestion
Chew your food! Remember growing up when your parents or guardians told you to slow down and chew your food? THEY WERE RIGHT! By taking the time to chew your food you're able to increase saliva production in your mouth along with various enzymes and acids. Retro-Nasal Olfaction occurs during this time as well. By keeping food in your mouth for longer periods of time, you allow yourself to experience the various taste and smell of foods longer. This can lead one to experience the perceptions of fullness or satiety sooner rather than later. (Which can be helpful for those on low calorie diets)
Gastric Emptying. Knowing how quickly or slowly a nutrient source clears can make a world of difference with regards to your overall energy levels. Liquids clear faster than solids. Solids clear in the following order: Carbs, Protein, Fats, and Fiber. Which explains why a meal higher in protein/fats/fibrous veggies can leave you feeling fuller longer, and why carbohydrates and protein in liquid form has shown to yield beneficial results in the peri-workout window.
Body Positioning. Good posture can help alleviate stomach discomfort related to GERD or acid reflux. Slouching or lying down right after eating can encourage food to move back up and out of your stomach into your esophagus. Remaining upright and avoiding positions in which you’re leaning back for two to three hours after a large meal can minimize these effects. Try positioning yourself so that your spine is straight and your shoulders and hips should face forward.
Digestion will vary based upon individuals. Below I have listed a number of suggestions which may or can be used to help.
Digestive Enzymes- Help to breakdown nutrients and increase absorption in small intenstines
Magnesium- Every single cell in the human body demands adequate magnesium to function. Whether you are talking about a healthy nervous ,cardiovascular system, or digestive system magnesium can aid in improved functioning
Minimize processed foods
Keep stress to a minimum
Limit the use of NSAIDS (pain relievers)- Can reduce the mucous layer in the stomach, leading to lesions in the stomach and small intestinal tract walls.
Keep food journal of foods which cause distress
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St-Onge M-P, Farnworth ER, Jones PJ. Consumption of fermented and nonfermented dairy products: effects on cholesterol concentrations and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71:674-681. 2000. PMID:10702159.
Zubillaga M, Weill R, et al. Effect of probiotics and functional foods and their use in different diseases. Nutr Res. 2001;21:569-579. 2001
DISCLAIMER: Thomas Munck is not a doctor or registered dietitian. The contents of this document should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem - nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.