In my view, even if you smoke or are obese, the food you put into your mouth is the most important factor to determine your overall health. If you eat well your health improves; if you eat badly, your health deteriorates. Simple.
Well it should be simple but food and nutrition have become complicated over the last century. When we “process” food it can become difficult or impossible to digest. Add to that these other factors – we now eat foods that are not from our evolutionary diet, foods are often genetically modified, traditional food preparation has been replaced with super-fast methods and in many instances, cookery skills have been lost. Probably the most important is learning to cook from scratch using tried and trusted traditional methods and starting with the best ingredients, preferably organically produced.
We eat because we need nutrients which our bodies convert to compounds which are used in the hundreds of body processes that go on every second of our lives. Even if the food is the best, we still have to absorb and utilize these nutrients – and therein lies the rub!
Nutrition is not just filling our stomachs with any old food or a few vitamin tablets. Nutrition encompasses all of the following – the correct food being chewed, swallowed, digested (see below) absorbed and utilized. When any of these stages are omitted either within our control or without it, proper nutrition is forfeited. Let me explain.
When we anticipate or smell food, already our bodies begin preparation for digestion. We salivate, our stomachs rumble which indicates that the digestive juices are being produced. This enables various digestive enzymes to do their work before the next stage can commence.
Chewing food begins the digestion of carbohydrates and it is made more liquid. This is necessary if all nutrients are to be extracted. Swallowing begins the muscular wave (peristalsis) throughout the intestines to push food to the next stage of digestion. When food enters the stomach, protein is broken down by the hydrochloric acid contained in the digestive juices. The enzymes present continue the digestion of carbohydrates and begin the break-down of fats and proteins. When this is achieved, the small intestine continues the process using bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas. Providing there is no disease in the small intestine, many nutrients and water are absorbed here. As the process continues into the large intestine, more fluid is absorbed and some of the B vitamins are created. The end of the scenario is a trip to the loo! This removes that which cannot be digested and other unneeded substances.
As you can see, there are many stages to digestion – which means that there are many ways for things to go awry. The food you eat makes the enzymes, saliva and gastric juices, so if your diet is poor, the situation moves from bad to worse.
Addressing the stages -
In the mouth: If teeth are bad, the mouth is sore, dentures are poorly fitting, food may be poorly chewed or even avoided altogether.
In the stomach: Too little acid, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), ulceration of the stomach lining, frequent heartburn or a hiatus hernia and many more conditions can interfere with the initial break down of foods. This is especially true of vitamin B12.
In the small intestine: Food insufficiently digested in the stomach will be problematic, poor microbial mix or insufficient beneficial bacteria, Crohn’s and celiac disease, duodenal ulceration, poor bile and pancreatic enzyme production and other diseases and insufficiencies will produce incomplete digestion here.
The large intestine: Diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (IBD), poor muscle tone (from years of the wrong diet), insufficient good bacteria, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will all disrupt the final stages of digestion.
There are all sorts of ways that we can become mal-nourished, even in our land of plenty. Of course, if there was nothing you could do about it, I wouldn’t be writing this! There is plenty you can do to optimise your nutrition.
- Choose the best food you can afford and learn how to cook it. (This book is an excellent start!) I won’t go into the minutiae of as there is lots of advice in my other blogs.
- Ensure your teeth are in good condition.
- Eat slowly. Chew thoroughly and don’t drink much with food as this dilutes the needed acid in the stomach. People who suffer indigestion and GERD should not drink half an hour before or an hour after meals.
- Eat fermented foods sometimes – sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt.
- Practice relaxation. Stress is very damaging on the digestive system at every stage.
- Ensure that meal times are just that. Make time to sit down and enjoy your food. I absolutely believe in chatting over a meal as this slows things down and is conducive to good digestion and not overeating.
- When you first feel the urge to go to the loo, please go! Putting it off is damaging to the muscle tone of the bladder and the rectum.
There has to be at least one thing you can do to improve your digestion. One step at a time..