When you eat a meal, or even just a snack a glorious process begins: first just even by thinking about food we start the process of digestion by producing saliva in our mouths. Saliva is important to breakdown carbohydrates before hitting the stomach. Chewing also helps the breakdown and gives the food increased area to have enzymes work on it.
In the stomach, these processes cause hydrochloric acid to be produced which further breaks down the proteins in the food getting it ready for absorption in the intestine.
Now it's absorption time! All these previously broken down proteins and carbohydrates are further broken down by another set of enzymes and absorbed by the small intestine. In a perfect gut all the nutrients from our food would be absorbed here and very little would travel to the large intestine except for fiber and undigestable products. Water would be reabsorbed in the large intestine and the bacteria naturally present in the large intestine would break down parts of the fiber and produce certain vitamins needed for the body.
Unfortunately, many of the things we do in day to day life sabotage this process.
- Eating without thought or eating on the run: when we eat like this we are starting off on the wrong foot! The food that we eat is not digested well in the mouth or in the stomach because we haven't given the time to produce the substances needed for digestion. We probably don't chew, and worst of all we are usually stressed! Stress basically shuts down digestion, leaving far too much food for the bacteria in the gut and can cause bloating, pain and gas.
- Eating far too many carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are very prevalent in our North American diets. Unfortunately, carbohdrates alone have very little in the way of nutrients and mostly just contain energy in the form of glucose or other sugars. This starts the blood sugar into roller coaster swings and keeps you feeling hungry all day, no matter how much you eat because your body is still craving those vitamins and minerals that are not being eaten. High carbohydrate diets also cause the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast in the gut and can cause many other health problems.
- Drinking a liter of water with a meal: Water, although a great thing to have a lot of, should not be consumed with meals in large amounts. Water dilutes the acid in the stomach and the enzymes used for digestion, making digestion less efficient.
- Grazing: Eating small amounts all day has been touted as a great way to lose weight. Unfortunately, it is not really what our bodies were built to do. Do you think that cavemen ever were out hunting and just grabbed some berries, then ate a squirrel and then ate some grains? Probably instead they went out hunting and came back with their game to share with their families. By giving time between meals we allow for normal waves of contractions to move down the gut, clearing it out and also gives time for production of more enzymes and digestive substances.
- Drink a hot lemon water 15 minutes before you eat to increase digestive juices
- Spend 30 seconds quietly enjoying the smell and sight of your food before chowing down.
- Sit down when you eat and focus on chewing 20-40 times per bite. Don't eat rushed and make time to enjoy your meals.
- Drink only small amounts of liquid with your meals
- Enjoy mostly vegetables with protein. Small amounts of grains, nuts, dairy and fats are great too.
- Plan to have 3-4 meals per day. Try to have 12 hours fasting overnight.
- Put 2/3 of what you think you want on your plate. When finished take at least 10 minutes before getting seconds.
- Take a probiotic. Getting extra healthy bacteria can drastically improve digestive symptoms as well as immune function and overall health