By Holistic Nutritionist Lydia
A healthy gut is essential for wellbeing. Duh, right? It’s only something we’ve known about for 2,000 years! As the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates, famously said “All disease begins in the gut”. The opposite is also true: good health also starts with the gut.
To understand our gut better, we have to learn about the individual stages of our digestive system. Over the next five newsletters, I’m going to break down the digestive system into its key stages. I’ll discuss what happens at each stage of digestion, and why it all matters (yes, even the appendix). The aim: to help you understand how your gut works, and how to keep it healthy!
The 5 Stages of Digestion are:
- First up, the Mouth
- The Stomach
- The Liver, Gallbladder, and Pancreas
- The Small Intestine
- The Large Intestine and Appendix.
Before we jump into how digestion happens, let’s just remind ourselves of exactly WHAT digestion is. The purpose of digestion is to turn foods into nutrients that the body can use as fuel. Digestion breaks food down into its simplest forms so that it can enter the bloodstream. Digestion performs optimally when the body activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System known as “Rest and Digest”.So, how does it happen?
Our mouths have a lot of uses, but we mostly focus on the talking aspect. Well, I do at least! It runs in my family: you’d often catch my grandmother talking at length to some poor shopkeeper about the details of her 6ft2 granddaughter who was always disappointing at basketball (that’s me)!
You sometimes hear people say that drooling over food is impolite or in bad taste. In fact, to drool (or salivate) before eating, is the greatest gift you can give to the rest of your digestive tract! When you salivate over food your saliva contains an enzyme called Salivary Amylase. Enzymes are essential chemicals that exist all throughout the body that are released to break down chemicals (nutrients included) into their active form – to take action in the body! In this case, the enzymes in your saliva chemically breaks down carbohydrates so that they can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. So don’t worry about a bit of drool, because saliva is actually an important part of your digestive process!
While saliva creates a chemical process to help digestion, the mouth also helps digest food mechanically.
The mechanical digestion of the mouth is, of course, chewing! But if we’re too busy talking while eating or swigging down a smoothie on the run, this may not happen as effectively as the gut would like. Us nutritionists like you to “Chew your drink & drink you food”. What does this mean? Chew your food until it is unidentifiable as food – a paste! And if you are drinking anything that has nutrients – a smoothie or juice CHEW IT! Chewing tells the stomach “Something is coming, release acids!”.
We do not want any thing to make its way through the digestive tract undigested!
Now, unfortunately, a lot of what is eaten in today’s world is not “food” as the body would recognise it. But, just sitting down, taking a long breath in and out to activate “rest and digest” and chewing everything you place in your mouth is a great place to start.
The more time and energy you put into chewing and salivating, the easier the rest of your gut will have it. The stomach is the next to receive this food and to mechanically and chemically break its contents down into nutrients. Look forward to my next article to continue the journey…
Love Your Guts, Lydia x