Digestion for Health

Digestion and the issues that go with it are a major concern for many people – and for good reason.  Good digestion is equivalent to good health and if this system is in good working order, so is your metabolism.

Unfortunately many people are bogged down with issues in this area, often due to consumption of processed foods, genetically modified grains, and even stress from today's fast paced lifestyle. So, can holistic nutrition help this all important body function?

How Digestion Works

Digestion starts in the mouth while you are chewing your food.  Saliva contains enzymes such as amylase, which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates.  For this process to work its best, the food must be ground (or chewed) and mixed with the saliva.

Next the food passes to the stomach where the food is being broken down further, into a substance called chyme.  Here, the food molecules are being broken down by gastric juices which contain gastric lipase, which breaks down fats, and pepsin, which breaks down proteins into the smaller amino acids.

Once complete, the chyme moves to the small intestine where most of the digestive process takes place.  Enzymes secreted into the small intestine by the pancreas further break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Nutrient molecules are passed through the intestinal wall to the bloodstream while waste is on its way out (hopefully). 

This entire area is also known as the enteric nervous system, or the second brain.  Research (1) show us that this network of nerves not only aids in digestion, but influences moods and mediates the immune system.

Foods that Help and Hinder Digestion

  • Foods that are high in fat or fried are unhealthy for the digestive process.  They are extremely difficult to break down as they overburden the body with too much fat at one time.
  • Dairy foods are proving to be harmful for many.  This may be due to the fact that as we get older, we lose our ability to digest dairy.
  • Soy is more harmful than many people think.  Often this is a food that is highly processed (such as tofu), contains and overabundance of plant estrogens, and is the source of bloating and stomach problems for many adults.
  • Fresh, organic fruits are easier to digest and considered nature's natural body cleansing food.  They are high in water and vitamins that are easily digestible due to the lightness of the fiber.
  • Vegetables are high in fiber and help the body sweep the intestinal tract of debris and other buildup.  Eaten slightly cooked may be more helpful while one is building the digestive system.
  • Raw saurkraut and other raw, fermented foods contain essential probiotics.  They are shown to be extremely beneficial to aid and heal digestive issues.

Using a diet based in  holistic nutrition can aid digestion for many.  Try to eat foods whole and as unprocessed as possible and organic.  Do not overeat proteins and grains as this can burden and tax the digestive process.  And as always, take care of your body and it will take care of you.