This week we’re kicking off our Eat to Replete series! For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on some nutrition basics that will help us use food for fuel.
With the amount of nutrition information found on the internet, it’s hard to know where to start if you’re wanting to make a few changes in your diet. My goal with this series is to simplify that information for you so you can apply the basics everyday and start to use food as medicine.
If you’ve searched the internet in hopes of learning what you should be eating, you probably came across information on tons of different diets that are popular today.
There’s Paleo, Keto, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Mediterranean, Atkins, and South Beach just to name a few. And while you might have some success if you try one of these diets, chances are somebody else won’t. This is because there is no “one size fits all” diet.
Each of us has a different genetic makeup and biochemistry. We live different lifestyles and are in different stages of life. Some of us may only be experiencing some symptoms, while others are battling a chronic condition.
Therefore, it is impossible that one diet can have the same positive effects on different people.
However, there is one thing that is the same for each and every one of us.
We eat food every single day and our bodies turn this food into fuel. This food also provides us with essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function.
So instead of focusing on which diet to follow in order to achieve your health goals, let’s start from the basics and learn about the path of food, from consumption to elimination.
Digestion Begins in the Mouth
Two forms of digestion begin as soon as your food enters your mouth.
The first is known as mechanical digestion, which takes place when you chew and break the food into smaller pieces. The second form is chemical digestion. This is when the food mixes with saliva and begins to soften. This ball-like mixture of food and saliva is known as a bolus.
Also, the digestion of carbohydrates begins in the mouth. While chewing, your salivary glands trigger the production amylase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates into smaller molecules.
In today’s society, many of us are on the go at all times. We don’t leave ourselves enough time to eat meals. This prevents us from being mindful and intentional while eating.
If you are rushing to get out the door in the morning, chances are you don’t chew your food very well. And since digestion starts in the mouth, if food is not chewed properly, it is not primed to make its way through the rest of your digestive tract.
Those tough, large pieces of food can cause issues further down the chain.
Too Much Acid or Too Little?
Moving on from the mouth, as you swallow, muscular contractions known as peristalsis push the bolus down the esophagus into the stomach.
Here in the stomach, the process of chemical digestion continues as the bolus comes in contact with hydrochloric acid, which further breaks up the mass of food. At this point, chyme, a semi-liquid mass of partially digested food and digestive secretions, forms.
Hypochlorhydria, or a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, is becoming increasingly common today. Age, various medications, eating too quickly, poor diet, and even stress can cause hypochlorhydria.
If there is insufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach, the digestion process is hindered once again. Because of this, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, etc. can occur.
By the way, did any of those terms sound familiar to you? That’s right, you’re probably thinking of a Pepto-Bismol commercial.
Typically when people experience these symptoms after eating, their first thought is to take antacids.
Many believe their issue is caused by too much acid in the stomach, when in reality, they are actually LACKING acid in the stomach. This lack of acid prevents proper digestion of food, which then causes the symptoms listed above.
Sometimes digestive issues get so bad that antacids no longer provide any relief. This is typically when doctors will prescribe a proton pump inhibitor medication, such as Prilosec.
The truth is, antacids and PPIs make hypochlorhydria worse by further preventing the production of this necessary stomach acid. Instead, there are digestive enzymes you can take to promote proper digestion while also promoting hydrochloric acid production.
You Are What You Absorb
After leaving the stomach, chyme moves into the small intestine.
The pancreas secretes bicarbonate to neutralize the acidic chyme. Then pancreatic enzymes, amylase, protease, and lipase further break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fat respectively.
Now major absorption of nutrients can begin.
The phrase “you are what you eat” is not completely true. Instead, the saying should be “you are what you absorb”, because many times, we are not able to fully absorb the nutrients we take in. This is where leaky gut comes in.
Everyone has leaky gut (otherwise known as intestinal permeability) to some degree. The lining of the intestine should be tight enough to only allow for absorption of nutrients.
However, when that lining becomes permeable due to toxic overload from poor diet, stress, and the environment, bacteria and parasites can be absorbed.
Also, if your food was not properly digested before entering the small intestine, undigested food particles can also be absorbed into the body. All of these are considered foreign to the body, and when they are absorbed, an immune response is activated.
Inflammation goes up.
For those of us with leaky gut, this occurrence is happening every time you eat, therefore inflammation never has a chance to come back down.
Toxic load in the body causes leaky gut, which then perpetuates the toxic load. It’s a vicious cycle.
When toxins are running rampant in your body, they are competing for the nutrients that your body is working to absorb and turn into fuel. The result is less absorption of nutrients for YOU, and more absorption for the toxins.
When you’re not able to absorb nutrients effectively, this affects various biochemical reactions happening in the body that require those nutrients. Also, nutrient deficiency can occur which may ultimately lead to many chronic diseases down the line.
What Happens in the Colon Should Stay in the Colon
Whatever is not absorbed in the small intestine moves into the large intestine (colon) as it prepares to be eliminated from the body.
Here lives a rich community of bacteria that is unique to the large intestine. These bacteria further breakdown what’s left through fermentation.
The result is gas as a byproduct and a solid formation that is ready to be eliminated as waste.
For some, the doorway that leads from the small intestine to the large intestine becomes compromised and is not able to fully close. This causes translocation (movement) of bacteria in the large intestine to the small intestine.
Remember, the bacteria in the large intestine should only be found in the large intestine. Therefore, this translocation in the small intestine results in SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Symptoms of SIBO can include abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. Many medications, including PPIs and corticosteroids may also cause SIBO.
Struggle to Eliminate
Once waste is fully formed in the large intestine, it is ready to exit the body. Ideally, we should be having 1-2 good bowel movements each day.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen for many of us.
Constipation is widespread in the United States. According to the NIH, approximately 4 million people in the US struggle with constipation. (1)
Many who experience constipation often look to laxatives or enemas to provide relief. Not only that, but Gastroenterologists commonly prescribe Miralax to keep patients regular.
While these may provide temporary relief, ultimately your body starts to become dependent on laxatives or enemas. Now your body is no longer able to produce a bowel movement on its own. Therefore, the problem is perpetuated.
As you can see, there are many things that can disrupt the process of digestion. If any part of the digestion process is hindered or negatively affected in any way, symptoms result.
Did you know there are natural ways to take your digestion and gut health to another level?
Once you understand the workings of your body, I can help you get clear on how to enhance absorption and eliminate excess toxins and waste to have a healthy metabolism.
You can get started with me today or stay tuned for the rest of this series. Next week I’ll be discussing macronutrients vs micronutrients, which are fundamental for good overall health.
To schedule a consult, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 678-335-5566.
I’ll see you next week!