Ever notice feeling tired right after a big meal? Do you love home-cooked chili but hate the impending gas? Gas and lethargy after eating are both symptoms. They do not have to be your normal.
If you can answer the following question, you have the know how to prevent annoying digestive symptoms. Question: Where does digestion occur?
A) your plate
B) your brain
C) your mouth
D) your stomach
E) your small intestine
Answer: F) all of the above! Digestion uses up a large percentage of your daily allotment of energy, some say up to 80%! This makes sense when you realize digestion is necessary for providing nutrients to every cell in the body.
Digestion occurs by two processes: mechanical and chemical. If you can enhance digestion in any of the categories below, you can free up some energy for other activities.
A) Your plate. Certain techniques can improve digestion before food even enters your body.
marinating. The acidity of a marinade (lemon juice, vinegar etc), especially for meat, helps break down dense proteins. You can also garnish meat with a lemon wedge for a drizzle of fresh citrus.
soaking & sprouting. Soaking and sprouting of grains, nuts, and seeds helps break down the hard outer shell that naturally protects plants from the elements but also keeps nutrients locked inside.
fermenting. Fermenting is the ultimate digestive aid. Fermented foods can be thought of as ‘pre-digested’ and living foods. Consuming fermented foods usually increases energy rather than drains energy.
stewing. Stewing or cooking something like dried bean allows an acidic broth, water, salt and other minerals to break down fibres and protein. One tip when cooking beans is to add a stick of dehydrated seaweed such as kombu to the simmering water or broth. Trace minerals are released from the seaweed which enhanced digestibility and add nutritional value.
Improve mechanical digestion by cutting up and eating smaller bites of food, either during meal prep (ex marinades, stir-fries) or on your plate.
B) Your brain, or thoughts. Have you ever thought about or smelled something yummy, and your mouth waters? That is saliva to help chemically break down food. Furthermore, the anticipation, sight, and smell of food signals your stomach to release numerous fluids, referred to collectively as ‘gastric juices.’ Ideally this will happen before your first bite of food. Between meals, stomach acid levels are low and not conducive to healthy digestion.
C) Your mouth. Chewing properly is possibly one of the easiest skills to learn for health and longevity. Learn to chew properly, and you can expect higher and more consistent energy levels, brighter skin and eyes, improved cognition – basically all bodily functions improve because nutrient levels improve and workload on your internal organs decreases.
Now that food has entered the body, different enzymes and fluids are involved in digesting each different macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats, protein). Chemical breakdown of carbohydrates begins in the mouth with the help of an enzyme in saliva.
Saliva is generated with the motion of chewing. This is why you want heed Gandhi’s advice and “Chew your drink…” especially for smoothies! With all that bulky fruit, vegetables, protein and fibre; your lower digestive organs can use the extra help.
Mechanical breakdown happens to varying degree in the mouth. Gandhi’s advice is chew each mouthful to a liquid-like consistency, hence “…drink your food.” Option B: chew minimally and swallow large chunks of food into your stomach. This creates more work for the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and intestine.
D) The stomach. Recall being really hungry, and your stomach grumbles? That grumbling is mechanical movement of stomach muscles. They are churning to help physically break food apart. Although when no food is present, you hear grumbling as stomach walls rub up against each other.
Chemically, the stomach’s role in digestion relates to protein. Gastric ‘juice’ is comprised mostly of acid which breaks large protein chains into smaller ones. Therefore if you often feel sluggish and tired after a high protein meal, or have any symptoms of protein deficiency, your stomach might be the culprit. Take pointers from A, B, and C above to take some stress off the stomach (hint: chewing thoroughly and eating mindfully can help!)
E) The small intestine and accessory organs are actually responsible for the majority of digestion. After a meal leaves your stomach, it enters the small intestine. This is where the digestion of fats occurs, and where proteins and starches are broken apart into their smallest forms to be picked up by the blood and sent to the liver. Among it’s 500+ functions, the liver is responsible for detoxification; excretion; and allocation of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for re-building or storage.
There you have it, digestion is not simply a task for your stomach and you don’t have to live with your stubborn indigestion or annoying symptoms. Awareness is the first step to feeling better, followed by education and then action.
Please feel free to ask questions about digestion in comments and one of the Holistic Nutritionists on our staff would be happy to provide information.
Thanks for reading!
Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Co-founder of Bites of Vitality
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