What is Digestion?
Digestion is the process of breaking down food into small particles that are absorbed by the body and use for energy and several body functions.
There are three different stages requires for digestions. It starts with the Cephalic stage, called the head phase.
Here, it starts before food even enters to the mouth. The smell, the taste, visuals and the thought of particular food will activate saliva in our mouth and wake up digestive juices that contain enzymes to break down the food.
When food enters the mouth, our teeth will chew and grind the food and mix it with saliva for moisture the food and easy entry into the digestive tract. During this time, various enzymes including salivary amylase will begin to break down the long chain of starch in food such as bread, potatoes, pasta.
Once the food has been swallowed it will be carried down the oesophagus (the tube in the body that carries food) towards the stomach. In the stomach, the food gets mixed with the various stomach’s acidic digestive juices and various enzymes. Food can remain in the stomach for a few minutes or several hours. When the food has been churned into a chyme, (known as a creamy mixture) the pyloric sphincter opens and allows the chyme gradually pass into the small intestine.
The Small Intestine
Phase 2. That’s where digestion and absorption of fats, protein, and carbohydrates happens. There are other organs that get involved in the digestive process. The gall bladder provides bile salts to make fats easier to absorb. The pancreas provides bicarbonate to neutralise the acidic chyme as well as produces further digestion. The cells that makeup of the small intestine wall, also produce digestive enzymes to digest food and they help to neutralise the acid.
The Large Intestine
Phase 3. The large intestine is about 1.5m long and contains over 400 different species of bacteria waiting to break down the remains of undigested food in the small intestine which mostly is dietary fibres. The fibre mixes with other watery contents in the large intestine and then gets excreted from the body in the form of faeces.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Foods that are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and should be eaten as often as possible such as whole grains and leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, peas, seeds and nuts.
Why whole foods are important in our diet?
Whole foods are the food which is very close to their natural state without modification and alteration.
For example, walnuts are whole food which can be eaten straight from the walnut tree. However, walnut milk isn’t a whole food as it has been processed into milk.
Whole foods retain all their natural nutritional value, especially when eaten raw i.e. carrots, cucumbers, bananas, apples, melons etc. Some food such as legumes, beans, potatoes, tomatoes are still considered whole food although they require to be cooked. Some of their nutritional values will be lost through the cooking process (heating, baking, steaming) but still will remain more than enough of their nutrient value to support our health.
Certain foods like tomatoes are great to consume in both forms raw and cooked. When consumed raw, we benefit from vitamin C and when consumed cooked although the vitamin C will be destroyed, we will still benefit from phytonutrient lycopene which is abundant in great amount in cooked tomatoes.
Whole foods are extremely important to be included in our daily consumption. They contain fibre, vitamins and minerals. Fibre aids the movement of food through the gut.
A diet that is rich in fibre, may greatly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer or heart disease. We should also avoid eating processed food as these foods contain a large number of preservatives, additives and saturated fats. They have little nutritional value and often do not contain fibre
Why excess protein is difficult to digest?
Because high protein food doesn’t contain fibre and it’s difficult to digest. Indigested food sits in the intestines for a very long time and feeds unhealthy bacteria. In order to remove the waste, we need fibre to eliminate it. A diet that’s rich in meat is common for this problem because meat doesn’t contain any fibre
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
- Abdominal pain
- Belching and gas
- Heart burning sensation
- Acidic taste
- Possibly nausea and vomiting
How does stress affect our digestive system?
Stress can upset the balance of digestion as well as affect the nerves of the digestive system which could lead to slowing down of the process of digestion. This could cause constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and even develop peptic ulcers, IBS, and pain.
How can prolonged stress affect our body?
To stress for a short duration is okay as it may even be beneficial for us. It’s there to alarm us in terms of danger and help us to react accordingly.
However, modern lifestyle tends to stress people on regular basis producing ongoing stress. Stress means elevated cortisol levels on an ongoing basis. If cortisol is high at all times, the adrenal glands will become exhausted by producing high levels of cortisol on an ongoing basis. This will cause the adrenal glands to be depleted and will stop producing a high level of cortisol when it’s most needed
How can indigestion be prevented?
Avoid food and beverages that contain a high amount of caffeine and sugar. Eat small portions of meals and eat often at regular intervals.
Avoid exercising on a full stomach. For smokers: quit smoking, or don’t smoke just before the meal and straight after the meal.
The last meal should be eaten 3-4 hours before going to bed and sleeping with your head elevated at 6 inches plus above the feet.
How does eating ‘moderately, slowly and regularly’ help to maintain the healthy digestive system?
Eating moderately, slowly at regular intervals is beneficial for our health and to keep our digestive system at an optimum level.
We start eating by putting food in our mouth. We should chew our food well, slowly and thoroughly into small pieces. By eating this way, we encourage easy digestion. At the same time, we should relax during eating as it helps the nerves of the digestive system.
Eating moderate portions at regular times will prevent overheating that could cause bloating. It also will ‘train’ the digestive system to expect food at regular times receiving regular meals and helps avoid overeating.
SourcesHow Is Protein Digested? healthline.com
“A diet high in whole and unrefined foods favourably alters lipids, antioxidant defences, and colon function” Bruce, B; Spiller, GA; Klevay, LM; Gallagher, SK (2000).
Whole grain can contribute to health by changing intestinal serotonin production – ScienceDaily.
High intake of dietary fibre and whole grains associated with reduced risk of non-communicable diseases – ScienceDaily.