Digestive health- you are not only what you eat but what you digest and absorb
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Our health starts at the top of our fork- a saying we have heard time and time again. But we are not only what we eat, what the thing we eat, ate (animals we eat), but also how our bodies absorbs the nutrients from the food we eat.
Photo by VD Photography on Unsplash
It's very important to be aware of how you eat, what you eat, how much you eat, why you eat and with whom you eat. Practicing mindfulness around food, allows you to take notice of your true physical hunger signals, to be more attentive what you put on your plate and to enjoy the food using all your senses- the smell, the sound, the taste, the sight, the sensation in your mouth. That's why cooking at home, putting love and effort into making food, will allow you to enjoy the meal more as well. Food is energy we take into our bodies- allow it to be a good one.
It's also important to eat sitting down in a relaxed state as eating under stress, stops your digestive juices to work properly, which means you absorb less nutrients from the food and the body needs to work harder to break down the foods. If you are looking for tools to manager and lower your stress levels, read my blog post here.
Also enjoy the food with a good company- family, friends, colleagues who appreciate the food, with whom you love to spend time with and who enjoy your company.
Digestion starts in the brain
Hypothalamus in the brain is involved in metabolic processes as well as our appetite stimulation. It decides how you digest your food- it will respond with ease or with stress depending on the state of your organs and state of your mind.
Actual food digestion starts in the mouth
Chewing is the only mechanical function in the digestion system, the rest is chemical. Therefore it's very important to chew the food slowly and properly. I was told in the kindergarten when I was small to chew the food 30 times- that might be too much depending on the food you eat, but aim to liquify the food in your mouth before you swallow it. Chewing increases your saliva production, so that the food can be better swallowed without aggravating the oesophagus.
Food digestion takes anything around six to eight hours, depending on the person and depending on the food you eat. Therefore it's not good to eat big meals late in the evening. Try and eat your last meal 2-3 hours before bedtime, around 6-7pm.
Importance of digestive enzymes
Enzymes help you to digest foods by breaking down large macromolecules into smaller molecules that our guts are capable of absorbing- making sure that the nutrients are delivered to the body.
There are three main digestive enzymes our bodies produce for food digestion: amylases, lipases and proteases (proteolytic enzymes). But there are many different individual enzymes, such as cellulase (helps to break down high-fibre plant foods); sucrase (helps to break sucrose into glucose and fructose); lactase (helps to break down lactose in dairy products).
Digestive enzymes are synthesised and secreted in different parts of our digestive tract- mouth, stomach and pancreas.
Amylases are present in our saliva and pancreatic juice, which help to metabolise carbohydrates, starches and sugars, present in all plant foods.
Lipases- made by your pancreas and released into small intestine. After mixing with bile, it turns fats and triglycerides into fatty acids. Lipases are needed to absorb foods like oils, nuts, eggs, dairy products, meat.
Proteases, which are in gastric juice in the stomach and help to break down protein such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy to peptides and amino acids.
Which foods contain naturally enzymes?
There are foods that contain naturally enzymes that help with digestion. Try and incorporate the below foods on a regular basis in your diet:
Apart from the above foods to support nutrient absorption, below spices are known to support healthy digestion:
Who needs digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes could be of benefit for people with digestive diseases such as Crohn's disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcerative colitis etc. Also as we age, our stomach acid becomes more alkaline which can prevent enough pancreatic secretions from being released. If you are someone with too little stomach acid, then you are unable to digest the food properly and absorb nutrients, which can lead to bacterial overgrowth, malnutrition, indigestion.
What's important to note here as well is that if you have H. pylori infection, bacterial overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, parasites in your digestive system, it's important to treat those first before starting to take digestive enzyme supplements as you might still continue having digestive issues.
People who experience any of the below benefit from the digestive enzyme supplementation:
bloating and gas
indigestion (if you notice food particles in your stool that's a clear sign; if your stool floats, that's a sign you might not digest fats well)
headaches or migraines
hair thinning or falling out
Digestive enzymes support nutrient absorption, therefore helping to prevent deficiencies. They support a healthy bacterial and microbial balance in the gut, though it's important to note here as well that you can't supplement your way out of poor diet. Start by reducing and removing the trigger(s) of your digestive issues rather than trying to mitigate the damage after you have eaten a problem food. Here is a post with foods that most commonly cause inflammation in the body.
How to choose a digestive enzyme supplement?
Because sugars, starches, fats and proteins all need specific enzymes, it's best to take digestive enzyme supplement that contains a full-spectrum blend, including:
Some digestive enzyme supplements are more targeted based on current health issues, for example if you have gallbladder issues, it's good to buy supplement with more lipase and bile salts. Also good if the supplement contains herbs like ginger, peppermint that both support digestion.
How to take digestive enzymes?
Take about 10 minutes before each meal or with your first bite of food.
I hope the above gave you an overview of the importance of digestive enzymes and why we need to pay attention to this area. If you are struggling with digestive issues and need support and guidance in making improvements in your daily nutrition, don't hesitate to reach out to me for help at firstname.lastname@example.org.