You are what you eat. We need the nutrients and calories that food provides to survive. The food you eat must be broken down into smaller molecules such as fatty acids, amino acids, and simple sugars before your body can use those nutrients. Along with those macronutrients, the various vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients in food are released during digestion.
Your stomach uses hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to break down proteins and start the digestive process. Your gall bladder and pancreas release digestive enzymes and other compounds to further digestion. Without all of these individual processes working in coordination, you could not absorb the nutrients your body needs from the food you are eating.
Digestion works great when it works great, but certain conditions can make it difficult sometimes for our digestive systems to work well. Food that is overcooked and over processed tends to destroy natural enzymes present in food. Our own digestive powers are decreased when we are under stress, not eating well, or just getting older. Gas, bloating, and bowel issues are some of the consequences of poor digestion, and our health may suffer from long-term poor digestion. Your immune function and mood are two important areas greatly impacted by digestive dysfunction. Poor elimination increases the toxic load in the body. So focusing on improving digestive function can positively impact many parts of your body!
Four keys to digestive health:
- Slow down: Eat and chew your food as well as you can. Eating slow helps us feel full and satisfied and increase the amount of nutrients we extract from our food.
- Choose whole fiber-rich foods: Whole, fresh foods contain more nutrients, including fiber. Many people get less than half the 25 to 30 g of recommended fiber intake. Certain dietary fibers have been shown to support healthy blood sugar and lipids, as well as regularity. It is important to consume soluble and insoluble fibers which are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
- Water: Water helps dissolve soluble fiber more easily. This supports bowel function by making well-formed, soft stools. Regular elimination is important for digestive health.
- Pre- and probiotics: Healthy gut bacteria help break down foods and increase the amount of vitamins and minerals we receive from food. Prebiotics are specific dietary fibers that are food consumed by beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Supplements can provide prebiotics and probiotics.
Occasionally, our digestive system can get off track. If your symptoms are bothersome or worsening, you should discuss with your doctor.