Better Gut Health Starts With Eating And Chewing
This will be a 3-part series. I will be sharing small and digestible bits of information. I invite you to take it in, chew well, and set yourself up for good cognitive digestion.
To understand the how-to of healing one’s gut health and the digestive ability of your body, understanding the function of the digestive tract is a great place to start. This will be a very simple explanation of digestive tract function. There are whole chapters in textbooks and stand-alone textbooks on digestive tract health, function, digestive enzymes, and the impact of good or poor digestion on human health.
From your mouth to your anal opening, all of the organs of your digestive tract (and all of the cells) need to be functioning at top-notch. This ensures proper digestion can occur and the resultant delivery of raw nutrition to all of your body cells.
Where Does Gut Health Begin?
Digestion and nourishment of body cells begin with your selection of healthy, whole, and well-raised foods. (https://www.paulayoumellrn.com/whole-food-feeding-your-cells) I am including this link here for ease of keeping this article shorter and offering an invitation to explore more. This is an article that has been shared on the Co-op website and social media before.)
Physical digestion begins in the mouth. All food, even soft and liquid consistency foods, that seem to slip down easily without much chewing effort needed, do need to be very well chewed. When we chew, slowly and consciously, paying attention to the sensual side of the food (all the textures and the multitude of flavors that explode over the course of your 20-40 slow chews) allows the rest of the digestive tract to be able to do its work.
The act of mastication, with your beautiful teeth, breaks food into smaller pieces and ultimately a liquid slurry, in your mouth. This soft, liquid substance that you swallow makes it easier for the rest of your digestive tract to continue the work of withdrawing nutrition from your food. The larger the surface area of the food swallowed preps the process of good digestion.
Your slow, conscious chewing activates saliva in the mouth and begins carbohydrate digestion with the aid of amylases. Chewing, long and slow, sends messages to the brain that food is coming. Your brain activates the digestive tract for the job it now needs to do and kicks up the activity of all other digestive juices along the length of the digestive tract. The natural chemicals in your digestive tract, destined to assist in your food break down, will be ready for action when the mass of food chyme arrives at each digestive organ along the path of the food movement.
Chewing is so important to gut health!
After chewing, we swallow. Food moves rhythmically down our esophagus by muscular contractions to reach our stomach. Our digestion is aided by enzymes with specific functions.
There are three main types of digestive enzymes.
- Proteases function to break down protein into small peptides and amino acids.
- Lipases function to break down fat into three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule.
- Amylases function to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars.
In our stomach, several important substances to control the digestion of food are released from the stomach mucosa cells. One is hydrochloric acid (HCL), released primarily for protein breakdown and the stimulation of other digestive enzymes for proper digestion of all foods. We use the amino acids, end products of our protein digestion, for building blocks of growth and healing, making hormones and other biological chemicals, and so much more. High levels of HCL are required for protein digestion to happen.
After the food chyme has spent sufficient time in the stomach, being sloshed around and mixed with HCL, our food is wisely moved along to the small intestine.
Our small intestine works to further “finish” digestion with chemical assistance from the liver – gall bladder and pancreas. It all leads to good, or poor, gut health.
- The small intestine is where most of the long process of digestion takes place. The small intestine further breaks down food (carbohydrates, fats, and protein into simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids), absorbs nutrients through its one cell lining, removes liquid from our food chyme, and moves food along the gastrointestinal tract to the large intestine for waste removal from the body.
Our liver supplies bile, stored in the gall bladder, for fat emulsion and digestion. Fatty acids are very important in human health supplying an energy source, keeping our cell membranes production and transport, and many other critical functions for vibrant health. Fat, from whole foods and well-raised animal foods, is critical for human gut health.
Our pancreas has both exocrine and endocrine glandular functions. Exocrine: the pancreas produces enzymes that support digestion. The pancreas sends out hormones that control your blood sugar as its endocrine function.
Small and large intestinal microbes aid in digestion and assimilation of your food’s nutrition. Intestinal microbes also produce neurotransmitters (think happy moods and our peaceful “rest & digest” mode of thriving as human beings), nutrients, enzymes, immune factors, manufacture vitamin K, work to keep microbial balance in the gut to name just a few of their critical roles. Gut microbe’s jobs are many and we have yet to discover all of their important functions in digestive, immune, and neuro-mood health.
I invite you to have a profound appreciation, and deep gratitude, for the work your digestive tract does with each meal. When we appreciate our body’s fantastic work, it makes it easier to consciously care for it, feed it well, chew food very well, and get plenty of rest and sleep to assist whole-body healing. Always remember your glorious gut health, including the microbes, when you are passing around gratitude.
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” -Willie Nelson
Simple Eating Hygiene Steps to Promote Digestive Health & Proper Digestion:
- Engage in mealtime with a calm presence, even in the prepping & cooking of food.
- Practice gratitude for the food and all it took to get the food to your plate.
- Eat slowly in a calm environment; preferably without cell phones, laptops, or radio / TV screens blaring the news or sitcoms.
- Chew very well.
- Take time to relax after a meal. Digestion works best when we don’t rush, rush, rush on to the next task immediately.
- Allow plenty of time between meals for the digestive tract to do its work and the organs to get rest time. Eating frequent meals and snacks does not always allow for adequate digestion before the next mouthful lands in an already digestively busy stomach.
I will remind every reader that the information in my articles is from my wisdom and experience from my training in both western medicine (RN) and holistic modalities. My views are not necessarily the views of the Potsdam Food Co-op. When we make choices about our health, use others’ advice, and make choices based upon that advice; we are taking our health into our own hands. Our choices, and any actions that result from said choices, are our own responsibility. Yes, this is Paula Youmell, RN’s disclaimer.