You Are Not What You Eat But What You Can Absorb

Whilst consuming a nourishing diet greatly contributes to good health and wellbeing, your ability to make the most of the nutrients available is solely dependent upon the proper functioning of your gastrointestinal system.

Your gastrointestinal system begins in the mouth where chewing and saliva are the first to initiate the breakdown of foods you consume. When swallowed, foods are taken via your oesophagus to your stomach. The stomach is responsible for the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and pepsin which initiate the break down of proteins into smaller more absorbable molecules. This is also where the extraction of minerals from food begins. HCl also kills any undesirable bacteria that may have entered via the mouth due to it's high acidity.

The next stop is the small intestine (SI) where, soon after the gallbladder will release bile that is produced by your liver. This is where the breakdown of fats is initiated. A poor supply of bile will affect fat digestion and absorption and the uptake of fat soluble vitamins.

Further along the SI, food passes the pancreas.
The pancreas produces digestive enzymes and releases them into the SI to complete the chemical digestion of foods, ready for absorption further along.

The entire SI is a narrow tube up to 20m long. The inside surface is full of many ridges and folds. These folds are used to maximize the absorption of nutrients. By the time food leaves the SI, around 90% of all nutrients have been extracted from it. Impaired SI integrity and function will result in impaired nutrient absorption. This is also where leaky gut may occur which is when large molecules are able to pass through the compromised SI wall into the bloodstream leading to a large range of problems.

The last stop before exiting the body is the large intestine (LI). The LI absorbs water, salts and some nutrients. Bacteria in the LI digest fibre that is not digestible further up the gastrointestinal system. Bacterial fermentation also produces vitamin K and some B vitamins.

Signs of inadequate digestive function
  • Listen to your body and be aware of any signs and symptoms of inadequate digestion. These include prolonged sense of fullness, nausea, reflux, bloating, pain, excessive wind or burping, constipation/diarrhoea, undigested food in stool
  • Signs and symptoms of food intolerances: includes a wide range of symptoms such as digestive disturbance (see above), headaches, skin conditions, unexplained fatigue, brain fog, dark circles under your eyes.
  • Signs of nutritional deficiencies can suggest you are not extracting or absorbing nutrients from your food adequately: Dry skin, brittle hair and nails, white spots on nails, poor immunity, unexplained fatigue, etc
Stimulate and support your digestion
  • Stress can have a big impact on digestion. Be aware of stress and it’s effect on your body. Look to minimise and manage it.
  • Think about your meals beforehand. Enjoy the process of preparing and eating meals. This will help to get your digestive organs ready to do their job.
  • Chew your food properly. This is where things start to break down.
  • Try to refrain from drinking with meals as this may dilute digestive secretions. To stimulate digestive secretions, try lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, ½ hr before meals. Or add them to salad dressings. The bitter taste in your mouth stimulates your brain to send messages to your stomach and your liver to get ready for action.
  • Eat a balance of raw and cooked foods. Raw vegetables (and fruits) contain enzymes that aid digestion. Cooked food place less stress on digestion
  • Eat predominantly wholefoods.
  • Avoid processed foods, sugar, high amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and minimise prescription and pharmaceutical drugs. These can all have a negative impact on your intestinal microflora.
  • Include probiotic (yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, probiotic supplement) and prebiotic (banana, nuts/seeds, onion, garlic, asparagus, jerusalem artichoke) foods in your daily diet
  • Allow your digestion some down time. Overburdening your system regularly can impair optimal function. Aim for least 12hrs ‘food free time’ between dinner and breakfast the next morning.
  • If HCl or enzymatic activity is low, it is worth supplementing for a while to give your digestion a boost. Fell free to ask me for an appropriate formula for you.

Thanks for reading!