Did you know the most important phase of digestion takes place in the small intestine, and not in the stomach?
It’s true! The small intestine is where big decisions are made. It acts like both the filter and the air traffic controller for the food you eat.
If you listen REALLY closely, you might even hear your small intestine doing its job…
There are also the digestive enzymes to consider. They act like little scissors to break down food to the smallest useable parts: sugar molecules (from carbohydrate), amino acids (from protein), and fats.
There are actually 3 kinds of carbohydrates: sugar, fiber, and starch.
Sugars and starch provide energy for the body to utilize. Sugars contain just one or two molecules and are considered “simple carbohydrates”. Fiber and starch have the ability to “join hands” and can become complex carbohydrates. When this happen the carbohydrate food no longer tastes sweet.
This is one of the reasons that we consume much more sugar than we realize, because we equate sugar with “sweet”. When you think flour – think sugar.
Remember that sprouted-grain-organic-fancy-pants-toast you ate for breakfast? It’s been broken down by the enzymatic scissors to the final stage so it can be used by your body. One of the final products are sugar molecules (and we’re not even going to mention the jam).
The good part is that your body had to work hard to break down that complex carbohydrate whole-grain bread into the sugar molecules. Along the way, it picked up some other goodies, like protein and fiber.
But all breads are not created equal.
White bread is full of “simple” carbohydrates. Basically a fluffier, fiber-less form of straight sugar – the simple carbohydrate. White bread is in the same category as honey, maple syrup, or straight-up table sugar.
Remember, simple carbohydrates are directly absorbed into your bloodstream when they reach the small intestine. If you balance sugars with fiber, you can help avoid those blood sugar spikes and crashes.
The decision-making process in the small intestine can be affected temporarily by things like stress, antibiotics and processed foods.
This is where having healthy gut flora comes in.
Gut flora (gut microbiota, or gastrointestinal microbiota) is the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans. In humans, the gut microbiota has the largest numbers of bacteria and the greatest number of species compared to other areas of the body. (Source: Wikipedia)
Ensuring that the small intestine (and the whole digestive tract) is inoculated with probiotics allows even sensitive systems to be better supported. Probiotics from fermented foods are easy to include in daily food choices. Probiotic supplements can also be very useful to re-inoculate your system when needed.
So. Let’s say you’ve had a steak for dinner.
Only after about 6 hours of messing about in the stomach, plus another 4 hours of digestion time in the small intestine, does the steak actually pass through. When it comes to proteins, your body has to untangle the crazy balls of amino acids in order to use them. This takes both time and energy.
If you have trouble sleeping, avoid eating heavy animal protein meals for dinner. Digestion activities don’t always facilitate a sound sleep.
In addition to healthy gut flora, fiber is key to good digestion, absorption, and excretion. There are two kinds of fiber: water soluble and insoluble.
Sources of insoluble fiber include the skins of many fruits, while the actual flesh of the fruit contains the more soluble fiber.
Dietary fiber is like a doorbell between the small intestine and the large intestine. “There is a package here that needs to be delivered. Open up!” In other words, fiber helps bring the package of unusable items though to the throne. Fiber is needed to make this event efficient and effective.
You also need hydration to allow fiber to do its work. Without sufficient fluids in your body dietary fiber can lead to constipation. When you are dehydrated, the digestive tract reacts by taking the water it has “lent out” to the digestive process and asks for it back by the time it gets to the large intestine. This is where you get your hard lumpy rabbit pellets or worse, constipation.
The body will make sure it gets to liquids it needs to keep the rest of the body functioning, and it will take them back in through the walls of the large intestine. If you’re properly hydrated, you’ll have beautiful time of it and everything that is supposed to be leaving your body will hopefully do so effortlessly.
You know I enjoy dropping some f-bombs, so let’s remember how to support the digestive process this with these three f-words:
Flora, Fiber, Fluids!
“You are what you absorb” was written by Nutritionist & Orthomolecular Practitioner Tricia Pearson. Thanks for reading!
Tricia Pearson is a Certified Nutritionist specializing in cancer and diabetes. Check out Tricia's services and find out how to harvest the best of your health.
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