The best food choices can only do so much if the nutrients can’t be utilized by your cells. Our members who’ve been in for their nutrition consultations will be quite aware that here at InspireHealth, the nutritionists focus as much on what one can digest and assimilate as on the food choices themselves.
Over the next five nutrition blogs, we will walk you through the digestive process – from plate to toilet. You’ll gain insight into what is going on with your food and body. So get ready to get in depth and up close with your insides!
Part 1 – From Plate to Esophagus
Getting your digestive system primed to receive food begins far earlier than you may imagine. Think back to the last time you were in another part of the house and you started to smell dinner cooking. Did your mouth water? Did your stomach start to growl? The smell of food starts the digestive process before we even make it to the table. This early warning signal allows your body to have a head start to secreting the enzymes, acid, bile, and bicarbonate that are all required further down the pipes.
What about when you see the food on your plate? Sight is another sense that helps to stimulate digestion. Think about how a brightly coloured meal can seem so much more appealing than a bowl of soup that turned a bit grey looking. Visual attraction helps with turning on digestion as well.
Do you eat at the table and turn off the TV or computer devices? When it comes to eating, the body likes to focus. Multitasking – watching the news, reading the paper, Facebooking – all require energy and resources. Focusing primarily on the food on your plate and the good company and conversation at the table will allow more resources to go into the highly complicated digestive process. As an added bonus, when you pay attention to your food, your body gives you more appropriate signals of fullness and therefore you will be less likely to overeat!
Okay, now you’re ready for the food to enter your mouth. Take a bite and chew, chew, chew. The more manual labour you can employ from your teeth and jaw, the less work that is chemically required further along. It’s good to remember – there are no teeth in your stomach! When you chew your food well, you are not only breaking down the food into smaller bits, but you’re mixing it with saliva. Saliva contains salivary enzymes which allow us to start breaking down carbohydrates. This chewing action also signals to your stomach, gall bladder, and pancreas that it’s time to get ready for their digestive functions.
What happens when you don’t chew your food? If you’re wolfing food down in large pieces that look like they came right out of the kitchen, you are leaving a lot of extra work to the stomach and digestive juices. They won’t necessarily get the eating signals in time, and you may not absorb all the beneficial nutrients you thought you were getting out of your food. Those undigested nutrients may make it right through your digestive system and into your toilet bowl! Chew your food well – aim to have it unrecognizable as that food before you swallow.
So what about smoothies or other liquid meals? If you drink these down on the go, your body might not get the message to digest them. It’s good practice to chew with your liquid meal – a nibble of fruit, a couple of nuts, or the smoothie itself. Sit, drink, and enjoy as much as you can.
We’ve smelled, we’ve seen, we’ve chewed well and now we’ve swallowed. Watch for Part 2 of our series when we travel through the stomach! And check out our recipe for Cabbage, Beet & Apple Slaw with brightly coloured and crunchy veggies great for stimulating digestion through our eyes, nose, and taste buds.by Angela Wright, Lead Nutritionist InspireHealth