Digestion is a process of breaking down food into a form that absorbs and is used by the body for energy, building, maintenance and repair. In simple terms, when you eat, food goes into your mouth, you chew and swallow it. It moves down through the digestive system and breaks down into smaller and smaller substances by enzymes and hydrochloric acids. The body absorbs these substances and that is what provides the nutrients needed to keep the body alive. However, digestion does not always perform this efficiently in all people.
What you eat and how you eat it, is important to good digestion and ideal health. Lipski (2004) states “Currently, our country is facing an epidemic of digestive illness directly related to the foods we eat and the way we live” (p. xv). Thousands of people experience feeling bloated or eat too much and feel stuffed. They have heartburn and suffer with indigestion, gas, acid stomach, constipation, and diarrhea. They take over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs to feel better. Digestive discomfort can occur from eating too fast, not chewing your food well, eating processed foods, not eating enough fiber, improper food combining, or lack of enzymes to digest the foods eaten.
Howell (1985) points out “each one of us is given a limited supply of bodily enzyme energy at birth. This supply, like the energy supply in your new battery, has to last a lifetime. The faster you use up your enzyme supply, the shorter your life” (p. ix). Howell goes on to say “there are three classes of enzymes: metabolic enzymes, which run our bodies; digestive enzymes, which digest our food; and food enzymes from raw foods, which start food digestion” (p. 3).
Cooking food destroys enzymes in the food and deprives you of one category of enzymes, “food” enzymes. Enzymes used to repair the body must come to the rescue to aid digestion. This is a poor use of their energy and eventually will reduce your limited “metabolic” enzyme reserves. When food enzymes, and enzymes in the saliva begin digestion, digestive enzymes will have less work to do and is better able in aiding the metabolic enzymes with doing their job: repairing and healing the body.
A large part of the body’s immune system is in the gut. If you have digestive or elimination problems, you can have problems with chronic illness such as catching a cold or flu during “the season” or, immune deficiency diseases such as the many diseases classified under chronic fatigue syndrome. A healthy digestive system will help prevent unhealthy challenges.
The digestive tract, also called the alimentary canal, is about 35 feet long and goes from the mouth to the anus. The first stage of digestion begins in the mouth with chewing, whether it is solid foods or liquid. Chewing your food into a liquid mass, and chewing your liquids before swallowing, will activate the natural enzymes in the food and in your saliva. It will prepare the food for ideal digestion.
The next stage of digestion is when digestive enzymes take over. They are responsible for the proper break down of the three basic food groups; proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. To simplify enzymes; protease digests proteins, amylase digests carbohydrates, and lipase digests fats. Proteins break down into amino acids for building and repairing tissues, carbohydrates or starches break down into glucose (sugar) for energy, and fats break down into fatty acids for growth and fueling your body. However, when you add protein, carbohydrates, and fats together in the same meal, they can cause havoc to your digestive system because they each need different enzymes and different digestion times. This can result in digestive discomfort.
Protein – meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or eggs need the most time and energy to digest, and assimilate. Carbohydrates, like starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, bread, sugar, or desserts take less time to digest than protein. Carbohydrates like fruit and fruit juice take the least amount of time. When you combine both protein and carbohydrates in the same meal, digestion of will slow down and take up to eight hours to digest. Protein needs an acid environment to break down the food and carbohydrates will have to wait before it can have its turn. This can cause poor digestion and produce toxic by-products from fermentation and creates an acid environment which provides a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, fungus, and parasites to grow in your body. The result of this mixture causes gas, flatulence, chronic constipation.
Candida, also known as a yeast infection, is a fungus. It is their toxic wastes that produce symptoms in the body, says Young. He further states (2002) “Most disease, especially chronic and degenerative ones, dollow microform overgrowth.” (p. 16). You can protect yourself from candida overgrowth by removing the foods that feeds this fungus. Candida loves sugar and the foods that convert to sugar. This not only includes sugar but, grains such as bread, pasta, pastries, starchy vegetables, rice, popcorn, alcohol, or any food or drink that contains sugar.
Another theory that has helped many people is to follow the principles of food- combining. It applies to most people who eat a standard American diet of cooked foods, processed foods, or have digestive ailments or challenges. See the food-combining chart below and choose the arrows showing which boxes are good together. The poor arrows suggest you not mix, in the same meal, protein and starchy carbohydrates, acid fruits and sweet fruits together, and oils and proteins. Even though food-combining principles have helped people, there is no scientific evidence or studies that prove this to be true.
Some suggestions to consider for better digestive health are:
• eating fresh foods (at least 1/3 raw) in their natural state prepared by you
• eating high fiber foods to help move food through the digestive tract
• chewing food well before swallowing
• eating slowly
• eating until you are ¾ full
• enjoying the food you are eating in a peaceful environment
• keeping the colon clean and moving daily
• removing foods that feed candida – sugar and foods that convert to sugar
• using food combining principles
• you can read the article on Balancing Your Internal Environment to aid digestion and stave off disease
Although, no diet is right for everyone, eating a balanced diet can be important for digestion, assimilation, and absorption of nutrients. The suggestions above can help to protect or restore good health.
Lipski, Elizabeth, Ph.D., CCN (2004). Digestive wellness, How to strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion. New York: McGraw-Hill
Howell, Edward, Dr. (1985). Enzyme nutrition: The food enzyme concept. New Jersey: Avery Publishing Group.
Young, Robert O., Ph.D., & Shelley Redford. (2003). The pH miracle, Balance your diet, reclaim your health. New York: Warner Books.
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