Digestion is one of the most complicated processes in the human system. It has to deal with all that we care to put in our mouth. A brief idea of what digestion is all about will tell us a lot about foods that aid digestion and the why’s and how’s of eating.
The food we eat has to be broken down into small particles so that our system can absorb them and send them on to do their job. This process of breaking down the food in to molecules is a broad definition of digestion.
This breakdown is chemical and mechanical in nature. The only things that our body can absorb without breaking down are water, salt, and simple sugars like glucose. There are special proteins called enzymes in our body that help this breakdown process.
The digestive process
This starts when you put food in your mouth. Chewing is very essential, as the saliva in our mouth provides the enzymes that aid the breakdown of carbohydrates. The chewed food is then sent down to the stomach.
The walls of the stomach are muscular and churn the food into even tinier particles. Gastric acid is released along with an enzyme called pepsin, which boosts the food breakdown. The food is now converted into a semi-fluid called chyme when it gets sent to the start of the small intestine or duodenum.
Here, enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver break down the fats and proteins. From here, food gets pushed, and absorption takes place. Undigested food, fiber, etc. is sent to the large intestine and colon for exit from the body.
This entire process can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours depending on the person’s constitution and metabolic rate.
Different rates for different foods:
Simple sugars digest in minutes, as no breakdown is required
Starch needs an hour plus
Fat takes 4-6 hours
Meat takes longer and is dependent on how much you eat. Small amounts are digested faster than large quantities.
Foods that aid your digestion
There are foods that help the digestive process, and then there are foods that complicate this process and thus affect overall health:
Fiber rich food – A diet rich in fiber keeps your digestive system functioning properly. Not only does this mean you remain healthy, but that you also have energy to take you through your day without feeling tired.
According to experts, high fiber food should be introduced slowly, and there should be a balance in what you eat. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water to flush waste from the body should be your mantra for a healthy digestive system. Fiber rich foods include:
Fermented foods – Fermented foods give your digestion a leg-up because these are pre-digested to an extent. The bacteria present in the above foods have done most of the breaking down of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, so your digestive system has a little less to do. These foods include:
Spices – Spices increase salivation, which is the first step to digestion. Spices in food also increase bile production to some extent, which helps the body break down and absorb fats. They include:
Herbs – Herbs work well to fight environmental toxins. You need very little of these- just a sprinkle on your food acts as a cleansing agent and as a natural laxative to rid your system of toxins. Some of the herbs that are good for digestion are:
Olive oil helps stimulate digestion and works wonders for an upset stomach. It is the perfect way to give your body the monosaturated fatty acids and antioxidants it needs. One tablespoon is all you need to sort out an out-of-sync digestive system. Flaxseed oil has the same benefits.
Lemons activate the salivary glands. The juice helps the digestive system break down essential minerals in the food like calcium. It is rich in vitamin C as well.
Probiotic supplements are very essential for digestion. This is because at times, the probiotics found in food are not enough to keep the digestive system going. Supplements that contain acidophilus and bifidobacteria are available in health food stores. Some conditions that occur due to a malfunctioning digestive process are:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Gas, bloating, flatulence
Recurring vaginal yeast infections
In addition the foods you eat, the following factors also affect your digestion process:
Reasonable gaps between eating
Eat slow and taste the myriad flavors of what you are eating
Don’t have cold liquids while eating. Warm drinks make digestion easier.
Put all of the above tips to good use, and you will find that irrespective of what you eat, your digestion can handle it. All you need is to do is put some sense and sensibility to your dietary habits!