Although you may be spending a lot of time carefully selecting and preparing the healthy foods you eat each day, you also need to consider how these foods are broken down and the nutrients absorbed into your body to get their full benefit.
The purpose of the digestive system is to physically and chemically break down foods, but it is a lengthy and intricate process. Depending on various factors, food can take between 24 to 72 hours to move through your digestive tract. Additionally, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) work along with glands and hormones in your body to determine how your digestive system performs.
Consequently, there is much more to healthy eating than simply sourcing and preparing nutrient-rich foods. Let’s break down the phases of your digestion to better understand this critically-important yet often overlooked system in the body.
Phase One: Your Brain’s Response
When you anticipate eating and smell food, the progress of digestion begins. Your brain triggers your digestive system to start releasing enzymes and gastric juices to prepare for the incoming meal.
Since your nervous system will also direct blood towards your digestive tract to aid in the process of breaking down foods, it’s important that you relax the body and mind before a meal. Find a calm and stress-free environment in which to eat. You can also do gentle stretches or deep breathing exercises before and after eating to improve digestion.
Phase Two: Chew Your Food
Chewing your food is one of the most critical steps to digestion. Physically crushing the food in your mouth increases the surface area of your food and unlocks the nutrients in the food for further digestion in the stomach.
Additionally, chewing your food stimulates stomach secretions and mixes your saliva with your food to start the breakdown of carbohydrates. This is a critical step in the process of digestion which doesn’t occur anywhere else. If your food is not properly chewed, the entire process that follows will be disrupted!
Phase Three: Into the Stomach
Food entering the stomach causes the secreting of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. These are primarily focused on breaking down protein and sterilizing the food to prevent contaminants from entering your bloodstream.
When you don’t chew your food, or if you drink a lot of water with your food, the food remains partially digested in your stomach and starts to rot. This partially-digested food becomes acidic and can cause heartburn. Digestive enzymes taken with meals can help to acidify the stomach contents.
Phase Four: Pancreatic Enzymes are Introduced
After the food is sterilized and acidified, it is further broken down via the release of pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes alter the pH of the food, making it more alkaline prior to its entry into the ileum.
Phase Five: Fat Emulsification
The final major stage of digestion occurs when bile stored in the gallbladder is released to emulsify fats. These fats are chemically broken down by bile so that they can be absorbed.
Quick Summary and Takeaway
To ensure that your foods are physically and chemically broken down in your digestive system, make sure that you chew food thoroughly, eat in a relaxing environment, eat fresh fiber first, and do not drink more than 8 ounces of fluids with your meals.
These four easy tips will help put you in a good position to better digest the healthy food you eat each day!