Why is healthy digestion so important?The digestive system functions to break our food into tiny, easy to digest particles, so nutrients can be absorbed and used to keep the tissues and organs of our body healthy. So without a healthy digestive system, our bodies may not receive adequate amounts of the nutrients we need to survive and thrive. From the moment we place food into our mouth, our digestive system works to provide our body with the nutrients necessary for life. Firstly, our teeth break the food into easier to swallow particles, saliva works to begin the breakdown of starchy foods, such as bread, pasta and rice; and food is swallowed. Once swallowed, our food travels down the oesophagus into the stomach. The stomach churns and mixes our foods with acids and enzymes that help to break down breads, cereals and grains; as well as commencing the breakdown of fats and proteins (such as those found in dairy and meats). Foods are then propelled into the small intestine, where bile stored in the gall bladder is released to help the body to break down fats. At the same time, extra enzymes are secreted that help the body break proteins down into their building blocks, small particles known as amino acids. Finally, following digestion by enzymes and acids, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients are absorbed by the body and transported via the blood stream, to their target organs or tissues. A good example of this is the movement of calcium, once digested and absorbed into the blood stream, to the bones. As this occurs, any food that cannot be broken down and absorbed, or is if no use to the body, travels into the bowel to be fermented and excreted. At this stage, any water remaining in the food is absorbed, so as to maintain hydration and the proper digestion of fibre.
What role does diet play in healthy digestion?Now you see that if a problem were to arise in any portion of the digestive system, be it the stomach, intestines or bowel, then some nutrients may not be properly digested, absorbed, or used by the body. It is important at this time to note that some of the foods you eat can limit the function of the digestive system, such as alcohol (affecting the liver); caffeine (affecting how some vitamins are absorbed and used by the body, especially B vitamins, calcium and iron), and high sugar, low fibre foods such as soft drinks (which not only increase the risk of diabetes, but also osteoporosis).
To ensure a healthy digestive tract, there are some simple steps you can take:
- Eat a high fibre diet – consume plenty of whole grains, and replace white rice, bread and pasta with whole-grained varieties;
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables– consume as many different colours and types of vegetables as possible. Including starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes), green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, rocket and kale) and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower);
- Drink plenty of water– water helps to moisten food to propel it more easily through the digestive tract, whilst supporting the general health and wellbeing of all body tissues, particularly the brain;
- Limit high sugar foods– sugar contains no vitamins, no minerals and no fibre, making it a food full of ‘empty’ calories.
- Limit caffeine – if you do consume caffeine, separate it from your meals by 2 hours to limit its ability in reducing your absorption of vitamins and mienrals.
- Detox regularly –to ensure your gut lining is healthy and your body free from toxins that accumulate from the day-to-day activities of modern life.