Today, I am going to share with you the “inside” scoop (no pun intended) on how our digestive system works. Digestion has gotten a lot of attention lately, especially with phrases like “leaky gut” and “gut microbiota” being thrown around. It’s quite fascinating and truly something I think we have an obligation to understand it, even if on the simplest terms. Let’s get started!
Did you know that digestion actually starts in your brain…your 1st brain? As soon as the thought of food enters our minds, whether we see it, smell it, taste it, our salivary glands fire up and our stomach gets the signal to be ready for some goodies.
The next step of digestion is in our mouths. We start to chew our food, so it is more easily digestible, and our saliva begins the process of breaking down the food so it’s easier to absorb. Did you know that your mouth is where carbohydrates get broken down? There’s a specific enzyme in your saliva which starts the breakdown of the sugars. This is why chewing enough is important to allow that process to take place and even helps with appetite control (Effects of Chewing on Appetite, Food Intake and Gut Hormones: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis).
Our food takes a trip down our esophagus to our stomach, which it acts like a food processor. Here, it is mixed with more enzymes and stomach acid. The enzymes begin digesting protein and the stomach acid destroys harmful bacteria.
The next stop for our last meal is the small intestine which has no qualms about recruiting your liver, gallbladder and pancreas to help in absorbing the nutrition from your lunch (it was nutritious, right?!). These 3 organs make fluid to aid in breaking down the food even more.
Your small intestine is around 20 feet long and most of the digestion, as well as the nutrient absorption, occurs here. By the time food leaves the small intestine, most of the nutrients have been extracted from the food that entered it. This is also where fat is mainly digested (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30136893).
Our last stop before leaving the park (so to speak) is the large intestine/colon. Bacteria in your large intestine help break down any remaining nutrients and also make vitamin K. Vitamin absorption occurs here as well. All remaining the “stuff” becomes stool and gets excreted.
Simply put, digestion is a North to South process with many stops along the way to fuel us and keep us healthy. To help this process, remember to choose whole foods, relax before you start eating, chew well, make sure you are getting plenty of fiber, drink water throughout the day, exercise and get lots of quality sleep.