Nutritionist Lydia Irving begins a series on Good Gut Health
Digestion Begins at the Mouth.
A healthy gut is essential for wellbeing. This idea has been at the core of medicine for thousands of years. The ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates, famously said “all disease begins in the gut!” It might be an ancient idea, but it’s just as relevant today. In the last decade, more and more research has been released which highlights the crucial role that the gut plays in disease and in good health. So, to be healthier and happier in 2018, one thing we should all try to do is to treat our gut better! As a nutritionist, I aim to help my clients to ‘love their guts’. The most important way to love our gut is to eat nutritious food, but there are a lots of other things we can also do to help our gut. In my column, I’ll offer advice on simple things that we can do to treat ourselves a little bit better this year!
So that we can treat our gut better, we have to understand how our gut functions. Over the next few editions of the Manning Community News, I’m going to break down the digestive system into its five key stages. This is a beginner’s guide to digestion – no experience necessary. I’ll discuss what happens at each stage of digestion, and why it all matters (even the appendix). The aim: to help you understand how your gut works, and how to keep it healthy!
The 5 Stages of Digestion:
First up, the Mouth,
The Liver, Gallbladder, and Pancreas
The Small Intestine
The Large Intestine and Appendix.
Before we dig into how digestion happens, let’s remind ourselves of exactly WHAT digestion is. The purpose of digestion is to turn foods into nutrients that the body can use as fuel. Digestion breaks food down into its simplest forms, so that it can enter the bloodstream. When we digest effectively, our bodies feel strong and energised, so we don’t need energy drinks or lots of coffee to make it through the day.
So, how does digestion happen?
Our mouths have a lot of uses, but we mostly focus on the talking aspect. Well, I do at least. It runs in my family: you’d often catch my grandmother talking at length to anyone who would listen about her 6’2” granddaughter who was always disappointing at basketball (that’s me)! But the mouth is a crucial step in our digestive process, in that it helps to break down food both mechanically and chemically.
You sometimes hear people say that drooling over food is impolite or in bad taste. In fact, to drool (or salivate) before eating is the greatest gift you can give to the rest of your digestive tract! When you salivate over food, your saliva contains an enzyme called Salivary Amylase. Enzymes are essential chemicals that exist throughout the body, that are released to break down chemicals (nutrients included) into their active forms – so they can keep your body working. In this case, the enzymes in your saliva chemically break down carbohydrates, so that they can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. So, don’t worry about a bit of drool, because saliva is actually an important part of your digestive process.
While saliva creates a chemical process to help digestion, the mouth also helps digest food mechanically.
The mechanical digestion in the mouth is, of course, chewing! But, if we’re too busy talking while eating, or if we’re having a snack on the run, this may not happen as effectively as the gut would like. As a nutritionist, I love to tell clients to “chew your drinks and drink your food.” What does this mean? Chew your food until it is almost smooth enough to drink; and, if you are drinking anything that has nutrients in it (like a smoothie or juice), then CHEW IT! Chewing is an important signal which tells the stomach “Something is coming, get ready to digest!” The longer we can chew our food and our drinks, the easier to digest they become. So, as often as you can, take a deep breath and enjoy your meal slowly! I promise you, your gut will thank you for it.
After making it through the mouth, food travels down to the stomach. Like the mouth, the stomach also uses mechanical and chemical processes to break food down into useful nutrients. Look forward to my next article to continue the journey…
Lydia Irving is a practicing nutritionist (BHsC) who consults clients in Forster and Taree. Through her business, Internal Instinct, Lydia also offers personalised supplement formulas, and sourdough and fermentation workshops. Lydia specialises in helping clients to understand their health concerns, and looks for underlying causes of disease, rather than just treating symptoms. For more information and enquiries, go to www.internal-instinct.com.