Basic guidelines for good digestion

By: Chioma Umeha

 Every part of the body needs nutrients from foods and if what we eat and drink is not properly digested they cannot be absorbed neither can they be utilized by the cells of the body for energy, growth and repair. The result is that we get malnourished, get sick, age prematurely and die earlier than we should.

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel so bloated after a great meal? You probably resorted to spending more money on some health salts to flush your precious food out of your system. It is worthy of note that many heath foods promoters are smiling to the bank on sales of food supplements that are said to heal a long list illnesses. Included somewhere in the middle of such lists are indigestion and constipation, which to me are really the crux of the matter. Somehow constipation and indigestion always seem to be hidden in the mist of so much talk that they always go unnoticed.To give you a few guidelines that would help you benefit from the foods you are eating you need to understand a few things about the digestive system.

 Carbohydrates start digestion in the mouth through chewing and mixing food with saliva. Proteins start digestion in the stomach, which contains acid and enzymes. Fats are emulsified in the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum.
The first foods that get into the stomach lie closest to the stomach wall and are digested first as the stomach is in continuous wavelike motion likened to a photographer developing pictures in a pan of chemicals. This motion is called peristalsis and the motion can start even at the sight, smell or expectation of food.
When food is churned and is sufficiently mixed with acid this acidic chime triggers the contraction of the pyloric sphincter at the bottom of the stomach which opens to let out a small portion of chime into the duodenum. As soon as the chyme touches the alkaline mucus membrane of the small intestine the sphincter promptly closes.

Points to note when eating:

Switch off any form of anger or anxiety before you sit down to eat. The pyloric sphincter is controlled by the nervous system and any negative signal like fatigue, anxiety, exercise or medication can hinder the opening of the pyloric sphincter and food will stay in the stomach too long. So relax, turn off the T.V as this can bring unfavourable news and disrupt the flow of digestive juices.

Eat purposefully – Do not eat to kill hunger pangs
Food is meant to nourish your body. Anxiety can make you want to eat, so control your thoughts and ask yourself why you think you want to eat, is it genuine hunger or boredom?

Drink water in between meals not during a meal
If you drink while eating you will dilute the stomach acid and the protein will not digest fast enough the carbohydrate can ferment and you will bloat and suffer a lot of discomfort.  You may drink water 30 minutes to 1 hour before or after a meal.

Do not eat in a hurry- chew – chew – chew
Ever seen a goat that did not chew cord? Have you ever seen a cat that did? Your teeth are natural grinders and were put there by God for the purpose of grinding carbohydrate foods (foods from plant origin) in order to increase their surface area and allow digestion of starches as well as expose the protein within in readiness for their digestion in the stomach.

Eat in a certain order
Eat raw fruits or vegetables with live enzymes first and then proteins before the starches. The enzymes in the fruits and or vegetables aid the digestive enzymes in the stomach in digesting the incoming proteins. Remember carbohydrates are not digested in the stomach except momentarily in the upper part of the stomach. If you swallow your starch first and chew your meat till it is liquid as we grew up to do in Nigeria, your protein which is now in liquid form will move to the bottom of the stomach and leave the stomach partly undigested as it flows out with the next batch of chyme. Fruit and vegetables add bulk and force you to chew which prompts peristaltic movement and elimination time is shortened.

Eat several small portion meals
Know your portion sizes. Find out what a potion of certain foods look like. Eating large meals puts a burden on your digestive system. If you chew long you will eat less.

Restore the good gut bacteria with probiotics
Probiotics like yogurt helps restore gut bacteria especially if one has been taking antibiotics which kills off both the good and disease causing bacteria.

Boost digestion and aid digestive enzymes
Raw enzymes from fruits like pawpaw can assist your natural stomach enzymes digest protein. Especially if one is getting older or is having digestive problems.

Eat a variety of foods
Do not eat the same foods over and over e.g. (breakfast- branflakes, lunch-sandwich, dinner- macaroni) all wheat products. Doing that means you are getting the same kind of nutrients and no more.  This can lead to a deficiency in other nutrients in the body.

Get rid of margarine from your home
There is no naturally occurring margarine in nature. There is cocoa butter, shea butter and butter from milk. So hydrogenated oils have no place in your foods as our body cannot recognize it and so cannot digest it.

Take your own foods with you
You may not find your kind of healthy foods prepared commercially so as often as you can take your whole-organic foods with you to work or on your trips.

Do not overeat
The digestive system uses a lot of energy so eating too much at a time can put extra stress on your digestive system. You may have noticed that you feel sleepy after eating a large meal.

Refrain from using antacids
Antacid just as the name implies neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in the stomach and prevents a favourable environment for the stomach enzymes to function optimally in the digestion of proteins meant for repair and body building. Low acid engender the fermentation of carbohydrate foods and also allows bacteria access into the system.

Any conscious increase in activity will certainly help bowel movement. It does not have to be a strenuous exercise program. Stretching will generally do.

Respond promptly to your body’s signal to move your bowel
The colon continuously reabsorbs water from the digested food and compresses waste matter into faeces ready for excretion.  The longer the faecal matter stays in the colon as a result of voluntary refusal to respond to body’s signals to move the bowel the more water and toxins are reabsorbed and the harder the stool will become. The more condense the faeces, the more difficult it will be to eventually pass stools.

 This story was published in Newswatch Times on November 2,  2013.


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