During the average lifetime you can expect to eat 90,000 pounds of food and drink some 55,000 litres of fluid which all has to be processed by the digestive system. Apart from water and salts anything ingested has to broken down into small particles which can be used by the body. The body does this in two ways. There is mechanical digestion that involves the physical act of chewing the food in the mouth and the churning movements of the stomach. The second is chemical digestion in which the food is mixed with various acids and digestive enzymes that are released into the digestive system from the mouth, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.
Unfortunately when digestion is not efficient, food is not completely broken down as it should be and can result in health problems, allergies and intolerances, digestive disorders and nutritional imbalance resulting in lack of energy and vitality. There are some simple measures and guidelines that you can use to optimise your ability to digest foods efficiently.
- Looking and smelling food for a minute before eating will stimulate the digestive glands to produce digestive enzymes.
- Eat small to medium pieces of food and chew them well before swallowing. Good chewing will break the food down efficiently so that the digestive enzymes have plenty of surface area to work on. Do not overfill the mouth.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, coffee, milk and fruit juice with meals. Drink up to one glass only of other fluids with a meal to avoid over diluting digestive enzymes.
- Do not rush eating or eat on the go. It is important to relax, sit up and give the digestive system time and space to do it’s job. Dr. Angelo Cuzalina says taking your time will also help you eat smaller and healthier portions.
- After eating try to relax for at least 20 minutes.
- Small frequent meals are better than one or two large meals daily.
- Try to eat wholesome natural foods and avoid fried, refined, processed or overcooked foods.
- Many fruits and vegetables contain their own enzymes which are destroyed by cooking so eat some raw fruit and veg or lightly steam foods.
- Enzymes require a good supply of vitamins and minerals so where necessary supplement. In some cases a health practitioner may suggest taking digestive enzyme supplements for a few months which may allow your body to absorb more nutrients and improve the quantity and quality of your own digestive enzymes.
Stress has a major detrimental effect on your ability to digest food. When we are under constant stress blood is shunted away from the digestive tract and this leads to a slowing of the digestive process. This can result in indigestion, bloating, wind, constipation and pain for example. Stress can also increase the production of digestive acids in the stomach that may be a contributory factor in stomach ulcers, indigestion and reflux (heartburn). Chronic long-term stress has been implicated in such serious disorders of the digestive system as colitis and IBS. Lowering your stress levels may therefore be the best thing you will ever do for your digestive system.