Basics: Digestion 101

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

Lindsay and Danny setting a good example.

“You are what you eat.”

How many times have we all heard that statement? I have heard it most of my life and while in the broadest, most general sense it is true, it is not specifically accurate. Why? Because everything you put into your mouth and eat does not make it through your digestive system and deliver the nutrients to create your new cells.

Let’s back it up for a moment. You eat a food, hopefully chew it at least a little, and down it goes. It is further broken down in the stomach before moving on through your system to the small intestines where nutrients can be delivered to the rest of your body to create your new cells which replace your old cells.

No matter what it is that you are eating, we can agree that it would be ideal if all nutrients consumed can be used for your benefit. But that, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Here are three bottom-line, basic factors to know about good digestion.

Is what you’re eating actually real food?

The main factor is whether you are eating something that your body can recognize as “food.” Your body is programmed to break down, digest and absorb the nutrients of anything it recognizes is food.  Everything else, your body is programmed to safely get rid of as something which doesn’t belong in it.

So if you are eating chemicalized foods, fake, manufactured food, food dyes, additives, preservatives, synthetic vitamins, inorganic minerals–anything that is not “real”–your body is going to process it as something to get rid of and protect itself from. That includes, by the way,  microwaved food in which the molecular structure of the once-real food has been scrambled into something unrecognizable by the body to be digested! It also could include genetically modified foods.

So first of all, you can’t be what you eat unless you eat “real” food. And second, the quality of the food you put in helps determine the quality of the new cells your body makes.

Are you doing your part when the food goes in your mouth?

My sister used to have a saying that she learned early in her schooling which I considered a funny, old-fashioned idea until I realized the truth of it. She used to say, “Drink your food and chew your water.”

It meant that food should be chewed until it is like liquid and drinks should be well-mixed with saliva before swallowing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you really should chew water but I wholly agree that food must be chewed very well.

This is something I started paying attention to when I first began learning about macrobiotics. Macrobiotics comes from the words “macro” which means “large or great” and bios which means “life.” It can be interpreted as having the largest view of life or simply living a great life. My first teacher was Georges Ohsawa via his book and later on I met and studied with some of the best macrobiotic teachers in the world. It is with them that I learned the valuable lesson of chewing your food well.

Chewing is your part of the job of digestion. Chewing allows food–especially carbohydrates–to be broken down by your saliva. We new students used to count 50 chews per mouthful! It soon became habit and I learned that chewing alone can increase your health, improve or even solve digestive problems and helps ensure that your body will have available all the nutrients you are consuming.

Lucky for all of us, additional chewing costs us nothing but a few moments!

Is your natural defense system in place?

What I mean is, who or what is living in your intestines? We have probably all heard about having “good bacteria” in our intestines. Every commercial yogurt advertisement reminds us that we need it. So what exactly is this about?

There are a multitude of living things that can be found in one’s intestines. The intestines, being long and having a ridged shape inside, provide tons of real estate for these bacteria and yeasts and other things to take up housekeeping. And it is natural to have (and even necessary) certain of these in there–even yeast. These bacteria and things contribute to further breaking food down, helping it move through the lines and also preventing things that don’t belong in the system from getting in.

Some live in the small intestines where your digested food is absorbed into your bloodstream and some live in the large intestines where waste is directed so it can be eliminated. (Such a smart body!) If you have a healthy community of good bacteria taking up space in your intestines, that leaves little or no room for unwanted bacteria (such as those that cause illness and disease) from having a place to live.

Probably I could write (and maybe I will) an entire post about this because healthy bacteria in the intestines has many, many benefits. For instance, did you know that the bacteria called, “acidophilus” produces a very powerful natural antibiotic called “acidophillin?”

My main point here is that eating naturally fermented food (not just pasteurized yogurt with some manufactured “acidophilus” thrown in), such as miso and pickled foods and naturally made yogurt, can provide tremendous help to your body in getting the good nutrition “in” and keeping the unwanted elements “out.”

You are what you assimilate!

This is a much more accurate statement! Assimilate simply means, taking in the food and making it part of the body. Just because you put something you think may be “food” in your mouth doesn’t mean you are delivering nutrients to your body. Some people–whether meat-eaters or vegetarians–can eat and eat and eat and still crave more food.  Why? Because they aren’t assimilating much of what they eat and the cause is usually one or more of the three factors above.

The answer is to eat organic, whole food, chew it well, and make sure your diet includes naturally fermented food which can provide beneficial bacteria. Because you are not what you eat, you are what you assimilate!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Basics: Digestion 101

  1. You are so right Patty! Not only does our body not recognize some things as food in terms of absorption but it also doesn’t always even know how to easily get rid of the ‘non-food’ items, Some of these things live in us in various places creating scenarios that might enable out of control cell division (which can be cancer) or contribute to auto-immune disorders.
    I confess I am not that aware of the effect that microwaves have on food. Guess I better learn some more about that.
    Thanks for all of the information. Great post!

    • That’s right. I tend to look at someone’s “spare tire” as extra baggage where their body has stored undigested food. And you’re right, there can be serious problems related to what’s taken residence in the gut!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s