The brain: where it all begins
Digestion doesn’t start when you sit back in your chair and say to the waitress, ‘Can you please clear my plate, I’m stuffed’. The digestion process actually starts in the brain. This command centre green-lights the digestion brigade (glands) to get ready. As soon as you visualize your next meal, glands in your mouth and stomach start pumping digestion agents called enzymes. Enzymes are your best friends because, together with teeth and stomach acids, they help you churn all the food that passes through your system.
The mouth: chewing it over
The mouth performs a crucial step in digestion. It is the only function in the process over which you have some autonomy and control. You can improve the absorption of nutrients and decrease any kind of indigestion, just by chewing your food thoroughly. After food passes the first phase of breakdown in the mouth, it is moist with saliva and covered with enzymes, so digestion has officially started. It then travels down the oesophagus, a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.
The stomach: a bit of kneading
Newsflash: there are NO teeth in the stomach! If you swallow things half-chewed, the only thing your stomach can do is provide some enzymes and gastric acids, and a bit of kneading. Many people experience bloating under the ribcage, as well as acid reflux, after a meal. This can have many causes, but one of the most common ones is that a large amount of partially-chewed food has entered the stomach, especially so in the case of animal products. The best advice is don’t rush eating and use those molars to chew like the evolved homosapien that you are.
The small intestine and the liver: in the flow
After visiting your hard-working stomach, partially digested food travels into the small intestine. This is your very best friend, as it helps complete the last phases of digestion. Both pancreatic and bile juices flow into here, loaded with amazing enzymes for breaking down everything imaginable: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Finger-like micro cells (or villi) lining the intestinal wall absorb these nutrient molecules into the blood and lymph circulation. Nutrients are then carried to the liver for a final filtering before being poured into the blood and sent off to feed every cell of your body.
The colon: kick out the crap – literally!
All debris and undigested material, including dead cells from your intestinal tract, continue on your gut’s path to the large intestine or colon, where water is absorbed and faecal matter is formed. If you are a healthy, wholefoods eater, getting rid of this matter will be the highlight of your day. If you eat loads of animal products and processed foods, it might be a painful part of your week. The large intestine is a major detoxification organ. It is crucial to keep it clean and toned so that your precious body can absorb nutrients properly. Think about it – you don’t want waste products and toxins sitting inside your body causing you all sorts of health issues. You want that waste out ASAP. Eating a mostly plant-based, wholefoods diet to keep matter flowing through, and being eliminated from, your large intestine, paired with cleansing when your body feels lethargic, will help you maintain a healthy and young digestive system. In turn, that will translate to a healthy mind and a healthy body.