Have you ever thought you don’t get the most from the food you eat. Or perhaps you feel like you are actually making your body worse by eating – tiredness after meals, bloating…?
I felt this for a long time, and it is only recently when I started focusing on how I eat, not just what I eat, that I realised the difference this makes – huge! I now never eat at my desk or in front of the TV and I finally feel the money spent on quality food and the hours spent cooking is worth it. I am actually digesting and absorbing my food better than ever.
With this in mind I wanted to take a minute to consider how to set ourselves up for success and get the most out of what we eat.
SIT DOWN, RELAX AND EAT MINDFULLY
Believe it or nor digestion starts in the brain (not the mouth as I used to think). The brain, is connected via the vagus nerve to multiple parts of our digestive system and the stimulation of this never is essential for coordinating function of our digestive system.
When we smell food this nerve stimulates (among other things) the production of saliva to break down carbohydrates, gastric juices in our stomach to breakdown proteins, enzymes from the pancreas to breakdown of a variety of nutrients and bile from the gallbladder to digest fats.
However – this is the part you need to pay attention to – this nerve (the vagus nerve) will only stimulate the digestive system when we are in the ‘rest and digest’ or parasympathetic state. If we eat food on the run, whilst sitting typing away at our computer or just generally without concentrating on what we are doing, our body has no hope in being able to register the food that we are about to eat, let alone digest it. Not ideal.
Therefore next time you eat - take a moment, sit down, take a deep breath (or a few) and enjoy your food! Your body will take care of the rest.
DRINK YOUR SOLIDS AND CHEW YOUR LIQUIDS
Now when we are actually eating our food - count how many times you chew before you swallow - you may be surprised when you realise you take only a couple of chews before sending the food on its merry way down your oesophagus.
Ideally, you should chew solids at least 20 times and liquids – whether a smoothie, a soup or something else – at least 5 times .
Chewing breaks down our food into digestible pieces and mixes it with saliva which begins the digestive process. If we don’t get digestion right here by breaking our food into small enough chunks it will go wrong further down – this can contribute to leaky gut (as described in this article), prevent assimilation of nutrients and lead to unwanted symptoms like gas and bloating as the food feeds bad bacteria in our gut.
As much as you may hate the time chewing takes, there is the added benefit of it also slows us down when we eat giving the body time to register when it has eaten enough. So many times people don’t feel full after eating as they have simply inhaled their food or they feel really full as they haven’t stopped to notice the signals telling us to stop
LIMIT WATER CONSUMPTION WITH MEALS
We are constantly told to drink lots of water to keep hydrated but unfortunately around a meal this may be detrimental. Too much water (or other liquids) may dilute our digestive juices produced in our mouth, stomach and small intestine reducing their effectiveness.
To limit this, only drink about one glass of water with and around your meal. It goes without saying that over the rest of the day you still need to drink lot of water (to be precise - your body weight in kilos divided by 32 plus 1.5 times the volume of any diuretic you drink – for example – someone who is 70kg should drink 2.2 litres of water plus extra for diuretics such as coffee).
Coca-cola or other soft drinks are a complete no-no with meals too – and are obviously not ideal anytime really. One of coca-cola's less than ideal ingredients is phosphoric acid. This not only acidifies our blood causing calcium to be leached from our bones to neutralise the blood but it also turns on our fight or flight side of our nervous system - this stops digestion immediately.
TAKE TIME BETWEEN MEALS AND SNACKS
Digestion is a nutrient dense and energy rich process which takes approximately 4 hours to complete. If you eat little and often you make your digestive system work constantly with no rest. So let’s help your body out and give your body a rest between meals - this will help prevent all the energy and nutrients gained from food going straight back into the process of digestion.
Relaxing in this “absorptive state” is important too – after all we want the food to be appropriately absorbed or eliminated as it travels down the digestive tract over this 4 hour period. Peristalsis – the mechanism by which food moves through the intestine - is also stimulated by the vagus nerve.
So in summary - please respect your body and the time spent by you or someone else in preparing delicious food and consider how you eat. What happens at the start sets the scene for further down and if we don’t start the process off correctly, we significantly reduce our chances of breaking down, absorbing and assimilating all of the wonderful nutrients eaten. I want to hear those stomachs gurgling!
Next time I will touch upon how digestion should work...ideally!