Digestion is my favorite topic to think about, talk about and write about. And with the string of holidays and celebrations during this time of year, which are often packed with lots of delicious foods, learning how to nourish the body well, can be of tremendous support. The health of our body and mind is determined by our ability to break down food effectively. We can eat the most nutrient dense and optimal diet for our unique constitution and take the best quality supplements, but if we aren’t able to properly break them down, then the benefit is greatly reduced. In this and several upcoming articles, I will explain how to build and maintain digestive strength.
When we eat, a large majority of our energy is devoted to digestion, which means that there’s less energy available to fuel other systems in the body such as the nervous system, immune system (outside of dealing with potential pathogens in the food) and the function and endurance of the skeletal muscles. After we eat we are less able to focus and think (unless we’ve let our blood sugar drop too much, then an increase in blood sugar or glucose can help), our immune response to anything outside of what we’ve just eaten is reduced, and our muscles won’t be able to function as well. If we eat too much food, or food that’s not healthy for our individual constitution, then we might even feel sleepy after we eat due to all the energy required to digest.
GRAZING AND SNACKING
So if we use so much energy to digest food, then what about the all too common practice of snacking? Based on what I’ve just explained, one could surmise that snacking or grazing can dramatically impair the function of the body overall. Exactly! If you are a snacker or a grazer you are doing your body a disservice. We need to give the digestive system a break between meals (main meals and light meals) not only to properly digest, but also to allow the body’s energy to be used for other processes besides digestion. We have an entire body to run here! Not just the digestive system. If you want to experience more mental and physical energy and better immune function, give yourself 3-4 hours in between main or light meals.
LIQUID CONSUMPTION WITH MEALS
Another important factor to consider in cultivating proper digestion is liquid consumption with meals. Don’t do it! In this country we are trained to have a big glass of something such as water, often ice water (even worse!) or goodness help us, milk (a higher pH, meaning more basic than water). Refrain from drinking any liquids with food. Drink the bulk of liquids in between meals. Stop drinking any liquids ½ hour before eating, and resume drinking liquids a minimum of 1 hour after eating, 2 hours is better. Small sips of a beverage during this time is acceptable if necessary.
Drinking liquids with mealtimes poses a great hazard to optimal digestion in many ways. One of which is simply a pH concern. Our bodies require different pH ranges in various parts of the GI tract for proper digestion. The range of pH in the stomach due to the hydrochloric acid is between 1.5-3. In order for the protein digesting enzyme, pepsin, to be activated in the stomach, the pH needs to be around 2-3; adding water (ph of 7) will increase the pH to 4-5 (depending on how much water is taken). Another reason drinking liquids with meals is problematic is related to enzymes. We need certain enzymes to break down food into smaller particles that we can absorb into the bloodstream via the small intestine. The extra solvent (liquid) present will decrease the rate of the substrate molecules (food) hitting the enzyme molecules, thus decreasing the rate of enzymatic break down of the food.
Don’t just take my word here, experiment yourself! Try a month of taking in no liquids with meals, and notice how your feel during and after you eat. Then go back to drinking with mealtimes and check in. With the cessation of liquid consumption during meals, we must be mindful of drinking enough fluids in between meals to remain hydrated.
That’s enough to chew on for now, stay tuned for more guidance on how to build the power of your digestion for optimal wellness!
p.s. That reminds me…..chew! Chew, chew, chew. Chew more than you think you need to chew. The more action that can be done in the mouth with proper mastication, the easier digestion will be for all the other players. Help a stomach and intestinal tract out!