There are billions of cells, receptors and bacteria in our digestive system. You are busy, day in day out, 24/7, getting what you need from what you have eaten over the past few hours, and doing away with what could make you sick. This text will show you how the stages of digestion work and will give you tips on what can support digestion, as well as which foods are suitable for being used when, and for which complaints.
But let's start at the very beginning ... Digestion begins in the mouth. Meaning that the breakdown of food into its smallest particles takes place in the mouth. This is important in order for us to be able to absorb it at all, and can be initiated and supported by good chewing. So: try to chew each bite up to 20 times so that the food becomes more digestible. This also has the side effect of you getting full sooner, because you take longer to eat. The feeling of satiety sets in after 20 minutes.
The food components crushed by the teeth are then mixed with the saliva so that they can be swallowed. In the stomach, the gastric juice contains important digestive enzymes that prepare the food for being transported further. The bulk of the work is then done by the intestine, where the food is transported after being in the stomach.
Since your entire well-being depends on your gut, you do yourself good when you support it. Our immune defences, the tendency to have allergies or intolerances, body weight and mood are all significantly influenced by it.
This knowledge has been making headlines in recent years. And not without reason! So, it is worth devoting yourself to your gut if you want good health.
The gut consists of a 3- to 6-metre-long small intestine, which is looped in the abdominal cavity. The 200 m2 digestion area is laid in tight folds, to save space, and these are covered with tiny protrusions (villi). There are about 30 villi in 1 square millimetre. Yet smaller villi sit on the villi. The small intestine would be almost 7 km long laid out flat. Billions of cells busy themseles with identifying nutrients in food, which they break down into their chemical components with the help of enzymes and pass on to the body. The bolus keeps getting pushed on, bit by bit, though this works even better when there is fibre in it. You should, therefore, always make sure you have sufficient fibre in your diet; it can be found in whole grain bread, fruits, vegetables and legumes. If you have a sensitive gut, however, you should exercise caution, especially with whole grains and bran. Instead, replace them with coconut flour, chia seeds, tigernuts, psyllium husk and barley grass powder. Dietary fibre swells in the digestive tract and stimulates the intestine to move more. Adequate fluid intake is also necessary to facilitate bowel movements.
Studies have also shown that a high-fibre diet lowers the risk of colon cancer and improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Dietary fibre also provides food for the microorganisms that populate our large intestine. They get the last nutrients from the previously digested goods and, along the way, produce vitamins, antibodies and various messenger substances that are essential for our survival. The intestine has to constantly distinguish between what is food and what is potentially harmful. Around 80% of our immune cells are therefore located in our intestine. The task of our immune system is to protect us against certain bacteria, viruses and carcinogens. Those who eat too much acidic food can develop digestive problems, because the acid affects the effectiveness of the immune cells in the fight against these invaders.
Water and unsweetened herbal and fruit teas are ideal drinks for the gut. The liquid is needed so that the dietary fibre swells and a slippery bolus can develop in the stomach. The more dietary fibre you eat, the more you have to drink, otherwise you can get constipation despite your healthy diet. Warm drinks are better tolerated by the digestive organs than cold ones. It is best to drink one hour before and one hour after eating – it is better to take only small sips during meals.
The digestive journey ends with a bowel movement, which represents the residual matter that could not be used. An effective thing to do is to leave enough time between your last meal and bedtime. It is best not to eat 4 hours before going to bed, so that digestion does not disturb sleep. An exciting fact: there are 1600 times more microorganisms living in the intestine of one adult than there are people on earth. Everyone has their own, individual make-up of intestinal flora. It develops in the first few minutes after birth and grows and changes until a relatively stable ecosystem becomes established after about 3 years. Depending on what we eat and what germs we are exposed to, other bacteria colonise our digestive tract. Our mind also influences the composition of our bacteria. Positive as well as painful experiences in childhood leave traces in the gut. However, the intestinal flora can still change and can also be changed at a later point in time (through nutrition and bacteria). Indigestion: Every 6th person in Switzerland suffers from indigestion, so this issue is widespread. If digestion is disturbed by a one-sided or acidic diet (e.g., sugar, alcohol), lack of exercise, taking medication, antibiotics or stress, this can lead to further problems such as flatulence, malaise, diarrhoea and constipation. If the body is overly acidic, symptoms such as chronic fatigue, inflammation, diffuse pain, hair loss and allergies can result. The answer is often found in the body's acid-base balance. A body that is exposed to more acids than it can excrete has problems functioning properly. First, at the cellular level, and then, over time, it can affect the functioning of organs and entire systems. The liver and kidney are the main organs that eliminate acids from the body.
The above complaints can be signs that you should change your diet and lifestyle. With the proper nutrition, enough exercise, enough sleep and relaxation, you can nurse yourself back to health. Food such as potatoes, salsify, chicory, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, leek, onions, garlic, yogurt (if tolerated), carrots and kiwis can promote the growth of good bacteria. They contain so-called prebiotics. This is fibre from which only the good microbes such as bifidobacteria or lactobacilli feed. In addition to these foods, taking prebiotics also has a supporting effect, and is highly recommended for a certain time. They help to optimise the intestinal environment and to regenerate the intestinal mucosa. When changing diet, this should be done slowly, so that the intestinal flora can change gradually. If you want to be healthy and you want to feel good, it helps to take care of your gut and eat optimally. The key to a healthy body is largely in the gut. Because, as described above, our state of mind is also linked to the gut. Although more research is needed, existing results already show that more nerve strands flow from the centre of the body to the brain than the other way around. A balanced intestinal flora (presence of useful bacteria) and a healthy intestinal mucosa ensure easy digestion. Here is another list of supporting foods that are good for the gut:
A little guide to finish with
What to do for ...
... cramps in the gastrointestinal area, e.g., after a heavy meal: The essential oils in fennel, anise, caraway and lovage have an antispasmodic effect and promote the mobility of the gastrointestinal tract. They can be added directly to difficult-to-digest dishes and cooked with them (e.g., caraway seeds with hash browns, cheese dishes or stews), or anise, fennel and caraway seeds can be used a bread seasoning. Or they can be brewed as tea, especially fennel. If you suffer from gas and bloating, drink the tea in sips.
... diarrhoea or constipation: Constipation: eat a warm meal or drink a warm drink in the morning and add a little salt. It also helps to massage the stomach lightly. If constipated, helps to drink artichoke/plum/sauerkraut juice in the evening before going to bed. These also help with liver and gall bladder problems and have a skin-tightening effect. Furthermore, psyllium, linseed or chia seeds (1-2 teaspoons 1-3 times a day with a meal and with plenty of fluids) are very helpful for normalising bowel activity. A tip to end on: leek strengthens the stomach and stimulates digestion.
... bloating and fullness:
Drink artichoke juice or take liver and gall bladder drops diluted with water.
Take caraway seeds, fennel, chamomile or anise or tea for the stomach, liver and gall bladder/bitter granules after eating
Drink artichoke juice
... rumbling in the stomach:
Calm your digestion with peppermint, best brewed as tea.