Food as Medicine
Food can play either a positive role in our bodies or have adverse effects on our health. What we choose to eat is one of the most powerful ways to enhance or reduce our bodies’ optimal performance. How our digestive system breaks down the foods we consume can either positively contribute to our overall health or make it work harder and negatively impact our health.
Some of the things that make our digestive system work harder are obvious toxins, like alcohol, drugs, pesticides, and pollutants. There are, however, other problematic foods that may be less obvious and vary from person to person.
For example, packaged and processed foods are nutrient-poor and high in calories, and these products create more work for our digestive systems yet don’t provide any nutrition. Regular consumption of these food products is detrimental to our health.
Why is optimal digestion so important? Optimal digestion enables the body to use more of the nutrients we consume, supports the effective elimination of wastes and positively contributes to the health of our whole body.
The digestive system has many working components that factor into its optimal function. It is made up of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, small and large intestines. In addition, it also requires the proper functioning of your nervous system. With this knowledge, we can understand why digestion is so commonly problematic!
Digestion begins when we first think of or smell food. Your brain immediately sends a signal to your digestive system that food is coming; this triggers saliva production, which is full of digestive enzymes. Salivary enzymes are released and begin to break down carbohydrates and some fats right as you start chewing your food. While in the stomach, different enzymes and hydrochloric acid begin the breakdown of proteins and fats. Digestion then continues in the small intestine where enzymes from your pancreas and bile and from your liver join the mix. A release of bile from your liver is helpful for fat breakdown as well as releases wastes from your body to be excreted. As your food continues down to the digestive tract, the broken down carbohydrates, fats, protein, nutrients and even water are all absorbed at specific places in your small and large intestines. It takes about 48 to 72 hours for an optimal digestive system to process and secrete the food you eat!
Foods for Optimal Digestion
Certain common foods are widely understood as challenging to digest and negatively impact health in some people. These foods are known to cause inflammation, which exacerbates issues such as auto-immune conditions, skin rashes and even chronic pain. These foods can also contribute to brain fog and even weight gain. Some of these common foods include refined sugar, processed foods, red meat, dairy, wheat, corn, and alcohol. In addition to these foods, most people have sensitivities to certain foods due to suboptimal digestion and sometimes genetics. Eating foods that our bodies’ have developed a sensitivity to will also aggravate inflammation and the above-listed conditions.
For optimal digestion and to assist with reducing inflammation, try to include healthy fats that contain omega 3s (fish, flax and chia seeds, walnuts), fresh vegetables, and herbs and spices like turmeric or ginger. Choosing organic whenever possible, maximizes nutrients and avoids the extra burden of needing to detoxify pesticides from certain foods.
Understanding your Unique Needs
While understanding digestion and nutrition for optimal performance is vital for everyone, it is essential for those with immune dysregulation such as skin rashes (eczema or psoriasis), thyroid dysfunction, inflammatory bowel disease, or seasonal allergies. It is especially important to understand your food sensitivities if you suffer from conditions where inflammation is chronic, including physical pains or injuries, diabetes, arthritis, or neurological disorders. Additionally, it is also helpful to understand what foods can make our bodies work harder, especially when our immune system needs to be optimized to fight a cold or flu or heal from an injury.
To understand your unique food sensitivity needs, and how to support your digestive system and body, book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor. We have many powerful tools to support the body to contribute to optimal function.
– Dr. Brett Simpson, ND