Have you ever given a thought to what happens to your food once you’ve eaten it?
Before food can be absorbed into the blood, it must be changed into smaller molecules in order to build and nourish cells and provide us with energy. Let’s accompany our food on a journey through the gut:
The entire digestive system is a single, hollow, muscular tube about 30 feet long. Contact with food is first made with the strongest muscle in the body – your tongue. Different parts of the tongue detect whether food is sweet, sour, bitter or salty. For early man it was an invaluable asset, he soon learned to avoid poisonous plants according to their taste.
Digestion begins in the mouth where food is mixed with enzymes in your saliva and broken down into smaller pieces. That’s why chewing your food properly is so important.
The mouthful of food then travels down the oesophagus into the stomach. One to two litres of acid gastric juice are produced here each day to sterilise the gut from unfriendly bacteria, break down proteins and liberate minerals from our food. Many factors can disrupt the production of stomach acid – if you feel bloated and uncomfortable shortly after eating, consult a nutritionist.
After the stomach empties food components into the small intestine, the juices of two other digestive organs continue the process of digestion. First, the pancreas produces a juice that contains a wide array of enzymes to break down carbohydrates, fat and protein. The liver produces yet another digestive juice called bile which is stored in the gallbladder and squeezed out at mealtimes to dissolve fat.
Spare a thought for your liver, the body’s chemical factory and detoxification centre. It helps to excrete cholesterol, drugs and toxins, stores sugar, vitamins and minerals and breaks down alcohol. Your liver can tolerate moderate alcohol consumption if you are healthy. Heavy drinking, however, overtaxes the liver and interferes with the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to the liver’s cells. If you choose to drink, sip each drink slowly, and always consume alcohol with food. Space drinks out to no more than one drink per hour and consume plenty of water in between. Never drink when pregnant or before driving.
The kidneys act as filters for the blood as well as regulating the body’s water content. An average adult produces about two litres of urine per day, depending on how much fluid you consume and how much is lost through sweat and breathing. Assist your kidneys by drinking plenty of water.
Each square inch of your intestinal wall is covered with about 10 billion microscopic hairlike projections called microvilli, which absorb nutrients into your bloodstream, unless hindered by a typical modern diet. Avoid excess wheat products because when mixed with water, flour becomes a sticky, gluey paste, which makes absorption more difficult.
Food should pass through the digestive system within 12 to 24 hours. Choose the food you eat with care and chew it well – its eventful journey through your digestive system will be less arduous.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus March 2003