Fixing your digestion isn't a simple process. There's never any one missing food, or nutrient, or practice. Rather, digestion, as a series of interconnected processes and actions, requires a holistic, top-to-bottom approach.
So without further ado, let's get started! This post will focus on the simplest piece of the digestive tract:
A few basic things, digestively, happen in our mouth.
Firstly, we have the obvious: food is broken down. As we chew, we turn larger food molecules into smaller ones, breaking up fibers and breaking down proteins, carbs, and the like. This is important, because any large food particles that reach our downstream digestion require more work in order for us to absorb the nutrients within. If our digestive function is hampered in any way, this will mean less nutrition from our food.
A dramatic example is the flax seed. When we eat these in ground form, our bodies are able to absorb a wonderful array of healthy omega 3 fats, some plant proteins, minerals, and antioxidants. If we eat these in their whole-seed form, on the other hand, they pass through our entire GI system intact, coming out the other end just as recognizable as when they went in! While most foods aren't quite so impervious to the acidic workings of our stomachs or the enzymatic reactions of our intestines, we can still miss out on nutritional components.
Another thing happens in the mouth, specifically to carbohydrates. Salivary amylase, an enzyme produced by our salivary glands, is mixed with our food. This enzyme goes to work on starchy, complex carbohydrates, beginning to break them down from strands and webs into short chains of glucose. With so many digestive disruptions linked to improper carbohydrate digestion (diets like FODMAPS, GAPS, SCD and more ...), it's extremely important to maximize this first stage in the digestive process. Failure to do so will leave us more prone to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and the like.
So how can we maximize this first stage of digestion? You guessed it: chew your food! The old recommendation of "100 times" might be overkill, but you should be chewing until your food is a homogeneous paste, for lack of a more appetizing way to describe it. This is the best way to ensure you'll absorb the maximum amount of nutrition and will set the stage for comfortable and healthy downstream digestion.
Spend a few days eating conscientiously. I dare you. Pay attention to the texture of the food in your mouth, and note your chewing habits. Do you swallow each bite quickly with food still intact? Do you add your next bite before fully swallowing the one before? Practice chewing thoroughly, moving food around your mouth as you do so, breaking down any tougher bits and pieces before swallowing.
Stay tuned for our next organ: the stomach. This is where things start to get reeeeally exciting…