“You are what you eat” is a phrase that you’ll hear and read quite often from trainers, nutritionists and in health magazines and articles.
Like many widely-quoted phrases, it contains a large element of truth. The suggestion is that as long as you’re eating a healthy diet, you will be healthy. However this is not quite accurate.
The inaccuracy lies in the fact that this phrase assumes that you will receive all the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from your food, and that they will go to the parts of your body that require them to give you abundant health and energy.
In other words, it assumes a digestive system that works correctly. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to leading Functional Medicine Expert Dr. Bryan Walsh of Fatisnotyourfault.com, it would be much more accurate (although probably not as catchy) to say “You are what you eat, digest, absorb and don’t excrete!”
To understand this a little better we can take a brief look at how the digestive system works, what can go wrong and how we can prevent or else repair the malfunction.
Digestion is the process of breaking the food that we eat into smaller particles that the body can use. Protein is broken down into amino acids, carbohydrate into glucose and fat into fatty acids.
The stomach is the location where most digestion takes place although the process is usually said to begin in the mouth when we chew and break down our food into smaller particles. Dr. Walsh makes a valid argument for the point that digestion actually starts in the brain when we begin to THINK about eating. This stimulates the release of saliva which contains the enzyme amylase that helps break down carbohydrates.
The stomach digests food through a combination of the muscular action of churning the food and the chemical action of HCL (Hydrochloric Acid). HCL has 3 major functions: it sterilizes the food by killing bad bacteria, it stimulates the production of enzymes that breaks down protein in the stomach, and it also stimulates further digestion to occur in the small and large intestines.
Absorption is the process of taking the nutrients that are broken down and transporting them to where they are required, and most of this takes place in the intestines.
When this system is working well and we are eating a healthy diet, we are almost guaranteed excellent health, high energy levels and low body fat. But this obviously isn’t happening for most people so what tends to go wrong? The following are two of the more common causes of dysfunction in the Digestive System.
1. Eating On The Go
Due to the stress and pressure of modern life, fewer people take the time to sit down, relax and actually eat their meals in a mindful and enjoyable way. It’s much more common to wolf down food while trying to concentrate on getting the kids to school, driving or checking e-mails.
In an ideal world, you should relax and chew your food until it is almost liquid. If you have a tendency to inhale your food rather than chew it, you are going to cause your stomach to work a lot harder to break it down. And, just like any other system, if it’s worked too hard it is more likely to malfunction.
One simple way to avoid this is to give yourself enough time to sit, relax and chew your food much more than you’re currently doing.
2. Low Hydrochloric Acid
There are many causes for this situation. As we get older, HCL production naturally decreases. But low stomach acid may also be due to medications or nutrient deficiency. Regardless of the cause, the effects will be similar: reduced digestion of food, especially protein and a greater risk of bacterial infection in the stomach and intestines.
There are a couple of simple and inexpensive tests that can determine if stomach acid levels are low and if this is the case some dietary changes can help the situation. Eating a bitter leaf salad may stimulate acid production, and avoiding drinking liquids at meals will also help the situation. Taking supplemental HCL may also be an option.
One of the best ways of improving overall health is to improve the health and function of the gut. Using the recommendations above is a good start on the path to extracting as much nutrition as possible from the food that you eat.