Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition Basics

So we’ve already talked about what proper digestion looks like. But with so many steps, and such a complex and interconnected process taking place, it means there are a lot of opportunities where something can go wrong. As I’ve said before, you can be eating the most nutritious diet, but if your digestion isn’t on point, those nutrients could be going to waste! Let’s take a look at some of the ways proper digestion can be compromised.

Some Basics:

Eating in the stress state

Digestion happens when our autonomic nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This is the “rest and digest” mode when our system is calm, it can rest, repair, and of course, digest our food. In contrast, the sympathetic state, or “fight or flight” mode, is our stress state. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this? If we are eating while feeling stressed our body won’t be in the right state to properly digest our food. Eating quickly, eating on the go, eating while multitasking (like at your desk, while working), can all disrupt your system from digesting properly.

What can you do?

Stop what you are doing, sit down, take a couple breaths, and eat in a relaxed environment – your body will thank you!

 

Not chewing your food sufficiently

Chewing is the key first step once the food enters our body, breaking it down and mixing it with saliva which starts the digestion process. If you aren’t taking the time to properly chew your food you are putting a lot of extra pressure on the rest of your digestive system to pick up the slack; the enzymes in your pancreas might not be able to complete the breakdown in the small intestine.

What can you do?

Take the time to properly chew your foods – think upwards of 30 chews per mouthful! Drink your solids and chew your liquids.

 


 

More Complex:

Having insufficient stomach acid

Some people might scoff at this one, considering how we all probably know someone who is often popping antacids. But did you know that a common cause of acid reflux is insufficient stomach acid? Let me explain… it’s not just about the quantity of acid in your stomach, but the level of acidity. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excessive carbohydrate consumption can all suppress your acid production. The stomach is churning and churning the chyme (what your food is called once it reaches your stomach for digestion) to try and acidify it and break it down – remember it aims to only releases the food into the small intestine once it reaches a sufficient acidity level. So if your food is hanging out in the stomach too long, in a nice warm environment, the carbs can start to ferment, the proteins can putrefy, and the fats can go rancid. This can cause gas build up and pressure on the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus – a recipe for acid reflux disaster!

The stomach also releases enzymes when food is present to aid in the chemical breakdown, but some of these, like the enzyme pepsin which breaks down protein, is only secreted when the acid level of the stomach is sufficiently low. Without pepsin, your protein won’t be broken down sufficiently, leaving the particles too big but also not making the nutrients available to your body for absorption. There are several vitamins and minerals that are absorbed in the stomach, but if the food isn’t properly broken down these won’t be made available.

Eventually, even if your chyme is not acidic enough, the stomach needs to make room for more food to be digested, so improperly broken down contents get passed into the small intestine. Now even though the chyme was not acidic enough by the stomach’s standards, it is still extremely acidic for your small intestine. With normal function the acidity of the food triggers the small intestine to secrete a protective mucous and the pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which neutralizes the acidity. But if the chyme isn’t acidic enough, this trigger might not happen properly. The acid can burn the lining of the small intestine causing ulcers. Without the neutralizing process happening properly, the further breakdown or your food by pancreatic enzymes may also not take place.

 

Not consuming enough or improper fats

Healthy fats are a key component for the liver to produce quality bile and quality bile is needed to digest fats. It’s just one of many catch-22s within our body! If we don’t consume enough healthy fats, or over consume the unhealthy ones, our bile can become old and viscous, accumulating in the gallbladder and potentially causing gallstones. If this happens, when the gallbladder does try and release bile insufficient amounts will be released meaning the fats cannot be properly broken down and absorbed.

 

The gut lining can become leaky

With all of these issues potentially happening upstream, the result can be poorly digested food reaching the small intestine to be absorbed into our bloodstream. These food particles wreak havoc in your gut causing the gut lining to lose it selective permeability (aka. it’s ability to only allow certain things through to the bloodstream). The gut can become leaky and the undigested food gets through into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response as your body will recognize these particles as foreign invaders.

 

Our gut bacteria can get thrown off balance

The large intestine has to deal with everything that is leftover from the digestion process. Of course, if everything is running smoothly, this isn’t a big deal. But if the earlier steps weren’t running optimally, it can mean poorly digested food coming in that could be full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats that can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut and weaken the cells of your colon. This could eventually lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, and celiac disease, just to name a few.

These are just some ways improper digestion can directly impact the organs of the digestive system. Poor digestion could be behind a whole host of other issues that you might not even think are related!

What can you do?

Don’t despair if you see some of yourself in the above descriptions. Nowadays digestive issues are all too common, but the great thing is that digestion is fundamental to our health, so if we can get it back on track the benefits can be truly profound. If you want to improve your digestion, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your doctor and work directly with a qualified professional like a Nutritional Therapy Consultant or Practitioner.

Nutrition 101 – Digestion Basics

Nutrition 101 – Digestion Basics

Nutrition Basics

Having a healthy digestive system is really the foundational aspect of health. You can eat all the amazing, nutritious food out there, but if you aren’t digesting those nutrients properly then you aren’t gaining any of their benefits! While studying to become a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, digestion was the first major process we covered, and throughout all the more advanced topics it’s also the process that you always come back to. Often just by working on improving your digestion you can already make major strides in bringing your body back into balance.

What does healthy digestion look like?

It starts in the Brain

The first, very important step of digestion actually starts in our brains! It’s the resulting chemical cascades as we start thinking about our meal. Our brain triggers the acid production to increase in our stomach (creating that “growling” you can experience) and you might already start salivating as your saliva glands get ready to start breaking down your food.

And then in the Mouth

Then we get into the actual eating! The first step of really digesting your food happens in your mouth. Your teeth, by chewing, already start breaking everything down in smaller bits that will be easier to digest further on in the process. Your saliva also contains digestive enzymes that begin the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates. Bet you didn’t know so much was going on in your mouth!

The Stomach gets involved

After you swallow, the food (now called the bolus) passes down your esophagus and into your stomach. Here your stomach acid is on deck to continue the chemical breakdown of your food. Your stomach acid, and specifically an enzyme called pepsin, is vital in proper digestion of proteins. The muscles of the stomach are churning the bolus, mixing it with the stomach acid to properly break down and acidify it.

Before moving to the Small Intestine

Once the bolus reaches the proper acidity, it is now called chyme, and it moves from the stomach into the first part of the small intestine. This entry signals our small intestine to secrete mucous and our pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which alkalinizes the chyme (in other words, makes it less acidic). The presence of fats in the chyme triggers the gallbladder to release bile, which emulsifies and breaks down the fatty acids. Once the chyme is no longer acidic, the pancreas will release enzymes that finish the digestion of the carbohydrates, proteins, and fatty acids.

The chyme continues further on along the small intestines, and now that your food is properly broken down, little villi and microvilli (like little fingers lining the small intestines), begin to absorb the nutrients and pass them through your gut lining into the bloodstream.

And finally the Large Intestine

Eventually the remains pass into the large intestine, where the remaining water is recycled and waste products are used to nourish the microbiota of the large intestine. The remaining nutrients from your food are captured and your bowel flora also create some nutrients of their own for your body to use. Once this process is complete, what remains then passes out of the large intestines and, well, out of your body! (I think we all know this part of the process!).

So that is a brief overview of what healthy digestion looks like. But of course, as many of us have probably experienced, it is easier said than done; there are a lot of different ways our digestion can become suboptimal.

 

Up Next: When bad digestion happens to good people…

 

My Five Foundations for Healthy Living

My Five Foundations for Healthy Living

While I practice nutrition by training, I’m all about a holistic approach. That means I like to look at all aspects of life and how they come to together to create optimal health!

To keep things as simple as possible I’ve broken it down into the 5 key foundations of health, split into nutrition – the layer that everything is supported by – and lifestyle. 

While we’re looking at each aspect separately, it’s really how they all come together that determines how good (or not) we feel. 

Foundation One – Nutrition

While there are so many different ways we can categorize nutrition, I’ve split this up almost along the macronutrient lines. Carbs, fat, protein, and water are our macronutrients (and if you click on any of those labels you’ll go straight to a blog article going into each more in depth!). 

But I just had to split out veggies and give it its own spotlight because they are so. darn. important! They are packed with vital vitamins, minerals, and often antioxidants, and because of this I also consider them our best source of fiber. 

Nutrition really underpins our health which is why I have it as the bottom layer of the pyramid. The majority of our immune system is in our gut and a lot of the neurotransmitter serotonin is also produced there (the happy chemical for our brains!). What we eat affects our energy levels and allows our body to build and maintain healthy tissues. 

Honestly, I could go on and on about how important nutrition is! But I’m hoping since you’re here with me you already recognize this. 😉 For me, food is about nutrient density – eating the things that are packed full of the most nutrition possible. This comes before food for fuel or calorie counting. 

  Photo by    Lauren Kay    on    Unsplash

Photo by Lauren Kay on Unsplash

Foundation Two – Sleep

Sleep is absolutely vital to ensuring our body is able to rest and recover from the activities of our day. Lack of sleep has been linked to overeating as well as increasing our likelihood of making poor food choices (since you’re so tired and just craving easy energy!). Sleep loss can increase your risk of insulin resistance and can wreak havoc on your hormone levels. It’s fundamental for the health of our brain and immune system. 

Sleep loss does accumulate night after night, and if you aren’t sleeping enough during the week it’s highly likely that having a lie-in on weekends isn’t completely getting you out of the red. Plus just one night of poor sleep can already profoundly affect our energy levels and needs the next day. 

Remember that adults tend to need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping less than 6 hours a night increases your risk of all-cause mortality by 12%. To find out what your body needs try to head to bed at the same time every night for at least a week and wake without an alarm clock. After a few days (once you’ve recovered from any deficit you may have been in) you should naturally find your body’s set point.

  Photo by    Sylwia Bartyzel    on    Unsplash

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

Foundation Three – Connection

It made headlines in 2018 when the UK created the position of “minister of loneliness”. She’s been tasked with working on bringing down the rates of loneliness across all generations, and a lot of other countries have taken note. 

The permeation of the internet and social media into our lives has on one hand brought an increase in social connections – for example I can now easy stay up-to-date with my family back in Canada! But on the other hand, it can result in us becoming even more isolated. Sometimes social media can feel social – but often we aren’t making genuine connections and most of us are taking on the role of observer. 

Even for this introvert it can sometimes feel easier to hole up alone and avoid “peopling”! But even introverts shouldn’t forget how important these interactions are. While they may cost energy, they fill you up in a different way!

Having genuine connections with others is a key component for our mental health which is more connected to our physical health than we often think. And this can come in a variety of ways – for example, family, friends, pets, colleagues, or community groups. Connection can also include a closeness with nature – getting outside, breathing fresh air, and surrounding ourselves at least occasionally with greenery. 

  Photo by    Roberto Nickson    on    Unsplash

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Foundation Four – Self-Care

Self-care or stress management tends to be an area we easily overlook. It doesn’t need to be yoga, journaling, or a rose petal filled bath, but just something that allows you to relax, breathe, and recharge yourself. This could be a walk out in nature, a movie night with your partner, even a solo trip to the grocery store!

Stress can manifest in so many different ways, that taking care to try and reduce or recover from this is incredibly important. Stress can affect our digestion, our hormones, our sleep, our relationships! You can be doing everything else right, but if your stress levels are too high you could be undoing all the positive work.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

  Photo by    bruce mars    on    Unsplash

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Foundation Five – Movement

There has definitely never been another era in human existence where we have been so sedentary! I don’t think you can confute that movement is necessary for our health. 

However, I have called this foundation movement rather than exercise. This is partly a mental word play, since we tend to have negative associations with the word exercise – like some we have to do that we’d rather not! Movement sounds more joyful – keeping your body active in a way that feels good and creates a sustainable, healthy habit. 

Movement improves our health through a multitude of ways, such as boosting our immune system, improving our resistance to stress, and helping to regulate our circadian rhythm (our sleep-awake cycle).

Do these five foundations ring true for you? Perhaps there is one or more you feel you are struggling with? That’s totally normal and is a balancing act that we are all working on.

If you’re looking for more support on any of the five foundations, head over here to learn more about working with me one-on-one!

Building a Balanced Plate

  Photo by    Brenan Greene    on    Unsplash

Photo by Brenan Greene on Unsplash

You might know by now what the macronutrients are in our diet, but moving that theoretical knowledge into practice can still be pretty confusing.

There are a lot of different opinions out there on the internet about what the right share of protein, fat, and carbs should be on your plate.

Need a refresher? Check out these posts on carbs, protein, and fat.

And the truth is, that it’s a very individual exercise! What works for someone else may not work for you. All our bodies are different and so are our macronutrient needs.

Just because someone at your office is all about the low-carb life, doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you.

What I’m going to discuss today is what I would recommend using as a starting point. Once you get a hang of things you can start experimenting and seeing if you feel better or worse with different macronutrient shares.

As a general rule, I recommend starting with an aim of around:

40% carbohydrates

30% protein

30% fat

as a share of total calories.

Remember that within these shares variety is also important, throughout the day they shouldn’t all be coming from one source. This is especially important with fat where you want to be getting all different types (head over here to read more about the different categories of fat).

Check out the video below for a step-by-step walk through of how I would build a plate keeping these shares in mind.

It’s not an exact science, but being mindful will take you a long way in achieving a healthful balance!

You can find the recipes mentioned in the video here:

Why is proper hydration so important?

The temperatures are inching higher here in Belgium, and during these warmer months, hydration, while always important to good health, becomes even more crucial.

Why is it so important?

Our body mass is 55-60% water and it makes up most of our cell volume and bodily fluids. Water has many important roles in our body, it:

  • helps us flush toxins and eliminate waste from the body

  • helps us maintain a stable body temperature

  • acts as a shock absorber cushioning our organs, bones, and joints

  • improves oxygen delivery to our cells and keeps our cells properly hydrated

  • aids in our cell-to-cell communication and their electrical properties

  • transports nutrients around our body

  • aids our body’s healing process

We can only fulfill about 8% of our body’s daily water needs through our own production, so the remaining 92% needs to be consumed either through drinking fluids or eating water-rich foods. We can’t store water (it’s all being used in one way or another), so proper daily intake is crucial.

Dehydration

Dehydration can happen with as little as a 2% drop in your body’s water content and this can already cause fatigue or other signs of early dehydration. Did you know that the “dry-mouth” or thirsty feeling is actually one of the later signs that you need to drink more? Up to a 10% drop in water content in the body can cause significant health issues, and more than 10% can result in death. This is why you may have heard you can survive weeks without food, but only days without water!

Early signs of dehydration could manifest as fatigue, anxiety or irritability, depression, cravings, cramps, or headaches. Some of the more mature signs could be joint or back pain, migraines, heart burn, or constipation. 

Diuretics

Diuretics are substances that actually deplete your body of more water than they are contributing to it. So drinking a large quantity of these beverages could be causing your dehydration without you even realizing it! Diuretic beverages include:

  • Coffee

  • Caffeinated tea

  • Some herbal teas, such as peppermint

  • Soft drinks

  • Alcohol

  • Sugary drinks including processed fruit juice

This is not to say that you have to cut all the above out of your life (although I would generally advocate for cutting out soft drinks or sugary drinks!), but you do need to be aware of how they might be affecting your body. For example, while you can up your water intake to offset your morning cup of coffee, if you are drinking 5 – 6 cups a day, just increasing your water on top of this probably won’t be a sustainable option.

How much do you need?

As with everything, you need to find the right balance for your body. The amount of water you need per day can differ depending on various factors like your climate, activity level, water-rich food intake, or current health. 

But as a general rule, you can use the following rough formulas (up to a daily maximum of 100oz / 3L):

weight (kg) x 30 = # of mL per day

and if you consume diuretic beverages:

[weight (kg) x 30] + [mL of diuretics x 1.5] = # of mL per day

Of course your needs are going to be unique to you and could differ based on your daily activity and exercise, temperature/climate, and even based on what you are eating that day.

Generally this should be to a maximum of 3000mL / 3L per day.
(Visual in video is correct, but I incorrectly said “300mL” – sorry!)

So if you are 60kg (132lbs) you would need approximately 2L (66oz) of water or other hydrating beverages per day, without any diuretic intake.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are key for your body to use water properly. They are minerals that when dissolved into water become able to conduct electricity – which allows the water to preform all its necessary functions in the body.

Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate are all important electrolytes.

If you are drinking your daily water requirement or more, but are still feeling thirsty, it could be because you are lacking in electrolytes to properly use the water. In general, if you are eating a real food, nutrient-dense diet, you should be getting the electrolytes you need. For example, using a quality sea salt when cooking! 

However, if you do think electrolyte supplementation is needed, it can be as easy as adding some quality sea salt to your water! Try experimenting with sea salts of different origins as they will have varying mineral contents. A little bit of sea salt should not be detected when added to your water.

Or pick up an electrolyte powder from a pharmacy and make your own sports drink (the ones on the market are generally so full of sugar that they aren’t really going to help you hydrate!):

  • 1L liquid (water, herbal tea, coconut water)

  • ⅛ – ¼ tsp sea salt

  • ¼ – ½ tsp electrolyte powder 

  • ¼ cup juice (best is to use freshly pressed grape, apple, lemon, lime, or pineapple)

  • 1 – 2 tbsp sweetener like honey or stevia(skip if using coconut water)

This drink is great to replenish electrolytes, especially after a longer period of intense exercise or when in hot climates as we lose a lot of electrolytes when sweating.

Or if you’ve been sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea, you may want to look into taking some electrolyte supplements. 

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