In my ongoing mission to help you stop fearing and blaming food for everything, we have to spend a moment talking about optimizing your digestive function.
Healthy digestive function is critical because it determines how well your body can digest AND absorb nutrients. It requires that every step of digestion is running smoothly and that transit time through your gut is at the right speed.
Otherwise, a number of scenarios can happen that aren’t good for you.
In one instance, food can rush through your digestive tract too quickly and make it impossible for you to absorb nutrients. I call this the “Internal Flush”.
OR food isn’t fully broken down and ends up feeding gut bugs that ultimately aren’t your friends!
These bugs thrive as a result and produce all sorts of toxins that are inflammatory and overwhelm your liver detoxification pathways. They end up triggering a combo of digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, belching, bad breath, abdominal pain or tenderness, diarrhea, and constipation.
If you notice, these are the same symptoms that food sensitivities can trigger.
That’s why I’m not a fan of obsessing over food sensitivities because they aren’t a root cause and often people blame food when it’s not the food… instead, digestive function needs some TLC.
Healthy Digestion Starts In Your Mouth
If you’ve got chronic digestive problems, chronic skin rash issues, or autoimmune disease, there’s one rule you MUST live by…
You don’t have teeth in your stomach!
As silly and obvious as this might sound, it’s a reminder that properly chewing your food is not optional.
If you tend to be the first person finished with your meal or “inhale your food”, now would be a good time to slow down.
Failing to properly chew food means that large pieces of food end up in your stomach and can’t be fully broken down.
Plus you totally miss out on the beginning of carbohydrate digestion which starts in your mouth. Saliva actually contains amylase which is the digestive enzyme that pulls carbs apart to their smaller building blocks.
So do yourself a favor and chew soft foods for 5 to 10 chews per bite.
And chew harder, tougher foods 25 to 30 chews per bite.
Yes, it’s work for your jaw, but your digestive system will thank you!
How To Optimize Digestive Health
Once you swallow your chewed food, it heads for the stomach to start the next phase of digestion.
The stomach involves a combination of hydrochloric acid and protein enzymes called proteases. This is where proteins are pulled apart into their individual amino acids so that other nutrients like Vitamin B12 can be released.
Having both appropriate levels of acid and protease enzymes is imperative. Low stomach acid makes it all the harder on your system to extract nutrition from food.
I’ve found that about 85% of my chronic gut and skin problem clients have low stomach acid which underscores why it’s important to figure this piece out!
After the stomach, the smaller fragments of food and nutrients head for your small intestine where the pH is much more alkaline than the stomach. This allows the pancreatic enzymes that include more proteases, amylase, and lipases (that break down fats) to go to work.
I cannot stress this point enough… food (and ultimately nutrients) must be broken down to their smallest fragments in order to be absorbed. If they aren’t broken down, you will literally poop out what you ate.
Don’t Forget About Your Gallbladder
Before we go any further, your gallbladder must be included in this conversation.
While some doctors might lead you to think that your gallbladder is expendable, that’s not actually true.
You can live without a gallbladder, but you still need to replace the role of the gallbladder in the digestive process.
See, your liver makes bile and then your gallbladder stores and concentrates it. When you eat, hormones tell your gallbladder to contract and squirt out the bile waiting in storage.
This is important because bile is a necessary and non-negotiable part of absorbing fat in your diet.
If bile isn’t concentrated and released when you eat, then you likely won’t have enough bile available to solubilize fats.
Wait… what does that even mean?
Imagine you need to clean a super greasy pan, but you only have water and a sponge. That’s going to be a tough job considering that water and oil don’t mix.
What you need is some dish soap to solubilize the grease to ultimately clean it!
And that’s essentially what bile helps your body do so that it can actually absorb fats (along with fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K).
That’s why if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, you’ve got to supplement the bile before meals. (Here’s my favorite digestive aide that includes bile.)
I should mention one thing here… to supplement with bile means you have to take ox bile. There is no vegetarian or vegan alternative to this.
Eating low fat or no fat isn’t the best way to go since your body does need fats (and can burn fats in your mitochondria) to produce energy, create hormones, and build healthy cell membranes (to name a few).
And yes… if you can’t absorb the fat, it will leave your body through your poop and can cause all sorts of disruptions in digestion.
Final Pieces of Healthy Digestive Function
If we had more time, we could get into even more of the nitty-gritty of optimizing your digestive system.
It’s certainly possible to dive deeper here and discuss gut motility, the microbiome (that should live in your colon), and more. But for now, this is a great starting point towards optimizing digestion.
The point is to make sure that what you eat actually makes its way into your body.
Otherwise, all you’ve got is expensive poop!
Lessons For Healthy Digestive Function
If you take nothing else away from this podcast, I hope this will be it —
- Stop assuming that your digestive issues are the result of food sensitivities.
- Slow down and chew your food.
- If you don’t have a gallbladder anymore, you need bile support for the rest of your life.
- Don’t be afraid to look at your poop! It’s not gross… it’s a barometer for your digestive function. If you see big chunks of food or even greasy streaks on the top of the water, it means you’ve got work to do.