Mastication is the first step in the digestion process in which you chew and grind down food with your teeth. Chewing your food properly is how your body breaks down nutrients; this is why it’s so important. Dense foods like lamb, bacon, beef, cheese and nuts will need to be chewed down 30 to 40 times before swallowing. That means we have to work a little harder so our stomach doesn’t have to. Softer foods like fruit and some vegetables can be chewed only around 5 to 10 times while more fibrous fruits and vegetables may need a little more chew time to break down.
The second step of the digestion process is saliva. It not only helps moisten the food so you can swallow it easily but our saliva also contains an enzyme, called Amylase, that breaks down starches into maltose & dextrin. Amylase enzymes do not function in acidic environments which is why all foods that are high in carbohydrates should be chewed properly. Saliva is produced in the salivary glands and is 98% water that includes electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds and various supportive enzymes.
Let’s talk about the tongue. This muscle is also a vital part of digestion in which it pushes the food around while you chew and lends a hand in swallowing. The tongue is not just a powerful muscle, it’s full of nerves that help detect and transmit signals to our brain! These nerves allow us to enjoy our foods by distinguishing the taste of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Enjoyable that is, until you bite your tongue – then you REALLY feel how many nerves are in that big muscle. Remember, the more you chew your food so it’s properly broken down, the less risk of bloating and in turn, GI symptoms will improve!
At this point the food has made it to your stomach where acids and enzymes that will break down nutrients even further. The muscles of your stomach will be mixing your food with these digestive juices, then your Pancreatic enzymes further break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The pancreas plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. Some of these enzymes will break down carbohydrates into sugars or glucose. Glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream so a hormone called insulin delivers this energy into our cells to be used. The entire process of digestion can take up to 6 to 8 hours! This whole process starts with your mouth! Then, the stomachs small intestine and ultimately your large intestine. Another Factor in how well you absorb food will depend on the acidity of your stomach acid; favourable ph level is usually around 1.5 to 3.5.
*Fun fact: The small intestine is almost 20 feet long!
Next up is Bile. The liver produces bile and it’s stored in our gallbladder. Bile is critical for digestion and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestines. If you have ever experienced gallstones it may mean you have a problem absorbing or digesting fats. Bile also neutralizes stomach acid in the small intestine.
The large intestine, at approx 5 feet in length, is the last part of the gastrointestinal tract and digestive system. Here Water is absorbed and the remaining waste material is stored as feces before being removed by defecation.