This year, things are going to be different as we take a look at digestion and how we can give it a boost this holiday season. Whether it’s adding some herbal help or simply being mindful about how much we put on our plate, there’s no reason to be bloated the next day.
What happens during the digestive process?
From that moment when the smell of a freshly made meal hits our nostrils, the body begins preparing our digestive response. The scents of fresh bread being pulled out of the oven, sweet potato casserole, a juicy turkey being carved, or a smorgasbord of pies to choose from are mouthwatering experiences for an important reason.
Seeing and smelling a meal before you kick starts the salivary glands to accelerate their production. Saliva contains an important enzyme known as amylase that breaks down larger sugars into those that are more easily processed. As the food is chewed, we break it down into smaller and smaller pieces which provides more areas for the amylase to act on.
Knowing something is in the mouth that’s worth digesting, the body also starts to increase the amount of acid produced in the stomach. This acid breaks apart the meal into smaller and smaller bits to increase the surface area that the enzymes in the gut can act on.
The stomach also contains pepsin, an agent that breaks down proteins so they can be absorbed further down the digestive line.
Over the stomach, and through the gut.
After passing through the stomach, the mixture of enzymes, stomach acid and food is now known as chyme.
Upon entering the small intestine, the gall bladder and pancreas begin their work. The gall bladder releases bile salts that act on fats to break them down into smaller droplets, a process known as emulsification. The pancreas releases amylase similar to that found in the mouth in addition to protease and lipase which act on proteins and fats respectively.
A hormone known as cholecystokinin is active is this phase of digestion, the role of which is to increase bile and pancreatic enzyme release.
All of this break down during the process of digestion is carried out with the goal that the nutrients can be absorbed in the small intestine.
Now let’s look at a few steps to improve your digestion:
Step 1 – go ahead and have that glass of water
Is it true that it’s better to drink water with a meal? The jury is still out on this statement. The acidic stomach has a pH that sits around a comfortable 4-5, fluctuating between 1.5 and 4 depending on the current digestive status of the body.
Studies have shown that in healthy individuals, drinking a glass of water will raise the pH of the stomach to approximately 4 within a minute, but this number drops back into the more acidic range of 1-2 within about 3 minutes. So, while there might be a temporary fluctuation in stomach acid, it quickly dissipates.
The stomach needs to stay acidic to break down the food, but worrying about water diluting your stomach acid for the entire meal isn’t something to concern yourself with! Staying hydrated is always a plus, so enjoy that glass of water.
Step 2 – if you choose to have water with your meal, make sure it’s room temperature or a little warm.
Cold water requires more of a two-step process where the body has to expend energy to warm the water to a more comfortable body temperature before digesting it. The cold water will chill the cells and cause them to become a little less efficient in their function. This leads to a more inefficient break down of foods and can actually cause the blood vessels supplying the stomach to become smaller.
Studies have shown that cold water also has a significant impact on how quickly the body moves the chyme through the digestive tract and could encourage the formation of fat.
Step 3 – maintain a food journal and practice mindfulness during your meal
Keeping a food journal is also a fantastic way to manage holiday intake, especially if the habit is developed before the season hits. Mindless eating is something that fast food has tried to make the norm.
Whether it’s sitting in the car and munching on that breakfast sandwich or grabbing a pasty at the coffee shop because, ‘might as well since I’m here’. These forms of quick grab and go meals are far from the way to promote a healthy digestive system.
When awareness is brought to how much we’re eating and what we’re putting in our body, healthier eating habits can be established. Those with a higher percent body fat have been shown to make more impulsive food choices and engage in mindless eating habits.
It’s also important to note that mindless has nothing to do with intelligence, it merely refers to making a choice without giving it thought. Those who engaged in mindful eating showed higher levels of impulse control, allowing them to say no to the temptation of food outside of necessity such as satisfying hunger.
Those who remained mindful also showed lower blood sugar spikes following a meal, something that’s especially important around the holidays to avoid the inevitable food coma.
Step 4 – add some probiotics to your pre-dinner plan
What are some other ways I can avoid the Holiday food baby? Probiotics provide a wide range of benefits such as the strain Bacillus coagulans that increases protein absorption and reduces muscle recovery time. Others such as the Bifidobacterium strain have been shown to reduce bloating and cramping as they don’t generate gas during fermentation. Other species are much more…reactive, so to speak and their activity leaves their human feel gassy.
Step 5 – some herbal help can help the stomach process foods more efficiently and reduce the post-meal bloating that often accompanies the warmth of a holiday meal.
In this case, Peumus boldo is your new friend. It contains the active component known as boldine which helps treat liver dysfunction as well as protect the liver in the long term.
You might be thinking, where does the liver play a part in all of this? The liver has the responsibility of creating something known as bile that helps emulsify or break down fats, as well as process the nutrients absorbed in the small intestine.
When the liver gets lazy in its job, fat can accumulate on the inner lining of the intestinal wall and quickly lead to digestive issues.
Products such as a Digestive Aid Complex contain this powerful herb in addition to dandelion, milk thistle, and artichoke. This combination ensures a happy and healthy Holiday season without worrying about grabbing that extra helping. So go ahead, get up, and grab seconds.