We all know, well at the least the gardeners amongst us know, that the strength of a tree does not lie in its limbs or branches, but in its roots. Every persistent malfunction in the digestive system will, sooner or later, eventually impact the entire body, in the same way that a disease in a plant’s roots will eventually affect everything else: branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit.
In medieval times, there was a wide-ranging interest in health and disease, and Islamic doctors and scholars wrote extensively, developing complex literature on medication, clinical practice, diseases, cures, treatments, and diagnoses. Often, in these medical texts, they incorporated theories relating to natural science, astrology, alchemy, religion, philosophy, and mathematics. I believe this is how the following saying originated – “The intestines are the father of all suffering.”
You aren’t what you eat!
I could not agree more! You aren’t what you eat – you are what your body absorbs and, more importantly, assimilates. If you don’t absorb the nutrients in your food, they can’t be assimilated into your cells and thus your cells, nerves, muscles, brain tissue, in fact all organs and systems of the body, are starved of the nutrients they need to function optimally and keep us well.
So many digestive problems can be traced back to poor nutrient absorption. When we are not absorbing nutrients, we start to experience all kinds of other problems – with hair, skin, mood, immunity. You can read more about the link between gut and skin health in my blog post here.
While you might be getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet, if your body isn’t digesting and absorbing these foods, you aren’t getting the maximum nutrition ‘bang for your buck’!
But how are nutrients absorbed by the body?
The simple version of this process has five components:
- Chewing and the introduction of enzymes in your mouth
- Churning and mixing with acid (gastric juice) in your stomach
- Contact and absorption in your small intestine – your nutrient absorption centre
- Entrance into the bloodstream
- Carrier proteins bringing nutrients into your cells
How much of nutrient absorption is within your control?
Quite a bit, actually. Maintaining your digestive health and making smart dietary decisions are two major factors under your control. These are my top tips to support nutrient absorption.
- Keep your levels of good bacteria up with a probiotic
Your digestive system is helped by the members of your gut microbiome. That’s why probiotics like my Live Bacteria are great for supporting healthy digestion. They help maintain healthy bacterial diversity, which assists your gut in breaking down some types of food so they can be properly absorbed.
- Make healthy fat choices
There are certain nutrients that rely on fat to get from the small intestine to the rest of your body. Healthy fats are necessary for storing up vitamins A, D, E, and K. Choose healthy fats (plant sources) over saturated fats to help your body absorb these important nutrients.
- Give your body plenty of nutrients to absorb
This sounds like the most obvious advice, but it’s important to remember. Make a goal to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to optimise the vitamins you’re getting on a daily basis. Start by eating a ‘rainbow’ of different coloured foods. This can help you meet your nutrient goals. Red and orange foods have lots of vitamin A, while green veggies are packed with B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Colourful foods also contain phytonutrients that support good health.
- Chew, chew, chew…
Watch out, fast eaters! Digestion begins in your mouth and chewing is the first step to breaking down your food. Many foods like nuts are more efficiently digested by being chewed for a longer period. Saliva is packed with enzymes that help begin the breakdown process, especially in the case of carbohydrates.
Stomach acid helps to further digest or break down food and nutrients like protein. Not many nutrients are absorbed in the stomach directly, except alcohol. Absorption of nutrients mostly occurs in the small intestine.
We have lots more to share with you about how important an efficient digestive system is and how, if yours is weakened through illness, drugs, or stress, it can be improved to give you back the health and vitality you once had and be able to enjoy previously ‘banned’ foods too.
If you have any questions about a digestive or gut health issue, or you would like to know more about our supplements, please get in touch.