Our stomach is a small muscle in between our esophagus and small intestines. Its primary job is to churn and breakdown the food we intake and pass it on to the duodenum (which is the first part of the small intestines), for further processing. It is a vital part of our digestive tract, as it represents our strength of digestion. Absorption of energy from the food we eat strongly depends on the power of the stomach to finely blend the food.
Bad eating habits, which incorporate sugar, refined foods, fried foods, and unhealthy sodas, all create barriers for the stomach in the breakdown of food. Stomach’s acid and gut flora is upset by consumption of such foods and drinks. Wholesome foods, like whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, kefir (since it is very high in probiotics), nuts, etc. work to make the stomach more robust.
How we eat our food is the key to digestion : When wanting to improve our eating habits, one usually thinks of adding good nutritious food to their diet, but often we don’t take into account how we eat our food. While diet is very important, but what you do before, during and after eating is just as important, if you want a resilient digestive system. This seems to be a big missing piece to the puzzle nowadays. In times of stress, most of us are rushing while eating or cooking. Short lunch breaks, fast-food diners, and rushed schedules don’t allow for us to sit down for a moment and just devour our food. Evening dinners can seem cumbersome, and therefore we speedily try to put together a meal, which may or may not be 100% healthy, but we tell ourselves that it is fine. Due to such habits, we end up consuming foods that are highly acidic, high in fat, high in sugar and cooked in trans fats, as well as carbonated beverages. Just as we don’t perform optimally during stress, neither does our poor stomach, therefore impacting our digestion negatively.
Digestion of food goes through a long process of dissemination. Let’s have a quick look at that below.
Mouth > Esophagus > Stomach > Small Intestine > Large Intestine.
As our eyes see food, and our nose smells the aroma, the mouth starts to produce saliva. Saliva is full of important enzymes needed for the breakdown of food. Along with that, here is where the majority of chewing takes place to make the food small enough to swallow and assimilate with the enzymes.
The esophagus is again a muscle which carries food that you just chewed into the stomach. Peristalsis is gentle contractions of the muscles which allows for this to take place.
The stomach is where the food then collects. It is then processed with the acids and enzymes that the stomach produces, which will breakdown the various components food like proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The result of this disintegration of food is a liquid substance called chyme.
The food then enters the small intestine. The small intestine is seventeen feet long and is comprised of three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The stomach dumps into the duodenum. This is where it mixes with bile and pancreatic secretions, and continues its breakdown. In the ileum, the nutrients from the food are absorbed into the bloodstream. This nutrient rich blood then makes its way to the liver, where it is stored and delivered to other parts of the body.
The large intestine is the last step in our digestive journey. It too is comprised of three parts: the cecum, the colon and the rectum. The large intestine primarily absorbs water from the food coming from the small intestine, and therefore making compressed and tight clumps for excretion. Defecation allows for excretion.
In the meantime, it is important to note that the liver, gallbladder and pancreas have significant contribution to the digestion of food. The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder, which is essential for fat breakdown and assimilation. The pancreas secretes enzymes that help to digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats. And, as mentioned earlier, the liver also holds nutrients that were absorbed from the small intestine.
Seeing the various steps to digestion, we can appreciate the vast system that is in place in our body to make it run smoothly. Though, many times it is not running smoothly, and then we are exposed to various health conditions such as GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), gastritis, ulcers, improper digestion, etc., which not only impact the stomach, but weaken our immunity as well.
Let us look at some simple steps to sooth our stomach through some good eating practices. So, this article is about not what to eat per se, but how to eat well, so that your body gets optimum benefit.
1. Feel Grateful for your Food
When food is presented in front of you, always take the time to remember its origin. We all have one origin, and we finally merge into that energy. Food is comprised of elements that will be assimilated into our body as tissues, blood, organs, as well as our subtler energy, the mind. That is why we say that you are what you eat. Food is grace, and therefore we should first appreciate and be thankful for that grace, and the grace-giver. This also detaches your mind from the world, and lets you concentrate on the act of eating, which will promote good digestion. A healthy state of mind while eating will bring positivity, due to which your food will be absorbed in a smooth and manner that is nourishing to the body.
2. Eat in a Conducive Environment
The dining table is usually a restful place to sit and eat your meal. Sitting in front of the television, or eating while standing and multi-tasking while eating is very distracting. This brings undue stress to what is meant to be a peaceful act. Besides that, when you’re focused on your food, you are mindful of how much you’ve eaten, and when you are fully satiated. This is very helpful in regulating your weight too! So, find a nice, tranquil and peaceful environment to eat your meals in.
3. Eat at a Slow and Steady Pace
You need to learn to relish food, instead of gulping it down like a smoothie! Eat slowly, with a calm and serene mind. Of course, don’t take too much time, but take adequate time. The feeling that you keep at the time of eating is how the body will also digest the food. Also remember that it takes twenty minutes for the signal to reach the brain. So when you think you need the extra serving of seconds or third serving, wait for 15 to 20 minutes before going for it. So, enjoy your meal, slowly!
4. Thoroughly chew your Food
As we discussed earlier, the mouth is the starting point of our digestion. If we use it well, the breakdown is less taxing for the rest of the process. Good chewing ensures that you mix the food well with the digestive enzymes in the saliva, and the churning of course makes it easier for next step in the stomach, and so forth.
5. Don’t Drink Too Much While Eating
We all feel the urge to flush down our food with some water or other drinks at times, but this is unwarranted. Drinking while eating will dilute your stomach acid, which is vital in the dissemination of your food. You can of course take a few sips of water with your meal, but it is best to wait at least one to two hours after a meal to consume water (or consume water half an hour before your meal).
6. Eat Less than You Do
It may not seem true, but we really do eat more than we should, or I should say, more than the body really needs. Eating more weighs you down physically, which then leads to a mental slow down also. Our body needs less calorie dense food, and more nutrient dense food. Since most of us don’t eat like that, we end up eating more to make up for energy dips that we feel. That is one aspect, and the other is that a lot of the body’s energy is used to digest the food you eat. So the more you eat, the more your body is heavily taxed with burning it. Many doctors say to eat till you’re eighty percent satiated. So, eat less and feel more energetic.
Try out some of techniques, and try to make them a habit, instead of a once in a while thing. Good food, along with good eating habits, will help you feel rejuvenated both physically and mentally. Be grateful to God for providing for us always. The Bhagavad Gita says that “He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” Food should be thy medicine, and medicine thy food. Prepare food with love. Eat it with even more love. Serve it with the most love. 🙂