Understanding the digestive process helps us understand the need for good food habits, and the need to eat at the proper times.
1. Digestion in the Mouth
As you chew food in your mouth, the food is broken into smaller pieces and mixed with saliva. Saliva contains an enzyme—salivary amylase or ptyalin—that changes the insoluble starches into simpler soluble forms. For effective digestion, keep the following points in mind.
- Chew the food properly. This will break it down into smaller pieces, increasing the surface area and contact with the saliva.
- Avoid very sour items (sour curds, lime, etc.) in combination with rice and chapatis. The acids in sour foods will not permit digestion in the mouth, as saliva needs an alkaline medium to work. This is especially true for people with poor digestion, who experience belching and sour liquids in the mouth after meals.
- Avoid pasty or watery foods. One tends to just swallow them, leading to poor salivary digestion. Follow the dictum—“Drink the solids, eat the liquids.”
2. Digestion in the Stomach
The stomach is a living bag, continuously contracting and expanding so that food in it gets thoroughly churned up. While food stays in the mouth only for a few seconds, it spends more time in the stomach, between two to three hours. The digestion of proteins commences in the stomach, to be finally completed in the intestines along with carbohydrates and fats.
In the digestive process, the stomach secretes pepsin, which breaks down the long protein chains into smaller units, called peptones that are soluble in water. It also secretes Hydrochloric Acid, which does many important jobs in the stomach. It provides the acidic medium in which pepsin can work. It also kills bacteria that enter the stomach with the food.
3. Digestion in the Small Intestine
The third phase in digestion takes place in the small intestine, a very long tubular structure, about 5 or 6 times the body height, 20 feet in length, cleverly folded up and tucked into the abdomen behind the navel region. The pancreas and the gall bladder pour out their digestive enzymes at the beginning of the small intestine. These enzyme rich juices digest the semi-digested proteins, starches, and sugars. Fats are digested into simpler substances with the help of enzymes. The bile secreted by the gall bladder converts simple fats into globules.
Finally the simpler units of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream, across the lining of the small intestine. The vitamins and minerals are also simply absorbed into the blood. In normal healthy state, it takes 4 to 6 hours for food to pass through the small intestine.
4. Digestion in the Large Intestine
It follows the small intestine. It looks like a bicycle tube and goes around the abdomen like the letter U placed upside down. As digested food passes along the large intestine, water gets absorbed along with the vitamins and minerals. The food remains become harder and finally reach the outlet called anus and pass out as stools.
When a log of wood is burnt, it leaves behind some ash. When any food is digested, absorbed and metabolized (burnt up), it also leaves some residue in the cells of the body. This can be acidic or alkaline. This is measured on pH scale from 1 to 14, in which 7 is the neutral value. The pH value of our blood is 7.4 alkaline. Optimal health is in a mildly alkaline body. All the fluids in the body, with the exception of the stomach, are or should be alkaline.
The average 21st century lifestyle, diet, and environment produce far more acid in the body than is necessary. 90% of the population is too acidic. The results of this are:
- Connective tissues are weakned and facial skin and hair lose their tone.
- Sleep pattern gets disturbed. Relaxing deep sleep is reduced.
- Physical and mental exhaustion by mid-afternoon.
- Colds infections, headache, and flu are common.
- Friendly bacterial in the intestines die and the immune system gets impaired.
- Vitamins and minerals from food are not absorbed well.
- Free radical oxidation occurs with great ease.
- Digestion is impaired and flatulence and bloating is more frequent.
Thus, the number of calories we consume means nothing unless they come from proper food. We must consume both—alkali and acidic ash foods—daily, since both are necessary. In general, fruits and vegetables yield an alkali ash, whereas meat, milk products, oils, nuts, etc. yield an acidic ash. Grains yield an acidic ash. Pulses and beans yield an acidic ash, but when sprouted they yield on alkali ash. Coffee, alcohol, tobacco, sauces, vinegar yield an acidic ash. Honey, ginger, herbal teas yield an alkali ash. We should eat a diet that is 75 per cent alkali ashes formation and 25 per cent acidic ashes. Our present day diet is the reverse of this.
To maintain the proper proportion between acidic and alkali ash in the body, follow the general guidelines:
- Eat some fresh fruit every day and include salads in each meal.
- Include fresh sprouts in your diet, either raw or conservatively cooked.
- Substitute in-between snacks with fresh fruits and nuts.
- Develop the habit of enjoying freshly squeezed lime in one glass of water daily, a minimum of one lime a day. Lime and other citrus fruits taste acidic and are acidic for the first hour in the body, but leave an alkaline effect on the body after being assimilated.
- Minimize fried foods, packaged foods, processed, and stale foods. Eat freshly cooked food, do not cook and store in the refrigerator.
- Reduce consumption of pasteurized milk products.
- Calm the mind through Yog, music, prayer, etc. React to others with love and compassion. Moderate exercise, walking in fresh air, Yogic stretches, and pranayam are all conducive to reducing the acidic ash formation in the body.
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