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You are what you digest

Health Nutrition

Written by:
Birgitte Nymann ( www.nymanns.dk )
Author, speaker and educator within Exercise, health, nutrition and motivation. Concept – and seminar developer at Pro Academy, Denmark. Educated and trained in sport from University of Copenhagen.

It is said that you are what you eat, but in fact you are what you digest. Your food may very well be of a good quality and organic but if your digestion is not functioning at its best, you will not get value for your money: The food will not catabolise properly and you therefore cannot optimise the use of it. So - having a healthy digestion system is the Alpha and Omega of a healthy body.

We suffer from bad digestion because we are too stressed to chew our food properly and at the same time, our bodies give a lower priority to supplying our intestines with energy when we rush about. We suffer from bad digestion because we eat too much prepared food: bread, paste, sugar, alcohol, deep-fried food and food with long shelf lives (the longer the shelf life of the food you eat, the harder it is for your body to digest it because the enzyme activity will be close to nil). And our digestion systems also suffer from the fact that we drink too much coffee, tea and soft drinks - and far too little pure water.

More people than ever before suffer from digestive problems. Bad digestion may cause a series of problems in your entire body, for instance loin pains, painful intercourses, hip and knee pains, breathing problems, impure skin, dry skin, hair and nails, incontinence (problems holding back "water and gas") and impotence. Moreover, bad digestion has a negative influence on your posture because your abdominal and back muscles cannot work properly when your intestines are hurting. Suffering from bad digestion will always make you feel ill so it greatly affects your vitality, quality of life and energy. Bad digestion may also cause your abdomen to bloat like a wash tub – instead of being flat like a washboard.

The digestive system has its own nervous system that works independently of the nervous system of the rest of the body. That is a really ingenious construction because it allows us to always digest food no matter what happens to the nervous system in other parts of the body. The intestine nervous system itself also produces serotonin, the body's own happiness hormone. The worse the functioning of the digestive system, the less serotonin is produced in the body, often reflected as tiredness, less energy, little power of concentration and depression or irritability.

75 % of your body's immune response lies in your intestines

The digestive tract sends the food you eat from top to bottom and comprises a system of special-purpose organs designed to digest the food you eat into small molecules that, in turn, are digested by your blood or stored for later use.

The human intestines contain about 2 kilos of bacteria that help digest your food and defend your body. 75 % of your body's immune response lies in your intestines. The minute the intestinal flora is changed, it will show in the immune response. If you wish to stay healthy and avoid tiredness, your digestion must therefore work at an optimum. The worse the digestion, the greater the risk of getting various infections. The reason why 75 % of the immune response lies in the intestines is that these are the "orifice" of the body. We eat an incredible amount of bacteria, junk and dirt so it is a clever thing for our bodies to have a defence system that will attack these foreign bodies before they enter our bloodstreams and the rest of our bodies. The busier the immune response, the more tired you get.

When your digestion is at its best:

  • You go "properly" to the lavatory 1-3 times a day.
  • You "put out" a total of about 30 cm a day.
  • The output is compact and of a "fine" shape.
  • The output is not too hard or too easy to deliver.
  • The output does not smell.
  • The output is of a fine, brownish colour.
  • The output is not greasy and does not leave traces in the toilet bowl.
  • The output floats on the water.

You optimise your digestion by:

  • Chewing your food properly. It must be fluid before swallowing.
  • Eating well-prepared food of good quality.
  • Sitting down when eating – or at least not doing other things while eating. It will stress your body.
  • Drinking 1/3 of your body weight measured as decilitres of water a day – spread over the whole of the day. It is a good idea to begin your day by drinking a glass of water, it will hydrate your intestines.
  • Eating nutrient- and fibre-rich foods (vegetables, fruit and whole grains).
  • Eating adequate amounts of fat (approx. 1 gram per kilo of body weight per day).
  • Possibly eating lactic acid bacteria in the form of for instance A38 [acidophilus milk], Multidophilus or probiotics.
  • Eating as much raw food as possible, meaning that the food should be prepared as little as possible.
  • Drinking and eating moderate amounts of alcohol and sugar or totally excluding it in your daily diet.
  • Avoiding foods to which you are intolerant or allergic.
  • Lowering your stress level.
  • Exercising on a regular basis (motion "exercises" your intestines, thus aiding their peristalsis).

Chew your intestines fit

To optimise your digestion and stimulate your sense of taste, and to prevent you from eating too much, you have to chew your food properly. It is not possible to indicate a certain number of times you should chew a bite of food as it varies a lot with the texture of the food. Before swallowing, your food should be chewed until it is fluid. An average Dane chews a bite of food 4-5 times before stuffing it into his or her mouth.

When food is not chewed properly there is a tendency to eat more, but if you do chew it properly, you actually have time to find out that your sense of taste is stimulated, and at the same time, nutrients are released, "signalling" to your body that they are inside it.

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