Digestion is performed by the movements of the organs of our digestive system and the enzymatic action of the juices poured by these organs. In order to have a good digestion, the proper conditions for the functioning of these enzymes must be accomplished.
We don’t realize how much all our life can impact in our digestion. Most people have serious problems to meet all these requirements because of their lifestyle. That is why most people have some kind of gastro-intestinal disease, and as a consequence, some kind of health problem.. It's not rare that people with auto-immune diseases, cardio-vascular diseases, neurological, psychological and degenerative disorders, fatigue, and any other kind of chronic diseases, suffer of some kind of gastro-intestinal disorder too, such as GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) , bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches, peptic ulcer, etc..
1.- What we eat.
Junk food, processed food, refined food, genetically modified food, overcooked or burned food, sugar, unhealthy fats, .... There’s a long list of unhealthy food, on top of that a lot of foods are not well tolerated by some people, because most people are not aware of their food intolerances to lactose, casein, gluten, egg, soy, legumes, fructose, histamine, etc. We should eat only what our enzymes can digest, otherwise all undigested food will feed undesirable bacteria.
2.- Food combining
The laws of food combining disclosed by Dr. Shelton are detailed in this other article.
When a meal is composed by a mixture of incompatible foods, some substances of the meal won’t be well digested, because the conditions that enzymes require for every kind of food are different. So for example, the pH for digesting proteins in the stomach must be acid, while starches need a basic pH.
The most important rules of food combining are:
* Don’t mix carbohydrates and proteins.
* Eat fruits alone
3.- Digestion inhibitors and antibiotics
Some foods inhibit the digestion of other foods, preventing the enzymatic action on food to break it down into its basic elements.
There is a long list of food that contain some antinutrients that inhibit digestion, some of them currently consumed by most of the population: tannic acid in wine, caffeine in coffee, theine in tea, theobromine in cocoa (chocolate), phytic acid in the bran of all grains and legumes, saponins in legumes and potatoes, acetic acid in vinegar, and alcohol in all kinds of alcoholic drinks. Condiments such as salt and spices slow down the digestion.
Phytic acid and saponines are reduced in different levels by soaking, fermenting, cooking or sprouting, but they still remain in some amount when the food is consumed.
Chewing in the mouth is the first stage of digestion. Chewing allows to convert food into small pieces, and also, to begin the salivary digestion of carbohydrates.
If we swallow food without chewing, which is the case when we eat smoothies or purées and drink juices, or to a lesser extent, with grated and chopped food, we don’t salivate. Also, during the process of grating, chopping, blending and juicing food is oxidized and it allows to start the undesirable aerobic fermentation and degradation of all nutrients.
Some nutritionists, such as Dr. Shelton, say that drinking water during meals dilutes enzymes, which makes the digestion more difficult. However, others claim that digestive juices will adapt to the amount of water that is poured depending on the needs. So if we drink water, digestive juices will contain less water.
My opinion is that you must listen to your body, the sensation of thirst, and feel what works better for you. Drinking water during meals generates bloating for some people, which is a symptom of bad digestion, while other people feel that drinking water helps the process of their digestion.
It also depends on the type of food you eat. Dry meals such as a grilled steak or French fries will need some water in order to get them go through the esophagus. But if you eat salads, vegetables and fruits, then your food contains enough water, so it is not necessary to drink water. ds, vegetables and fruits, then food contains enough water, so drinking additional water is not needed.
Enzymes work optimally at body temperature. If we increase or decrease this temperature ingesting hot or cold drinks and food, then digestion takes more time to take place, because the body has to spend more energy and time regulating the temperature, and digestion will have to wait until the adequate temperature has been reached.
So in winter, don’t consume your meals too hot, and avoid eating ice creams too fast in summer. Let the cold or hot food reach body temperature in your mouth before swallowing it.
In the same way, the ambient temperature of the dining room must be warm. If someone is eating in a cold place, they will need to spend a lot of energy in order to warm themselves up, an energy that will be taken from the digestive process.
7.- Amount of food
Everybody agrees that overeating is not healthy. (See this article to know more about how, paradoxically, overeating lead to a lack of nutrients). But we don’t agree about where the line is that separates rational amounts from overeating. The place where this line is placed depends of a long list of factors: gender, physical constitution, physical activity, type of diet, etc.
It has been shown that calories is not a good guideline (see the reasons in this book).
In general, I would recommend following these guidelines to find out what the amount of food you can eat is:
- Stop eating when you feel satisfied, don’t wait until you feel completely full. In order to notice the messages that your stomach is sending, practice conscious eating. If you can’t notice these messages, follow the conscious eating directives very strictly. Later on, you will be able to listen to your body while eating in company.
- People with leptin resistance hardly feel full even after eating big amounts of food, because the brain doesn’t get the message that the person should stop eating. These people need to address their leptin resistance problems.
- Eat as little as possible. It’s always better to err on the side of lack of food rather than excess of food.
- Never force a child or any person to finish their meal against their will.
In this other article you can find more detailed information about the possible reasons of overeating.
8.- Frequency of eating
How many meals should we eat? Some nutritionists advise eating small quantities very often, others prefer eating very few meals with more abundant food.
The option of few meals is what the body organs need to rest between meals in order to be able to secrete the adequate amount of enzymes for the next food.
On the other hand, some nutritionists say that having snacks helps prevent cravings and excessive hunger, others argument that it helps maintaining a constant supply of nutrients, such as glucose.
In general, a person that follows a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, such as Natural Hygiene doesn’t need to eat too much nor too frequently. Usually, one or two meals a day are enough. But if you are not well nourished because of the diet and/or your lifestyle, then you will need to eat more amount and more often, because the digestive system won’t be able to digest and absorb enough nutrients, and the diet may be nutrient deficient. Besides, you will feel hungry because of the addictive properties of several products, such as processed food, glutamate, sugar, salt, coffee, chocolate, tea, dairy products, gluten grains, etc.
I think that everybody has to find out what works better for them in terms of better digestion, less cravings, energy boosts, and in general, feeling better.
But the most important thing is to avoid eating when you are not hungry, so skip as many meals as necessary until you get really hungry. And if you are hungry very often, maybe what you are feeling is not really hunger, but the symptoms of detoxification of your last meal, or the symptoms of withdrawal of some kind of addictive food or product you consume.
A healthy hungry feeling is pleasant, and it’s always possible to wait a little bit more without feeling sick. If you feel really tired, trembling, with stomach ache, headache, lack of energy, etc. when you are hungry, then it means that you are not eating in a correct way, probably you are not eating the appropriate food for your body or some of the conditions we are explaining in this article are not respected. Another difference between true hunger and craving is that when you are really hungry you are able to eat any kind of healthy food. If you only desire some specific kind of food means that it is craving. See in this other article the different reasons for having cravings.
There is no doubt that emotions influence our digestive system. If we feel upset, our digestive system is also upset and doesn’t work well. So if you feel any kind of negative emotion: sadness, fear, injustice, envy, anxiety, etc., resist compulsive eating until you have managed to calm down your emotional state. Use any technique that helps you to relax and cheer you up before eating, or ask a psychologist for help or find some kind of therapy if it is a chronic state you are in.
In this article you can read more about nutrition and the body-mind connection.
Eat in a calm state. Avoid discussions, heated arguments, business meetings, listening to news on the TV, etc. at the dining table. Choose good company or eat alone, in a nice and quiet place, relax while eating and listen to your body.
Stress is the greatest enemy of good digestion. When an organism is under stress, it redirects all the energy to the muscles in order to fight or flee from danger, and it stops wasting energy on the digestion, which is not necessary in a life threatening situation.
So again, use some kind of technique in order to relax before eating and take all the time you need for the meals. If you don’t have enough time to eat a long meal, just skip it or eat a very light, small meal.
It’s also important to avoid stress during the whole process of digestion, which can take from 2 hours up to 4 hours, depending on the kind of meal.
Feeling tired means that your digestive system is tired too, so it won’t have the energy to perform digestion.
What is currently believed (food gives us energy, so if we are tired we must eat) is not true. If a person is tired he/she must rest or sleep in order to recover energy.
If you experience a “high” after eating or drinking some stimulant product, it means that the body has made a big effort in order to make the digestion of that product. It may be that the product has hurried the body to make a quick disposal of it because it contains toxic substances, which is the case of excitants such as coffee, chocolate and tea.
In any case, if you feel a “high” after eating and you were tired before, it means that you have exhausted the little bit of energy that was still remaining in your body, and that means that less energy will be left after the digestion than before eating or drinking that product.
The process of digestion always takes energy from the body, so you can never feel more energized immediately after meals. It’s after several hours, when digestion has finished, that food has been converted into fuel and can provide more energy.
So, don’t eat if you are tired, just rest. And don’t make any strong physical or mental effort while the digestion is in process.
In the same way that we must avoid eating when tired, fasting is the best option when we are sick; or just have very light and less frequent meals.
When a person holds on to his/her beliefs, in case those are wrong, it is difficult to change the dietary habits. It is always good to doubt any nutrition dogma and knowledge you have, whatever its source (even mine!).
Read a lot, find out about the arguments of all the different approaches, try them on yourself and listen to your body. Finally choose the approach that makes you feel best.
We must distinguish between the conscious beliefs and subconscious ones. These latter ones are very difficult to change. In this other article you can learn more about subconscious beliefs.
Some toxic substances inhibit or even destroy enzymes. Mercury, which is to be found in metallic amalgams (“silver” dental fillings), is the biggest problem for the digestive system. This mercury is releasing vapors little by little, which are diluted in the saliva, destroying the enzymes there, and later on, other enzymes in the stomach and intestines. Also, it has been linked to the leaky gut syndrome, stomach ulcers and the destruction of gut flora (see here and here). But mercury is found in many other places: fish, hair dyes, paint, batteries, broken thermometers, vaccines, etc. (click here to know more).
Any kind of toxin will inhibit or stop enzymatic action: from pesticides in food to tobacco. Here you will find a more detailed list of the most frequently toxic products in our environment.
The anti-acid and proton pump inhibitors act by inhibiting the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Because hydrochloric acid plays a key role in the digestion of proteins, this kind of medicine leads to protein indigestion and the consequent growth of proteolytic bacteria in the stomach and intestines, such as Clostridum (see here).Also, hydrochloric acid is important for the absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium, and vitamin B12. (See more about the proton pump inhibitors here)
Sodium bicarbonate neutralizes the hydrochloric acid, so side effects of this remedy are mainly the same as proton pump inhibitors. Another important function of hydrochloric acid is that it is antiseptic, killing any bad bacteria, virus or parasite that has eventually entered with food.
So if you have acid reflux or heartburn, it’s better to find out what is the cause of this problem, reviewing all the factors that are exposed in this article.
Antibiotics destroy the gut flora, both the beneficial and pathogenic, creating a desert that is normally repopulated by undesirable bacteria such as candida and/or clostridium. (See this article about antibiotics)
I won’t explain the side effects of all medicines on the digestive system here, but I would like to highlight the detrimental effect of laxatives and the contraceptive pill. Nevertheless, we may claim that almost all of them disturb the digestive system in some way.
But not only medicines have a big impact on our digestive health. Also some food have medicinal effect and can do the same harm. Besides the food that act as digestion inhibitors that we have already seen in a previous section, other substances currently used in meals such as salt, spices, herbs, honey, alcohol, garlic and onion have antibiotic properties.
16.- Other body needs
For a healthy digestive system and a good general health, we also need to nourish our body and all its needs. In this article you will find the main needs of a human person, all of which influence our food digestion as well.
In order to prevent and/or heal gastro-intestinal diseases, as well as all derived health problems, you must work on changing your lifestyle and nutrition habits so that you can fulfill all the necessary requirements for a good digestion.
Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, “Health for the millions”
Dr. Natasha Cambell-McBride, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”
Dr. David Klein, “Self Healing Colitis & Crohn’s”