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Condition - Excerpts from: Nutrition Solutions for Optimising Digestive Health

By Holly Taylor BSc(Hons) Dip CNM MBANT NTCC

Excerpts from Nutrition Solutions for Optimising Digestive Health

This booklet includes a simple-to-understand description of how the digestive system functions, including an interesting description of the fate of a sandwich.

A day in the life of a sandwich

The easiest way to understand the digestive process is to see what happens to the components of a meal. A chicken salad sandwich contains a mixture of: carbohydrate from the bread and salad, protein from the chicken, fat from the mayonnaise and a mixture of vitamins and minerals. The mechanical aspects of digestion, such as the chewing and churning, are the same for all the parts of the sandwich, but the chemical breakdown for each section is different. 

The carbohydrates begin to break down when you take that first bite. As the sandwich is mixed with saliva, the enzyme salivary amylase gets to work, breaking down the long carbohydrate molecules. This continues until the food reaches the stomach. Here, the acidic conditions are too harsh for the salivary amylase so carbohydrate digestion stops. Once in the small intestine, pancreatic amylase helps to chop the carbohydrate chains into smaller chunks, which can then be broken down by the enzymes, embedded in the microvilli, and absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Protein digestion begins in the stomach. Here, the acidic environment helps to activate a protein-digesting enzyme called pepsin that begins to break the complex protein molecules down into smaller pieces. The process is then completed in the small intestine, by enzymes in the pancreatic and intestinal juices, before the resulting amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Fat digestion is a little more complex because the fat doesn’t mix very well with the watery contents of the digestive system. For this reason, fat digestion can’t begin until the fat has been emulsified with bile in the small intestine. Emulsification disperses the fat into tiny droplets that mix more easily with the water. This allows lipase from the pancreas and intestinal juices to attack the fat molecules and break them apart. These smaller molecules can then be absorbed through the intestinal lining. Inside each villus, along with the blood vessel network, is a series of lymph vessels called lacteals. The lacteals absorb the broken-down fats into the lymphatic system, which eventually drains into the bloodstream. These are then transported, via the bloodstream, to muscles to be burnt for energy or stored in our fat stores. 

The water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, are absorbed, along with the minerals in the small intestine, directly into the bloodstream. The fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K are absorbed, along with the fats, into the lacteals. Some vitamins, such as vitamin K, are also made by bacteria in the colon and are absorbed directly through the colon cells. 

Some forms of carbohydrate from plant foods, like wholegrains and vegetables, are actually indigestible, earning them the name ‘roughage’ or ‘fibre’. Insoluble fibre aids regular bowel movements by making stools soft and bulky and sweeping through the digestive system. Soluble fibre absorbs water to become a thick, jelly-like substance that can be fermented by bacteria in the digestive tract to support a healthy gut flora. 

Further chapters explore what happens when the system goes wrong and offers sound advice on how to bring it back to healthy balance with good nutrition.

The liver support plan

The basis of any good liver support plan is a diet that is rich in nutrient- and fibre-dense foods and low in toxins and those foods that present extra work for the liver and gallbladder. 

There are a number of foods that are known for their specific liver- and gallbladder-supporting properties. One of the most beneficial steps you can take for your liver is making a commitment to include three to six portions of these foods in your diet every day: 

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Apples         
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Beetroot
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli sprouts
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Chicory
  • Cinnamon
  • Dandelion greens
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Flax seeds (ground)
  • Garlic*
  • Ginger
  • Lecithin
  • Leek*
  • Lemon*
  • Onion*
  • Parsley
  • Radishes
  • Sesame seeds
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Turmeric*
  • Walnut
  • Watercress

 *Avoid if you have a sensitive stomach or excess stomach acid.

As an adjunct to support your liver via the diet, you might like to give your body an extra helping hand by including some herbs and nutrients to help cleanse the liver and increase bile flow. 

“It takes about two to three months to properly cleanse the liver and gallbladder, after which time you can start to gradually reduce the doses of supplements.  However, in order to maintain long-term liver health, it is best to continue to include liver-supporting foods.” 

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