You are What You Eat: Maintain Your Body


Everything you put in your mouth is processed through the digestive system. Digestion is the process by which food and other ingested material are broken down into nutrients and waste products. Each component of the digestive system has a specific role in digestion and together these organs help extract the nutrients and discard waste products.

Foods and liquids need to be broken down mechanically and chemically into very small particles. These nutrient molecules are absorbed through the wall of the small intestine and transferred around the body via blood to nourish cells and organs, and to provide a source of energy.

The collection and elimination of waste products also is an important part of digestion. Undigestible parts of foods (fiber), older cells that line the digestive tract, and some water, are eliminated from the body. Thus, maintaining a healthy digestive system is extremely important for your general health and well-being.

Good (healthy) digestion is a 'silent' process; digestion in some form takes place while we rest, eat, sleep or work. We generally only become aware of digestion when something goes wrong.

Although the digestive system can withstand a lot of stress, from the foods you eat to emotional stresses, it can only do so for a limited period. Over time, the negative effects will accumulate and create health problems in the long-term. So irrespective of your lifestyle in the past, you can take some positive steps today to rejuvenate and maintain the health of your digestive system.

  1. Eat foods rich in fiber; such as vegetables, fruits and wholegrains/cereals. Fiber encourages passage of material through the digestive system. Ideally, you should consume at least 30 gm of fiber per day.
  2. Reduce the intake of processed foods. These generally have little nutrition or fiber and often contain large amounts of saturated fats, salt and preservatives that can be harmful to the body.
  3. Be careful with your fat intake. Eat moderate amounts of 'good' fats (omega-3 and omega-6) and reduce your intake of saturated fats, such as animal fat. A diet high in fat can slow the digestive system and may cause or aggravate diseases of the digestive system, as well as heart diseases.
  4. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Fruits help dissolve nutrients and encourage passage of waste through the digestive system.
  5. Take medications as directed. Some medicines (and herbs) can have harmful effects on the digestive system. Make sure that your doctor is aware of all substances you are taking and use medications only as directed.
  6. Eat moderately, slowly and regularly to avoid putting too much stress on the digestive system. Try not to eat in a rush. The process of digestion starts in your mouth. Take time and eat slowly, chewing each mouthful well. Relaxing while you eat helps the nerves of the digestive system, and food that is well chewed is easier to digest than larger pieces. Try not to skip meals; this will prevent overeating due to hunger and prepares the digestive system for regular meals.
  7. Exercise regularly. This helps strengthen the muscles of the abdomen and reduces sluggishness by stimulating the intestinal muscles to push digestive contents through your system.
  8. Reduce/manage stress levels. You may have noticed a feeling of unease in the abdomen during times of stress. Stress effects the nerves of the digestive system and can upset the intricate balance of digestion. In some people stress slows the process of digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation. Stress can worsen some conditions such as peptic ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome. 

The article was first published in print in the PSC Newsletter, 1st School Semester 2010/2011 issue.

Cover image by wayhomestudio on Freepik.

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