Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Opinion: Healthy digestion starts with good food choices

Our body doesn’t know what to do with the high levels of refined sugar, salt and vast amount of chemicals used in modern food production
digestive health getty images
(Getty Images)

Proper digestion is vitally important, as our bodies need the nutrients from food to function properly.  These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates which are needed by the body for energy, immune function and cell repair.  Proteins break down into amino acids, fats become fatty acids and glycerol, and carbohydrates break down into simple sugars (affecting our blood sugar levels).  Our digestive system breaks these nutrients down into small enough parts for our body to be able to absorb them.

Even though our general health is dependent on the health of our gut, digestion starts much earlier.  It starts, of course, with our food choices. If we choose healthy, whole, gut friendly foods, our bodies know how to digest them and utilize the nutrition appropriately. Unfortunately, much of the North American diet is not healthy and our body doesn’t know what to do with the high levels of refined sugar, salt and vast amount of chemicals used in modern food production and fast food. 

Our digestion is a complex system which includes ingestion and propulsion of food, mechanical and chemical breaking down, absorption and finally elimination through defecation.  Even before we start eating, the sight and smell of food sends messages to our brains which then creates saliva. Hormones and nerves are also part of the digestive process.  Messages continually flow back and forth between our GI tract and our brain.  When the food enters our mouth our taste buds detect what kind of fats, proteins are in the food we are chewing and relays this info to the brain which in turn sends the correct enzymes to our saliva to start the digestive process while we are chewing. The chewing starts the mechanical process of digestion, and the digestive enzymes in our saliva start the chemical process. This is why eating slowing and chewing deliberately is so important. The act of swallowing allows the food to pass into our esophagus and from then on, the digestive process becomes automatic – meaning our brain directs the rest of digestion without any conscious intention. Food passes through the sphincter into the stomach where muscles work to mix the food with digestive juices. From here the mix (chyme) enters the small intestine where muscles mix the food with digestive juices (bile, enzymes and stomach acid) produced by the small intestine, pancreas, gall bladder and liver.  Valuable gut flora bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract, called microbiome, need to be healthy for digestion to be effective. If this microbiome is thrown off by a bad diet, too much sugar or antibiotics the whole digestive system can be compromised.

The walls of the small intestine absorb water and nutrients from the mix, where it enters our bloodstream to travel throughout our circulatory system to feed our bodies. Our blood carries simple sugars, glycerol, vitamins, minerals, salts and amino acids to the liver where they are processed and stored until these nutrients are needed by the rest of the body.  The waste and left-over undigested food move into the large intestine where the walls of the large intestine absorb water and change this waste from liquid to solid. From here, the solids move into our rectum where they are stored until pushed out of our body during a bowel movement. 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Our health is so dependent on a functioning digestive system. And our digestive system can only function properly if we take care of it by eating foods that don’t harm it.  Avoiding sugar, and taking digestive enzymes and probiotics on a regular basis will give the body a boost.  Probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso and kimchi. It is my belief that we can avoid many of the digestive issues that plague our culture if we have a healthy diet.  We must choose to the right fuel to nourish the vessel we occupy (our bodies), and not take our bodies for granted.        

Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.