Breaking Down Digestion and Gut Health

Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Body.

What does "gut health" even mean?

It’s a complicated topic. In this blog post I’m going to break it down a bit to help you better understand what gut health is and why it is so important. 


The majority of our gut lives in our small intestines. That’s where a lot of magic happens. When people generally refer to the gut, this is what they are talking about. The small intestine is directly connected to our nervous system and the nervous system is directly connected to our brain. (Hence why experts say our gut is our second brain!)  


Many say the majority of our diseases and illnesses begin in the gut but I would like to argue that it starts in the nervous system too. Think about emotions like stress, trauma, even excitement or joy – all the “gut feelings” we get. Those are stemming from emotions and emotions live in our nervous system. Part of healing our gut means healing from trauma (that’s getting to the root cause – but that’s another post!) 


Now that I gave you the big picture, let’s break down digestion (ohhh, see what I did there!? wink)  and how it plays one of the biggest roles in our health overall. 

5 Phases of Digestion

Our digestion happens from the brain all the way to our rectum.

Bet you’ve never heard that before!

But it’s true, and it’s time we talk about it! 

Phase 1:

Digestion actually starts in the brain. Have you ever walked into Dunkin’ Donuts and immediately started salivating because you smelled the donuts? That is the first activation of your digestion. As soon as you smell something appetizing, your brain sends signals to your salivary glands and stomach to “do their thing” to get ready to start breaking down the food you are about to eat. 

Phase 2:

Once we start chewing it’s the second phase of digestion. Your teeth and the saliva in your mouth starts breaking down your food . Which is why your mouth microbiome is also so important. AND why it’s important to chew your food well (see below!)

Phase 3:

The digestion of protein begins when the food hits your stomach acid (more on stomach acid another time). If you are eating whole, nutritious foods, this phase will last anywhere from 2-6 hours. The goal of this phase is to get the food broken down to a point where your small intestine can handle it. 

 

Total transit time for your food should be around 24 hours for optimal digestion and health. This is true for foods in their most simple form like grilled chicken, a potato and broccoli.  But, if you are eating lots of processed, fatty foods it can take up to 72 hours for the body to digest and eliminate those foods! Yikes. 

The Digestive System and Gut Health

Phase 4:

Next, the small intestine receives partially digested food from the stomach and processes it for further digestion by separating it into two categories:

  • 1)  what the body needs — which is ideally assimilated for circulation in the blood and delivery to the cells
  •  
  • 2)  waste — which is ideally passed to the large intestine for elimination (aka poop!) 

Phase 5

Elimination of waste. Need I say more? Read on below for the important role that water and fiber play in this phase.

Unhealthy Gut = Unhealthy You

BUT…. What happens when our gut is inflamed and not functioning properly? When the gut is inflamed or not working properly, the small intestine can’t “sort” the food accurately. This might mean that some vital nutrients get put into the waste category, or that some toxins, “leak” through into the body instead of being sent to the large intestine

 

When this breakdown in the gut occurs, it might manifest as: 

  • Leaky gut

  • IBS

  • Chrons 

  • Malnutrition

  • Constipation 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Autoimmune Disease

 

So, now that I have convinced you of the importance of your guts role in your health…. How do we heal our gut? Unfortunately the answer is not simple and everyone’s situation can be unique. 

 

However, there are some very basic things every individual can do on a daily basis that will help improve digestion and gut health. 

 

 

1. Chew Your Food

Just by chewing our food really well we are already improving our digestion. It means our stomach has to do less work, produce less acid and our broken down food gets delivered to the small intestine in a more broken down form, which means our gut is able to absorb and digest it better. When we don’t chew our foods our body has a much harder time digesting which puts strain on the digestive system. Eat slowly, put your fork or spoon down between each bite and savor the food. Appreciate what it’s giving you. Life, energy and nourishment. 

2. Drink Your Water

Be sure to drink plenty of water every day. Water is important because it helps your foods digest better and move through your body at the appropriate time frame.  When you don’t drink enough water it can lead to dehydration and that leads to constipation which means your food is in your body longer than it should be.  Most people don’t drink enough water. Your goal should be around 90 ounces a day.  A good way to track your water intake is download this water tracking app. It sends you little reminders. 

3. Fiber, Fiber, Fiber.

Most Americans eat way under the daily fiber requirement. Fiber is essential for the elimination phase. It helps move the unneeded food from the small intestine into the large one. It literally moves things along and by doing so it aides in weight loss, energy, heart health etc. Your goal should be no less than 25grams of fiber every single day. The average American gets 8 grams a day. Where do you get fiber? Check out this fiber post I have for you Fiber  Learn the different types of fiber and how to get more fiber reading that post. 

4. Probiotics and Prebiotics

Learn how to get more prebiotics and probiotics into your diet. Prebiotics will help with your digestion health and the probiotics will help with your gut health flora etc. 

In simple terms, prebiotics are food for your gut bacteria. These dietary fibers come from types of carbs found in the food you eat. Some foods are higher in this fiber than others; those on the high end of the spectrum are considered prebiotic foods.

Probiotic foods contribute to your gut microbiome by adding to the population of good bacteria in your digestive system. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, plain yogurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, olives, apple cider vinegar and of course a good probiotic supplement is not a bad idea. I like these ones. 15% off my favorite probiotics 

10 Prebiotic Foods

Feeling overwhelmed? Wondering where to start?

I created an 8-week Gut Health Course to walk you through replenishing and restoring your gut health, step-by-step. 

In this self-paced course, you’ll learn: 

1. Digestion, anatomy, and your gut

 2. Stomach Acid (HCL) and why it’s important. 

3. The Liver and Your Gut

4. Enzymes: what are they?

5. Prebiotics and probiotics

 6. Food sensitivities: why do they happen?

 7. The importance of fiber and micronutrients

8. Hormones/ Thyroid. Intro to symptoms and labs.

 

Coach Lizzie Signature
Lizzie holds a bowls of colorful food good for your gut health

Welcome to the UnDiet Yourself Revolution

Inside the UnDiet Yourself community, I teach you to take a holistic approach to your health. You’ll learn the foundations of health and nutrition for a sustainable healthy lifestyle that will last a lifetime. Some of the areas I specialize in are hormones, gut health, macros, mindset, movement and habit building.

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