You Are Not What You Eat – You Are What You Absorb

Lighter, Brighter You Blog: You are not what you eat, you are what you absorb

Eating well isn’t enough – you also have to digest, absorb and eliminate well for optimal health

The taboo subject

No one wants to talk about this aspect of health, but it is one of the most important aspects of keeping yourself healthy.

One of the best ways to assess whether your digestive system is getting rid of waste efficiently is to look at your "transit time". Although this sounds like a ghastly task, it’s actually quite simple, and although you won’t be discussing this procedure at your next dinner party, it can be extremely helpful in assessing whether your digestive system needs some help in the last step of the digestive process.

Eat a whole beetroot, or use some charcoal tablets, and then check to see when you see the result of their ingestion, in the toilet bowl. Eating sweetcorn is also a reliable method; however, seeing whole kernels is a sure sign that you’re not chewing your food properly.

If you see the results of the charcoal tablets or beetroot consumption in less than 12 hours, then you may not be absorbing all the nutrients from your food, because it’s moving through too quickly.

If it’s more than 24 hours before you see the results of your "colorful" consumption, then you know that the waste from your food is spending too long in your digestive system, and this increases your chances of getting any of the colon-related diseases.

This indicates that you are not eating enough fiber-rich foods, drinking enough water and maybe not exercising enough, which helps your body move waste through your colon and into your bowel.

Another important role for plants in your diet

A primarily plant-based diet is very helpful in keeping your digestive system working well, increasing elimination and helping to control appetite, as well as evening out your blood glucose levels.

Consuming primarily animal-based foods, on the other hand, increases the transit time, due to the increased digestion time required, therefore increasing the possibility of toxic breakdown compounds. Animal products are also the primary source of intestinal infections. This is simply because animal products contain no fiber.

The fiber content of natural, plant-based, mostly raw produce, is beneficial in all the stages of food assimilation, from digestion to absorption and elimination because it has so many different roles to play.

Fiber is that part of a plant that is indigestible, which means that your body can’t break it down completely. Soluble fiber is capable of being a prebiotic, providing nutrients for probiotics, the friendly bacteria that we need. It also absorbs water, helping to keep waste material moving through the digestive tract, collecting toxins and wastes as it moves along. Soluble fiber also helps to lower cholesterol.

Two different kinds of fiber from the plant kingdom

Legumes, psyllium seed husks, root vegetables, oats, rye, broccoli, artichokes, as well as prunes, berries, bananas, pears and apples, are all good sources of soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber also absorbs water, and helps to soften and bulk the stool up, making elimination easier. By doing this it also slows down the release of glucose and other sugars, helping to control appetite, and therefore weight gain, as well as decreasing transit time, thus avoiding reabsorption of old hormones and cholesterol which can occur if the stool isn’t eliminated as soon as it’s ready to leave the body. It can also act like a broom, sweeping up toxins that are in the colon, removing them from the body, avoiding the harm that they can cause.

Insoluble fiber is found in celery, avocados, flax and other seeds, as well as nuts, whole grains, potato skin, as well as cauliflower, and green beans.

Don’t add wheat bran to your diet, due to the phytates it contains, which inhibit nutrient absorption.

Rather, obtain your fiber from legumes, vegetables, either raw or very lightly cooked, fruits and seeds, as well as non-gluten grains. Cooking destroys most fiber and enzymes, so enjoy your veggies as crunchy as possible, remembering to chew them very well.

Another reason to limit processed foods

Of course, the consumption of processed, shelf-stable food will lead to digestion, absorption and elimination problems, as there are not enough nutrients to support these processes, and because they are devoid of fiber, which is essential to keep your food and waste moving through your digestive system. They also contain vast quantities of sugars, which interfere with absorption, and many additives, which have further negative effects.

When your body is capable of eliminating the waste products from the food you eat, it will definitely be healthier, and it can only do that effectively if your food choices are as close to nature as possible, with minimum processing.

Naturally, brain function is directly influenced by gut health

The quality and quantity of nutrients available for optimal brain function depend on how effectively we digest and absorb the nutrients we consume and how efficiently we eliminate the waste products of this intricate process. However, we now know that the bacteria in our digestive tract also have an important role to play in brain function, although the precise role they play is not yet fully understood. Consuming foods that help the beneficial bacteria to thrive, naturally maintains the intricate balance between these bacteria and those that also have vital roles to play, but do need to be kept in check. The ‘microbione,’ which is the word used to describe the environment that our army of microbes live in, and which determines to a large extent our overall health, is an area of growing interest to research scientists.

References

Brennan CS. Dietary fibre, glycemic response, and diabetes. Mol Nutr Food Res 2005 Jun; 49(6): 560-70.

Enders, G. Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ. London, United Kingdom: Scribe; 2014

Hagiwara Y. Green barley essence. Connecticut, USA: Keats Pub; 1985. 

Kim MK, et al. Cruciferous vegetable intake and the risk of human cancer: epidemiological evidence. Paper presented at Conference on ‘Multidisciplinary approaches to nutritional problems.’ Symposium on ‘Nutrition and health.’ 2009 Feb; Proc Nutr Soc. 2009 (68:1): 103-10.

Permutter, D. with Loberg, K. Brain Maker. London, United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd; 2015.

Rajendran N, et al. Role of diet in the management of inflammatory bowel disease. World J Gastroenterol 2010 March 28; 16(12): 1442-1448.