By Vicki Berry, Nutrition-To-Wellness
You have probably heard that your health begins in your colon, but do you really know why?
The colon is as much responsible if not more for ridding your body of toxins as your kidneys and sweat glands.
While the kidneys, lymph system and sweat glands depend on your intake of appropriate amounts of
fluid, your colon requires a bit more attention to the diet.
Over time, you may realize that a buildup in the colon walls is possible, which will prevent both the absorption of nutrients AND the elimination of toxins.
Thousands of chemical reactions and enzymes are at work breaking down our food as it passes through
our stomach and small intestine.
By the time it reaches our large intestine, it should be digested to the point that the walls of the colon can absorb the water and remaining nutrients.
But sometimes the food and toxins that we ingest are not so easily digestible, and cause accumulations on our colon walls, causing not only a depletion in micronutrients, but a toxic buildup as well.
These toxins are then able to pass into our bloodstream in place of the nutrients that are no longer allowed to pass through the blockages, leading to cancers and other chronic diseases.
There are FIVE crucial elements that must be in place for the proper functioning of your digestive system:
Yes, your mother was right, chew your food thoroughly!
If you do not do this, eating in a hurry and gulping down your meals will result in gas and bloating, and a buildup of bad bacteria in your gut!
If you are having a lot of gas and bloating, stop and think when you eat, are you really chewing your food well enough? It’s something we often don’t think about!
Chew slowly and longer, which will actually help you to feel fuller, and ultimately aid in weight loss if you are overweight. If you are not overweight it certainly helps nutrient absorption!
Saliva is what begins the digestive process. Some vegetables are digested primarily with the enzymes in our saliva, the remainder of which facilitates digestion through the lower intestine as insoluble fiber (more on fiber in number 3…)
How much do you need on a daily basis, and what counts? The recommended amount is at least 1/2 of your body weight in ounces. In other words, if you weigh 160 lbs, you need 80 oz. of water (10 8 oz glasses) per day.
Now this might sound like a lot but there are some things you get to consider, which I explain in this post.
Fiber is simply a form of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest, and is not absorbed into the bloodstream. It is not converted to energy as are other carbohydrates, rather, it is excreted from our bodies.
Fiber is known to aid in shedding extra pounds, preventing constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulitis, managing blood sugar levels, and may even also help with lowering the bad LDL cholesterol. Fiber has been shown to prevent some cancers.
Fiber also helps to balance the pH (acid/alkaline level) in the intestine, which is important for nutrient absorption.
It also regulates the good bacteria, which in turn helps to detoxify your body and regulates your immune system. (For more on good bacteria, or probiotics, see number 4).
Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, and prolongs the time that the stomach is emptied to provide for better nutrient absorption. This is also important when eating sweet fruits so that your liver does not get over taxed and create fat from excess fructose absorption.
Soluble fiber also binds with essential fatty acids, which are crucial to cellular health. Sources of insoluble fiber include oats and oat bran, nuts, flax seed, fruits, and vegetables such as peas and carrots.
Insoluble fiber is not water soluble, and passes through us largely intact, helping to move waste through the intestines, preventing constipation, and improving digestive health. Sources of insoluble fiber include fruit and root vegetable skins, green beans and dark leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, corn bran, whole wheat.
Soluble fiber needs water to provide the required function of absorption, and insoluble fiber needs water to move, so always be sure to get enough water with an increased intake of fiber! Water will facilitate the benefits of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
So How Much Fiber Should You Have?
If you consume a diet high in refined starches and meat, you are probably not getting enough fiber.
Current recommendations suggest that children and adult women consume a minimum of 20 grams of dietary fiber per day, and adult men consume at least 30 grams per day.
The more calories you consume, the more fiber you need. Teens, active adults, and particularly men may need up to 38 grams per day or more. This recommendation is for dietary fiber from food, not supplements.
Here is one fiber chart I’ve found that is a good source to keep around, and see what you are really getting.
Fiber supplements are ok, but it is better to get as much as you can from whole foods. Sometimes the fillers and sources of fiber supplements are less than optimal, and you are certainly going to get more micronutrients from whole foods!
Probiotics are the “friendly” bacteria that benefit the colon and therefore the immune system.
They are live micro-organisms (usually including lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, streptococci, and some yeasts such as Saccharomyces, and moulds) which are beneficial to health by restoring microbial balance in the intestine.
Probiotic foods are those that involve fermentation in their production; including miso, pickles, sauerkraut and fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir.
A new category called prebiotics refer mainly to certain foods, and occasionally to certain food products, that support probiotics by enhancing their survivability.
Prebiotics foods include artichokes, leeks, onions, oats, and whole grain breads and cereals, fructooligo-saccharides, or fruit derived, digestion resistant sugars (FOS), also in honey, and galacto-oligo-saccharides, which are the sugars in galactose-containing foods like goats milk.
I’ve written more about probiotics, including some history, recommendations, precautions and reliability of supplementation.
Yes, even for your digestive health, exercise plays a crucial role! Particularly core strengthening exercises and stretching, which increase the blood flow, nutrient absorption, and facilitate toxic elimination.
Be sure and visit Vicki’s site, Nutrition-To-Wellness!
Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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