Savvy vegans already know the importance of eating foods that are rich in bone-nourishing nutrients like calcium, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin C, to mention a few.
But if you’re not absorbing these nutrients properly because of poor digestion, you won’t get all their benefits.
Your digestive system is a complex process that involves a delicate interplay between nutrients, enzymes, and various digestive secretions.
If this process goes awry, putrefaction takes place, producing bone-damaging toxins.
Today’s post is about the distinction between food merely rotting vs undergoing proper digestion. We’re going to explore the role of enzymes in this process, and how you can make sure you’re getting enough of them.
And last but not least, I’m thrilled to share with you three tricks for promoting good digestion, which is essential for absorbing bone-rejuvenating nutrients.
Digestion vs. Putrefaction vs. Fermentation
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During digestion, food gets broken down into simpler compounds. For example, proteins become amino acids and starches end up as simple sugars (more on the digestive process itself below).
When putrefaction occurs, proteins get broken down by intestinal bacteria into chemicals like indol and skatol, which are toxic. This process produces uncomfortable or even painful gas and bloating.
Rotting is a bit different than putrefaction in the digestive realm. When food rots, it simply “goes bad”. Rotting occurs without the specific bacteria involved in putrefaction.
Fermentation occurs when yeasts change sugars into toxic chemicals such as methane, acetaldehyde, and alcohol. When there is an overgrowth of yeast organisms in the gut, fermentation is quite common.
The Digestive Process: An Overview
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As I mentioned above, the digestive process is quite complex. We’re going to take a look at the three main processes involved so you’ll get an understanding of just what happens to food after you eat.
Many people don’t realize that digestion actually begins when you chew your food. This is why thorough chewing is important – at least 20 times is a good guideline. This allows the primary enzyme in your saliva, amylase, to saturate the food and begin the process of breaking down starches into sugars.
In addition, chewing breaks down the food mechanically as your teeth grind and cut the food into smaller pieces. This is how nutrients are extracted from the food during the next phase of digestion.
In fact, some nutrients and substances in food – such as simple sugars and some vitamins – can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the mouth.
When you think of digestion, chances are the stomach is one of the first organs that come to mind. When food enters from the esophagus, the stomach mixes it with strong acid and enzymes (more on the enzymes later).
Proteins get broken down at this stage, and starch digestion begins. Like the mouth, the stomach digests food chemically and mechanically, with the latter taking place via the “churning” action of the stomach’s contractions.
Food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, so called because it is smaller in diameter than the large intestine (colon). But the small intestine really isn’t small; it’s very long – around 30 feet in length! This length gives the food plenty of time to make its way through the digestive process.
The villi – hair-like projections – line the interior surface of the small intestine, increasing its surface area. Nutrients pass across the villis’ cell membranes and enter into the bloodstream.
The healthy bacteria (flora) in the small intestine enhance the digestive process by breaking down food further, and they also boost immunity, synthesize important vitamins, reduce inflammation, and even increase bone density according to research.
Throughout this process, key enzymes perform vital digestive processes, which we are now going to explore more closely.
The Role Of Enzymes In Digestion
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It would be impossible to describe here all the various jobs that enzymes do throughout your entire body. Even focusing on digestive enzymes could fill volumes. The bottom line is, enzymes are absolutely crucial for the proper function of many body systems, including digestion.
The primary purpose of digestive enzymes is to break the chemical bonds in fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into microscopic substances that can be used at the cellular level. Without these enzymes, nutrients remain locked in the food and never reach the cells (including bone cells) that need them.
Digestive Enzymes Can Be Divided Into 3 Main Groups
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Proteases break proteins apart into amino acids, separating their bonds and “turning them loose” into the bloodstream. In the stomach, pepsin begins this job. The small intestine secretes other proteases to complete the breakdown process, and the amino acids enter the blood stream through the intestinal wall.
Lipase is produced by the pancreas. It mixes with bile which breaks down fats into fatty acids and monoglycerides that are small enough to pass through the intestinal wall and into the blood. Once there, the digested fat particles produce new compounds, such as hormones and cell walls. Of course, if there are any extra fats, they get stored in the fat cells.
Carbohydrases, as their name implies, work to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. In the mouth, amylase in the saliva begins this process. It picks back up again in the small intestine, where amylase from the pancreas breaks the starches and sugars into single molecules (primarily glucose, fructose, galactose). When these simple sugars enter the blood, they provide energy. Any excess is stored as fat.
At this point, you might be wondering about drinking water during meals and whether or not that disrupts this delicate process.
A Word About Drinking Water During Meals
There are many different opinions on this topic, but my recommendation is to simply limit the amount of water that you drink during meals. A moderate amount of pure distilled water while you eat is fine, but if you drink enough throughout the day, you won’t be particularly thirsty at mealtime.
There are other tricks for improving digestion, too. Let’s look at three of them next.
3 Tricks For Good Digestion
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Here are three easy ways to improve your digestion and make sure you have enough enzymes to do the job.
Chew Your Food Well
As noted above, this is where chemical and mechanical digestion begins, and in today’s fast-paced culture, it can be easily forgotten. In addition to the benefits noted above, chewing your food well also alkalizes it, thanks to bicarbonate ions present in saliva.
In addition, the salivary bicarbonate activates another enzyme, cellulose, which begins the breakdown of fiber.
Eat Foods That Increase Enzymes
Your body manufactures enzymes from various substances, and some foods actually contain enzymes, such as pineapple and papaya. Following is a list of foods that promote enzyme production and contain enzymes.
Coconut flesh (not oil)
Shitake, Reishi, and Maitake mushrooms
Eat Plenty Of Raw Foods
As always, balance is key – including plenty of raw fruits and vegetables in your diet boosts enzymes, but cooking is also important for optimal nutrition and enzymatic function. I’ll explain.
Harsh cooking practices like high-temperature grilling, deep-frying, and barbecuing can and do destroy nutrients (and even produce harmful substances (such as acrylamide, a carcinogen), so use these cooking methods occasionally.
On the other hand, steaming, boiling, and gentle sautéing can actually make some nutrients more absorbable. In the case of soups, water-soluble nutrients are consumed in the liquid portion of the soup itself.
Eating raw foods eases the body’s need to manufacture enzymes, but raw foods alone are not nutrient- or calorie-dense enough to sustain optimal bone health.
Tying It All Together…
Enzymes are crucial for preventing rotting and putrefaction in the digestive tract, and a diet rich in raw or lightly-cooked fruits and vegetables promotes optimal enzyme levels and good digestion.
Proper digestion and optimal liver and kidney function are essential for supplying your bones with the nutrients they need. Enzymes “unlock” these nutrients and get them to your bones’ cells, where they can do their work of building and rejuvenating.
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