©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

The Importance of Optimal Digestion

We tend to feel that we will be well-nourished and healthy as long as we eat nutritious food and have no digestive abnormality. But, digestion of food is a complex process that is easily disrupted. Disregarding digestive limitations can produce an irritation of the lining of the stomach, causing false hunger. It can also cause the nutrients in food to be incompletely digested and absorbed. In another article, we present an argument that incomplete digestion can cause degenerative disease. Fortunately, by understanding the principles involved, we can increase the odds that the food we eat nourishes us instead of poisoning us.

For example, yeast that is normally present in the digestive tract breaks down sugars into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol (ethyl alcohol or, equivalently, ethanol is the chemical name for the alcohol in beverages and spirits). Putrefactive bacteria, also present, break down sugars and other nutrients to form other gases and toxic substances, both of which have a foul odor.

Carbon dioxide has no odor, is not highly poisonous, and is routinely produced and eliminated by the body. Therefore, it would be expected that the carbon dioxide that reaches the blood stream would be fairly easily eliminated via the lungs. However, alcohol is also routinely present. “Sir Hans Krebs, a British Nobel prize-winning scientist has discovered that the human intestine is a distillery where dietary sugars are fermented into ethanol to the equivalent of one quart of 3.2 [%] beer each day.”2 Whereas the liver is capable of eliminating ethyl alcohol at a much faster rate than this, ethyl alcohol is a toxic substance. “If ingested within a short period (e.g., a few minutes), the fatal dose, in the average adult is considered to be 1.5 to 2.25 pints of whiskey or gin (40 to 55 per cent alcohol).”3 In smaller than fatal amounts, ethyl alcohol damages the liver and the cells of the nervous system.

Flatulence and Halitosis

The gases formed by yeast and bacterial decomposition cause flatulence. Some of this gas is absorbed into the blood stream and eliminated via the lungs. Thus, some individuals may not suffer from the usual symptoms of flatulence but of breath with a putrid odor not unlike intestinal gas.4 The non-gaseous by-products of bacterial decomposition are also toxic and are absorbed into the blood stream through the intestinal walls.

Aside from its potentially embarrassing aspects, intestinal gas is itself harmful. It distends the intestines and thus reduces the ratio of their area to the volume of their contents. This reduction causes diminished absorption of nutrients. The pressure of the intestinal gas can also stretch the walls of the intestines, causing diverticulosis, a serious condition.

The intestinal yeast and bacteria absorb valuable nutrients, especially B-complex vitamins. These vitamins are then required in greater quantity to offset the toxic effect of the alcohol produced by the yeast. Moreover the toxic products of bacterial decomposition accelerate the movement of the bowels. Premature emptying of the bowels reduces both the absorption of digested nutrients and the re-absorption of valuable alkaline digestive juices.

The absorption of toxins from the intestines in the region of the reproductive organs plus the pressure on these organs of intestines distended with gas may well contribute to prostate trouble. Additionally, these toxins are then concentrated by the kidneys and passed through the urinary tract, where they bathe the prostate gland. The consequent irritation tends to stimulate excessive sexual activity, which further exacerbates the condition and drains the body of vital energy.

Factors Affecting Digestion

There are seven factors that shorten digestion time and increase digestive efficiency. (The sooner food is digested, absorbed, and passed through the digestive tract, the less time yeast and bacteria have to multiply and cause harm.) The seven factors are as follows:

(1) Chewing. The more thoroughly food is chewed, the more its surface area is increased. To visualize this, just imagine a chunk of something being broken into two smaller pieces. The total surface area is now equal to that of the original chunk plus the new area exposed by breaking. Not only does prolonged chewing of food increase its surface area and hence its potential for quickly absorbing digestive juices, but chewing food longer also increases the production of saliva and the appropriate digestive enzymes by the stomach. In the words of Herbert Shelton, noted authority on “Natural Hygiene,” “Food should be chewed thoroughly because the stomach has no teeth.” (my first T.’ai-Chi Ch’uan teacher and a highly renowned doctor of internal Chinese medicine) said, “Once food is placed in the mouth, your only control of the digestive process is how well you chew. The rest is automatic.” Cheng also said, “The mouth gets us into more trouble than any other part of the body—both by what food we put into it and what words we let come out of it.”

Children naturally eat very slowly. Some parents ignorantly encourage children to eat faster. Most people do not chew food sufficiently. If you are observant, you will see that many hardly chew at all. When my father was 94 years of age, he had, in his words, “all of my natural teeth,” He would chew his food so thoroughly that people seeing him eat would watch in amazement.

As an experiment, when you are ready to swallow a bite of food, bring it to the front of your mouth again. Take note of the degree to which the food is incompletely chewed and how extra chewing increases the enjoyment of eating. Preparing the food for digestion prolongs the enjoyment of eating. With time, you will naturally chew your food until it is essentially liquid.

(2) Liquids. Liquids with or following meals dilute digestive enzymes, thus increasing digestion time. Lowering the intake of salt and spices reduces the desire for liquids during and after meals. Cold liquids are the worst because the digestive enzymes become very inefficient at lowered temperatures.

Some people purposely drink water around mealtime to fill their stomachs so they will eat less. This erroneous idea implies that hunger is satiated only when the stomach is full. As previously stated, true hunger has nothing to do with the stomach. Flooding ingested food with water may promote a sense of fullness and temporarily relieve the discomfort of irritated stomach walls contacting each other. However, this practice hampers digestion and stretches the stomach, thus further irritating the stomach lining.

Note: If you find that you are dehydrated during digestion of a meal, the question arises: Which is worse, undermined digestion resulting from drinking water or dehydration from not doing so? The best compromise would seem to be sipping a small quantity of water, say, every 15 minutes or so but not gulping down a large amount at any one time.

(3) Condiments. Flavorings such as salt, vinegar, pepper, spices, and monosodium glutamate have effects beyond causing thirst after meals. One additional effect is that they prompt us to swallow food after insufficient chewing. Their strong flavors stimulate the sense of taste, giving the false impression that enough of the nutrients in the food have been extracted during the mastication process.

Many of these flavorings-especially MSG (monosodium glutamate)-act as gastric irritants, resulting in a false sensation of hunger, causing overeating.

(4) Frequency of Meals. If food is eaten before the previous meal has been sufficiently digested, one of two undesirable events occurs: (a) The stomach empties prematurely, releasing partly digested food into the intestines. This action results in the absorption of partly digested proteins and burdens the immune system, which must remove them from the blood stream. (b) The new, undigested food mixes with the partly digested food. The combined food mass now takes longer to digest, thus allowing increased putrefaction and fermentation of it.

(5) Eating Within Digestive Limitations. Overeating expands and stretches the stomach, causing irritation and exacerbating prior harm. Moreover, if excessive amounts of a specific nutrient such as protein are eaten, the glands of the stomach cannot secrete sufficient enzymes to fully digest it. The food then remains in the digestive tract longer, and yeast and bacteria have more time to multiply. Not only is it important not to overeat a specific nutrient, but it is important never to totally fill your stomach. You must leave room for the subsequent outpouring of juices required for digestion.

(6) Food Combinations. Combining foods for optimal digestion is a very important topic, covered in another article.

See also:

Hunger Pangs—What They are and How to Alleviate Them

A Link Between Incomplete Digestion and Degenerative Disease and Allergies

Flatulence and Halitosis

Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and Antacids

The Difference Between True and False Hunger

Combining Foods for Optimal Digestion

Therapeutic Fasting

1From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.
2New York Times, July 16, 1973.
3Gleason, Gosseln, and Hodge: Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products, Williams and Wilkins Co., Baltimore, MD, 1963, pp. 70-71.
4Some other causes of halitosis are eating cheese, garlic, or raw onions; decaying food between teeth; decaying teeth; leaking dental crowns; and periodontal disease.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

More Articles on Nutrition and Health

Book on Optimal Nutrition and Weight-Loss

Home Page