Carbohydrate Digestion

b2ap3_thumbnail_Dollarphotoclub_84759029.jpgCarbohydrates are nutrients that provide your body with energy. But before carbohydrates can fuel your morning run, they must be broken down into their basic units, called monosaccharides, and absorbed from your digestive tract into your bloodstream.

Carbohydrate digestion, as all digestion, is a north to south process. It starts in your brain. If you are hungry, calm and relaxed and if you are smelling and seeing delicious foods, you salivary gland will kick into gear and start the mouthwatering process of releasing salivary amylase. This enzyme is particularly important for carbohydrate digestion, as it starts breaking down carbohydrates as you chew them. Very few of us chew our food long enough for salivary amylase to have a significant effect on the carbohydrates that we eat. On average, people chew six times before swallowing! If you chew consciously, and about 20-30 times per bite, you will notice that carbohydrate foods such as cooked vegetables, breads and fruit actually get sweeter as you chew them. Your body needs a meaningful opportunity to kick-start this so called chemical and physical carb-digestion in your mouth, because the stomach, the next digestive organ, really focuses more on protein digestion. Without that digestion the salivary amylase you swallow along with your food is inactivated due to the acidity of your stomach.

Digestion of carbohydrates does not resume until the food mass reaches the first part of the small intestine: the duodenum. Pancreatic amylase is released by the pancreas, and this continues the breakdown of the carbohydrate that started in the mouth. If carbohydrates are correctly and completely broken down into monosaccharides, they will be easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestines.

So, whatever you do, make chewing 20-30 times per bite a conscious practice of family meals and solo dinners. The habit of thoroughly chewing will boost overall digestion and well-being, fill you up quicker and give you more appreciation for the foods you are eating. Put your fork down between bites. Enjoy relaxing conversation. Make your meals truly special occasions.

Remember that when you eat under stress, catch a meal on the run, or chew just the US average of six times before swallowing food, the important digestive enzymes and gastric juices are not released in preparation to allow proper digestion. Then food is not broken down properly because you only chewed six times. Stress inhibits digestion. Hastily ingested foods hit in your stomach when gastric juices have not yet started to flow. Stomach contents then tend to just "sit there" because it's not ready to be released into the duodenum, where pancreatic amylase might further digest carbohydrates. As the body is not designed to digest large amounts of carbohydrates with pancreatic enzymes, some of the sugars and starches go undigested and tend to feed inferior bacteria in your gut, leading to yeast overgrowth and candida, and a general feeling of bloating and discomfort.


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