Once you understand the essential nutrients that the body needs to function, it is necessary to know how the body can actually best absorb these nutrients. In other words, once you know the importance of what to eat, it is equally important that you know how to eat. To do this, it is necessary to first have a basic understanding of the digestive process.
There is a huge misconception that if we’re eating well balanced meals, of high-quality food, that we are actually getting the proper nutritional benefit. This misconception also extends to supplementing with vitamins, minerals and herbs. Yet, in fact, it is statistically estimated that the majority of people who take supplements get little or nothing out of them.
In both instances, the reasons are the same, the nutrients in food and supplements are not being absorbed into the bloodstream. This is due to either the lack of digestion (because digestion was inhibited or interrupted once it began), deficiency of enzymes in our food and our bodies, improper food combining, or mixing supplements that conflict or neutralize each other, thereby, preventing their absorption into the bloodstream.
With everything we eat, whether food or supplements, what we are doing is playing chemistry. This is the chemistry that the body needs to perform daily—the hundreds of thousands of chemical reactions that feed, build and repair the body. Our well-being is dependent on how well we achieve this vital chemistry, which is why digestion is the most important player in this process.
The Digestive Process
Obtaining nutrition and energy from food is a multi-step process, which begins with the first bite; actually before that bite, because our saliva can start flowing at the anticipation of food. We have all heard the expression “mouth watering;” saliva begins flowing and with it the enzymes amylase, which begins the process of breaking down starches into simple sugars, lipase (which breaks down fat), and a little protease (to break down proteins). This is also one of the reasons why chewing food thoroughly is so important, not only to break it into smaller particles but also to mix saliva into it.
Not including salvation, the first step in the digestion process is ingestion, the act of taking in food through the mouth. The large molecules found in intact food cannot pass through the cell membranes. Food needs to be broken into smaller particles so that our bodies can harness the nutrients and organic molecules.
Once in the mouth, the teeth, saliva, and tongue play important roles in mastication, or chewing—an extremely important part of the digestive process. Digestive enzymes only work on the surfaces of food particles, so the smaller the particle, the more efficient the digestive process. While the food is being mechanically broken down, the enzymes in saliva begin to chemically process the food as well. The combined action of these processes modifies the food from large particles to a soft mass that can be swallowed and can travel the length of the esophagus.
Once swallowed, the esophagus produces a movement that carries food into the stomach. The stomach is the point of collection where, through the body’s incredible intelligence, the food substance is identified. It is through this identification process that many kinds of chemical reactions take place.
Simple carbohydrates (fruits, etc.) require little to no digestion. Liquids also leave the stomach very quickly. But complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats will stay in the stomach for three to five hours. The stomach is lined with millions of tiny villi, which are also found in the small intestine. Once food is identified, a signal sent from the brain releases hydrochloric acid into the stomach. This is the only acid the body produces; the stomach lining is protected by an alkaline mucus coating to neutralize its effect, except on the contents of the stomach. This is a critical stage, because if the body does not produce enough hydrochloric acid or if it is diluted through ingesting too much fluid with the meal, this initial breakdown of the food substance will not take place. To make the situation worse, many people follow their meal with desert, by which time hydrochloric acid has already been introduced into the stomach. This combination of hydrochloric acid and simple carbohydrate sugar inhibits efficient digestion from happening.
As food leaves the stomach it enters into the small intestine, which begins with the duodenum, a curved tube that is approximately the same length as the esophagus. This is where food, that hopefully has achieved the initial stages of digestion, is broken down further. Here the liver, pancreas and gall bladder all participate: the liver produces bile which is stored in the gallbladder and is released into the duodenum separating fats so that the pancreatic enzymes can break them down into a water soluble form that the body can assimilate. Bile also helps in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and the assimilation of calcium, as well as converting beta-carotene into vitamin A. The pancreatic enzymes, amylases, lipases and proteases neutralize the hydrochloric acid to produce the alkaline environment necessary for absorption, and further break down proteins and carbohydrates. The pancreas also secretes insulin into the bloodstream, regulating the burning of sugars in the body. The next twenty feet of the small intestine is where digestion is completed, in the jejunum (approximately 10 feet) and ileum (10-12 feet). It is here that almost all absorption of nutrients takes place, and, if the environment is right—given the earlier stages provided the proper breakdown—that enzymes will have broken down the food molecules into a size that the billions of villi or cells lining the small intestine will assimilate as nutrients.
Once absorbed by the villi, amino acids from protein, sugar from complex carbohydrates, fatty acid, glycerol, vitamins, minerals and cholesterol all enter the bloodstream to be assimilated to the body’s trillions of cells. Assimilation gets the nutrients from your food to your cells where they are used for growth and repair.
The indigestible material from the food then moves from the small intestine to the ileum and then into the colon (large intestine). A valve, called the ileocecal valve, operates at this junction, preventing backup into the ileum. The indigestible material, mainly cellulose, enters into the colon in a liquid state. During the next 10 to 14 hours these substances will be dehydrated and stored in preparation for elimination.
To summarize, digestion begins in the mouth, with the process of chewing food into smaller particles and combining it with enzyme-rich saliva. Once swallowed, the food then travels down the esophagus into the stomach, where it is broken down further by hydrochloric acid and is then released into the duodenum, where it is even further broken down by bile and digestive enzymes. In the remaining part of the small intestine (jejunum and ileum), the broken down nutrients from the food are then absorbed by billions of villi lining the small intestine, and enter into the bloodstream, where they are then assimilated by the blood and distributed to the body’s many cells where they are used for tissue growth and repair. The indigestible material from the food enters the colon, where it is formed into excrement and then eliminated.
How to Enhance Your Nutrient Absorption From Food
Digestion is the biggest job the body will perform because a large percentage of all the energy the body produces daily will go towards making digestion happen. Even through this simplified explanation of digestion, you can see just how fascinating and complex this process is. Our team has found, over the last thirty years of working in the field, that most people have no concept of how food is digested and how nutrients actually get into the body. Very few people are aware that the body has very specific rules on how this process takes place. What has happened over the last century is that we have made up our own rules and not followed the body's eating protocol rules.
With a complete understanding of how digestion works, and how most Americans are eating today, it is not surprising that colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancers in America, and that between 25 - 45 million Americans are suffering with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These bowel conditions, such as IBS, crohns disease and colon cancer can have a direct relationship to our dietary habits. It is not only the type of food you are eating, but also HOW YOU ARE EATING IT that is important.
When it comes to food combinations, we are going to give you three simple categories to pay attention to:
Category 1—Foods that require more digestion:
Foods that require digestion are those structures or consistencies which require the digestive process to break them down, thereby, releasing the nutrients.
Foods in this category include:
Beef, dairy, fish, poultry, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and related items in these categories.
In order for the nutrients in this category to be assimilated and absorbed into the bloodstream, the process of digestion must be completed. The digestion of this group of foods starts off with your saliva, so make sure to chew your food properly.
Category 2—Foods that require little to no digestion:
Fruits, fruit juices, breads, pastries, oats, granola, and simple sugars require little to no digestion and pass relatively quickly through the stomach and into the bloodstream.
Foods in this category include:
Fruits, fruit juices, pastries, simple sugars, grains, complex & simple carbohydrates.
Category 3—Simple Sugars
Fruits, Fruit Juices, Simple Sugars (honey, blackstrap molasses, table sugar, cane sugar etc.).
Food combining rules to improve your absorption of nutrients:
- Do your best to not eat simple sugars with foods that require more digestion.
- After you eat a food that requires more digestion, do not consume simple sugar for 2-3 hours to allow the body to complete the digestive process.
- After you eat simple sugar, try to wait 15-20 minutes before eating foods that require more digestion.
- Limit your consumption of liquids to only 10-15 ounces with a meal, as too much liquid can dilute the hydrochloric acid and enzyme activity, disrupting the process of digestion.
Many people will follow a meal of meats, vegetables and starches with dessert, made up of simple sugars or carbohydrates. However, simple sugars consumed after a meal that requires digestion will stop digestion in its tracks! If digestion has already begun with the release of hydrochloric acid into the stomach, your consumption of simple sugar will have the adverse effects of bloating and the accompanying gas. Sugar overrides digestion by telling the brain that no digestion is required, but unfortunately by this time digestion has usually begun. By stopping digestion, you have prevented the body from realizing any benefit from the ingested food. It does not matter how good, healthy or nutritious the food was because the body realized nothing without proper digestion. This is the way many people are eating every day. Whether it’s health food or fast food, this effect is the same, except that with the fast food you also have the adverse effects of nitrates, hydrogenated oils and other harmful additives.
Many people are eating more and getting less nutrients, resulting in obesity and starvation of the body. What the body cannot process or eliminate it stores as fat. The United States population is one of the most obese on the planet, spending 3.65 Trillion dollars a year on health care in 2018. Yet the U.S. has one of the highest standards of living of any nation. If so, then why are we one of the sickest?
In many cultures around the world, traditional cuisine is passed from generation to generation. In the US it seems we have created our cuisine around convenience with little to no love put into the meals we eat. Start today by feeding your body and not just your palate—eat in a conscious way.
Other Ways to Optimize Nutrient Absorption:
Chewing: Remember that chewing is the first stage of the digestive process. As you chew your food, enzymes produced from the salivary glands help to predigest the food before it enters the stomach. Chew your food thoroughly to help your stomach better digest it.
Sprouting: Nuts, seeds, and grains contain inhibitors (like armor) to protect them and prevent germination until the conditions are perfect. This is a brilliant mechanism while they are growing. However, when these foods are ingested, their protective agents act as enzyme inhibitors in our bodies compromising our digestion and health. Whole grains also contain other anti-nutrients such as phytates that can inhibit our absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Soaking nuts, seeds, and grains (getting them moist) essentially replicates the perfect moist conditions required for germination and neutralizes these anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors to make them more digestible. Foods require different soaking times for full germination. As a general rule with nuts: the harder the nut, the longer the soak.
Long-soak nuts (almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts) need at least 8 hours.
Medium-soak nuts (pecans, walnuts, and Brazil nuts) are oilier and swell up quickly, so require less soaking time.
Short-soak nuts (cashews, macadamias, and pine nuts) have the highest fat content and require only 2 to 4 hours soaking. Do not soak these nuts for longer than 4 hours. Soaking them for extended periods of time break down their health-promoting oils.
Soaking raw nuts, seeds, and whole grains in warm acidulated or salted water simulates the ideal moist germinating conditions these foods wait for in nature, essentially tricking the food into sprouting, which neutralizes enzyme inhibitors. Soaking activates the full nutrient potential of food. The potency of vitamins like A, C, and B get a boost, proteins become more bio available, and live enzymes are released.
Digestive Enzymes/ Enzyme Rich Foods: As discussed earlier in this guide, enzymes are the substances that make life possible and are necessary for digestion, assimilation and absorption to take place. Eating raw foods with meals that require digestion or supplementing with a broad spectrum enzyme supplement (coming soon) can improve your absorption of nutrients out of your food.
Fermentation: Fermentation is the breakdown of carbs like starch and sugar by bacteria and yeast and is an ancient technique of preserving and improving the probiotic content of food. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to the digestive system. Common fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, and yogurt. Eating foods rich with probiotics is one way to improve gut health.
How to Optimize Nutrient Absorption From Supplements
With wellness finally coming into the forefront, a variety of supplement options have begun to flood the shelves of our local stores and social media platforms. While adding supplements to your daily routine is beneficial, you’re unlikely to see the promised results if you are not paying attention to the process of digestion, absorption and assimilation. You must realize that talking about supplementation is rather meaningless unless we are eating in a way that the body can access the nutrients.
That is why you’ll often hear people who take supplements say “Oh, I tried that and it did nothing for me.” In fact, it is estimated that 90% of people who take supplements don’t see benefits from them because each type of supplement has an optimal time and way to be taken in order to be effective.
Zuma Nutrition makes it easy to be in that 10% of successful supplement takers. Each of our formulas comes equipped with directions — a “bio hack” on the optimal way to consume the formula. With over 30 years in the health industry, the Zuma Nutrition team is here to educate and ensure that micronutrients in our formulas get exactly where they need to be to do the best work for your body.
The nutrients found in supplements can be divided into three main categories—the three types of molecules in nature:
- Water Soluble: Need to be taken on an empty stomach with water or juice (depending on what they are).
- Examples: B Vitamins (other than vitamin b12), Vitamin C, Free Form Amino Acids, and L Theanine
- Large Molecular Structures: Need to be taken with a food that requires digestion, we usually recommend with lunch.
- Examples: Minerals such as Calcium, and Pancreatic Enzymes.
- Fat Soluble Vitamins: Need to be taken during the digestive process (two hours after you’ve eaten) as the stomach is getting ready to pass it's contents into the duoendum.
- Examples: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin b12, Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Coenzyme COQ10.
MORNING - WATER SOLUBLE NUTRIENTS
This group of nutrients are very small in physical size and needs to latch on to a larger sugar molecule in order to be transported first into your bloodstream and then to the liver. It’s best to take these nutrients first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, at least 20-30 minutes before breakfast. Take water-soluble nutrients either with a non-acidic juice (carrot, apple, cranberry, pomegranate, etc.), or another type of simple sugar, such as honey. Water-soluble supplements easily get absorbed into the blood along with simple sugars, since simple sugars do not require digestion. Other nutrients best taken in the morning include antioxidant and immune factors that boost the immune system, as well those that build and repair joint structures, such as free-form amino acids, and vitamins B & C.
BEFORE LUNCH - GUT HEALTH
Taking probiotics and gastrointestinal tract (specific) nutrients help your body restore the balance of friendly bacteria and intestinal microflora that protect intestinal and mucosal tissues.
Take probiotics and GI tract nutrients such as probiotics 30 minutes before lunch, on an empty stomach with water.
LUNCH - LARGE MOLECULAR STRUCTURES
This group of molecules is much larger in size than water soluble nutrients and are the hardest for your body to access due to their structure. Digestion needs to be triggered and completed in order for their to be any absorption. Your body triggers the digestive system through the consumption of protein. Digestion means the meal will sit in your stomach for two hours, after which the food heads into the first stage of the small intestine. It’s at this point in the process when the pancreas delivers over tens of thousand of enzymes to break down these molecules for absorption by your body.
Minerals and Calcium are examples of large molecular structures. However, our team has formulated a mineral complex using a water extraction process that makes our formula water-soluble. (fulvic mineral complex article hyperlink)
Large molecular structures should be taken at lunchtime when your body is running at its metabolic peak. Our digestive enzyme formula can be taken with these supplements at lunch and help further boost the absorption.
AFTER LUNCH - FAT SOLUBLE NUTRIENTS
Fatty acids (oils), also need to be absorbed during the digestive process. Since their absorption occurs in the small intestine, you’ll want to take them 30 minutes- two hours after lunch, and at least one hour before eating any sugar. This is just when the stomach is getting ready to pass its’ contents to the first stage of the small intestine and when the pancreas is releasing enzymes that help with the assimilation and absorption of fat soluble nutrients.
Supplements in this group includes Vitamin E, Omega 3-6-9, CoQ10, Carotenoids, Phosphatidylcholine and other Phospholipids from lecithin, as well as Vitamin A and D and other oil-based nutrients.
In the world of diet and nutrition advice, one thing we can all agree on is that illness, disease and the physical effects of aging are concerning. The fountain of youth is not in what we do outwardly but what we do internally. By keeping the cells fed, oxygenated and protected, the body does not age from the inside out, thereby, resulting in profound external benefits.
As you continue on your journey of health and wellness, we would like you to always come back to this essential point: unless we are feeding, oxygenating and protecting each one of the body's cells, we are aging faster than we should be every day.
Consequently, we are seven years older but look ten or more years older, especially after the peak age of 25 when the effects of slowly starving the body of nutrients becomes more pronounced.
The body has specific nutritional requirements that allow it to perform its various functions. If the body is not receiving the nutrition that it needs, it impairs its ability to function optimally, and the cells of the body begin to deteriorate.
It is our hope that this guide can help you ensure you are receiving the nutrients that you need to thrive, and that you can realize nutrition doesn’t have to be so complex and confusing. Once we are informed on exactly what the body needs to function, the food and supplement sources that we can receive these nutrients from, and how to consume these foods and supplements in a way that we can actually absorb the nutrition from them, it becomes much easier to truly take care of our own health. With this fundamental knowledge of nutriton, you can confidently move forward on your journey to a happy and healthy life.