Your gut is one of the most important systems in your body (and let’s be honest, my personal favourite – you guys should know I’m nerdy enough to have a favourite system by now, surely!). Your gut (digestive system) is where your food is broken down from the delicious morsels you gobble up every day, into the nutrients that are then absorbed and used by your body to build every cell and perform every function.
The first section of this fabulous system, is the mouth. The digestion of food begins here in two main ways; mechanically and chemically.
Mechanical digestion refers to the breakdown of food by chewing. This vital process tears and chomps your food into smaller particles so that it is easier for the rest of your body to digest it into nutrients, ready for absorption. Chewing is unfortunately something that we often dismiss because in our busy lives, who has time to chew?! But in reality, if we don’t take that time to chew, the rest of our digestion has to work a lot harder to break down our food, and often, when we don’t, that beautiful food passes all the way through and the nutrients are wasted.
Chemical digestion refers to the enzymes in our saliva that start to digest our food in the mouth. When you think of the phrase “mouth-watering” that is your senses stimulating the release of these chemicals and getting your body ready for the food you are about to consume. This is an important process that is supported by giving yourself the time to enjoy and be aware of your food. By putting away the distractions of TV, smart phones, computers and tablets and instead sitting down with family and friends (or even on your own) to enjoy your meal, you are allowing your senses to anticipate and thoroughly relish the thought, sight, smell, taste and texture of your food, all of which encourage the release of digestive chemicals in your mouth (and the rest of your digestive system) and begin the breakdown of your food.
Caring for your Mouth
- BRUSH YOUR TEETH – Morning and night. Your teeth are essential for chewing, aren’t they? So make sure you brush (and even floss) your teeth to remove all the chunks of food and sugar residue that will feed cavity causing bacteria. It’s basic advice because it should be! If you lose your teeth, you lose this vital process that begins the digestion of your food, and as delicious as smoothies can be, I sure don’t want to live on a liquid diet, do you?
- EAT IN THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT. Remember to give your attention to all your senses by being involved in the preparation of your food, letting yourself salivate about it and while eating, keep away from distractions like TV, computer and your smart phone that can get in the way of that all important stimulation of enzymes.
- CHEW EACH MOUTHFUL at least 15-20 times. If you find this too difficult, put down your knife and fork after you put each mouthful in your gob and don’t pick them up again until you’ve chewed it properly. The rest of your digestive system will thank you. Here is a dorky video of me:
It’s broccoli and hummus, in case you are wondering – great snack!
- REDUCE YOUR SUGAR INTAKE – in fact, cut out any sugar that isn’t a part of a whole food, like a fruit or a vegetable. Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Next time you’re craving a sugar fix, ask yourself if having teeth is important to you, then cut up an apple into wedges and dip it into some nut butter instead.
- OIL PULLING– this is the Ayervedic practice of swooshing oil around your mouth for up to 20 minutes each morning (extra virgin unrefined coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and tastes lovely, so is a great one to try) to help the removal of toxins and bacteria. It can actually be quite an effort to swoosh it around, so you may need to slowly work up to 20 minutes. But if you have an issue with bacteria (gum disease, gingivitis) or would like to help detoxify your body, why not give it a try? See Mind Body Green for more information.
- EAT FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN C AND ZINC, especially if you are prone to ulcers or colds! These lovely nutrients help the healing of tissues, and are especially required by those in the mouth due to the rapid regeneration of cells that make up the tissues there. Plenty of fresh and raw vegetables and fruits, such as red capsicum, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits will provide you with vitamin C, while pumpkin seeds/pepitas, fish, oysters, beef, lamb, cashews, mushrooms and beans such as red kidney and black beans will give you plenty of zinc.
- EAT A DIET FULL OF CALCIUM rich foods to keep your teeth nice and strong. Almonds, chia seeds, broccoli, dates, red kidney beans, tinned red salmon and sardines (including the bones), bone broth, sesame seeds and tahini, and full fat pot-set yoghurt are all delicious sources of calcium that can easily be added to your diet and give it plenty of flavour. Try adding 2tbl of chia seeds to a serve of homemade muesli, with some chopped raw almonds, pot-set yoghurt and plenty of fresh fruits.
- REPLACE SOFT DRINKS AND JUICES with good old fashioned water or you could try teas, such as green tea, chamomile, liquorice, cinnamon, rose, clove, aniseed or thyme. These teas specifically have antimicrobial properties, meaning they discourage and wash away harmful bacteria that can contribute to cavities and infections. Soft drinks are highly acidic because of all those bubbles, which can erode the enamel of your teeth and break down the minerals that give them their strength. In addition, the sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and fruit juices, again feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay, or the bacteria that can cause infection.
- QUIT SMOKING – tar and cancer-causing chemicals inhaled from tobacco smoke can cause the growth of lesions in the mouth (some pre-cancerous). Smoking can also worsen gum disease by reducing blood flow to the gums which reduces the healing potential of the area. Tobacco smoking stains the teeth, which roughens the surfaces, allowing bacteria to build up on the teeth, further contributing to gum disease and cavities.
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