Let’s take a look back to those high school days where health, education classes consumed our time with wrapping bananas in condoms or studying a food pyramid that resembled the one that we used to see on the side of a cereal box.
So what should have we learnt?
What we should have been learning about is the most vital, yet unrecognized feature inside our body – the gut. The gut is responsible for shaping our lives. It supports our mental, physical and emotional health. That’s a heavy load, right?
So what is the gut?
Once upon a time, if someone was to ask me what I thought the gut was I would have told them it was the stomach. The gut is actually so much more than that. First of all, the gut is scientifically known as ‘the gastrointestinal system/tract. And in fact, it’s made up of 9 different organs. They include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum! That is why the gut supports the overall wellness of our bodies throughout our entire lives. Without a healthy functioning gut, our body loses momentum and quits on us before we know it.
Where does the gastrointestinal system begin?
While we don’t really think about the food processing through our bodies when munching on a sandwich, the process of it is really interesting.
It all starts with the mouth. People say that the mouth is the gatekeeper to our stomachs and I think that’s such a powerful phrase. The mouth, in fact, is responsible for the initiation of the digestive process, where the teeth, tongue, and enzymes in our saliva begin to breakdown the food.
The food enters the esophagus and uses muscles to move the food through a coordinated process called peristalsis. The food is then released into the stomach and the valve acts as a door to keep the food from coming back up!
The stomach is a careful, little thing. It focusses on sterilizing the food so that we don’t get an infection or sick from external harms. The stomachs enzymes play a pivotal role in digesting proteins and other nutrients and eventually turns the food into liquid. I guess it makes sense as to why we’ve always been encouraged to chew before we swallow. Otherwise, our tummy’s take a huge hit of chunky bits of meat, bread and all sorts of things we’re busy shoving down our throats.
Liquidating food in the stomach can take up to hours, depending on how heavy or fatty the meals are. But once the process is complete, the brain sends a signal to the stomach and allows the food to absorb into the small intestine.
The small intestine has a very misleading name, as it’s quite a long organ, measuring approximately 21 feet when stretched out. This cheeky organ is where all the nutrients are collected, packaged and posted out to the rest of the body. The organ collects the nutrients by using little hair-like texture on the side of its walls. Without our very long, small intestines, we wouldn’t keep operating as happy little vegemite’s.
We also have some other honorable mentions, being the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder, which are all just as important for the digestion process. The pancreas releases enzymes into the small intestines to break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats while producing hormones to regulate our blood sugar.
The liver is responsible for building protein for the body. It also produces green liquid bile which is secreted into the gallbladder, and sometimes helps the small intestine break down dietary fats. This becomes a trade-off, as the small intestine sends carbohydrates, fats, and other nutrients into the liver, where they’re transformed into protein and glucose as fuel for the body!
So now we’re pretty much down to the home run. Let’s welcome the colon and rectum. Without these guys, we wouldn’t be able to pass anything through. And no one wants to know what that could look like. Once the small intestines eat up all the good stuff, she passes on the remaining digestive material into the colon. The colon dries the shit out, absorbing all the water and electrolytes as nourishment, and passes the solid waste to the rectum and out of the body.
So next time you’re gobbling on some food, take a moment to think about the building blocks that are formulating inside of you to process food. We need to recognise that our bodies operate like machinery and our digestive tract quite literally feeds off what we give it in order to survive. This is why we need to be kind to our guts! And remember our mouths are the gatekeeper to our bodies.
Keep it healthy.