The gastrointestinal tract is a fascinating organ that is about 8 meters long. It starts at the mouth and ends all the way to the other side till the rectum. In this article, we explore the journey of food through the gastrointestinal tract. If you know the journey of the food you eat you would be a more conscious eater and take adequate measure to maintain your gut health.

How the Food is Processed by the Gastrointestinal Tract?

Step 1 – The First Stop – Mouth

The first stop your food goes into is the mouth and it is also the first organ of digestion. It is also the only area where we have a say over what food goes inside, how often it goes inside, when it goes and how long it stays inside. In simple words, we exercise some control over this organ.

Now, the mouth’s PH is an alkaline environment. It actually has the capability to digest two types of food – Starches/Carbohydrates and Saturated Fat. The enzyme Ptyalin or Salivary Amylase is secreted in the mouth and it breaks down the starches and saturated fat content of the food.

The Salivary Amylase that breaks down the Starches is only available in the system after the first set of teeth are developed. And, that is why it is recommended for babies to have starches only after they have fully developed teeth. Babies should be slowly introduced to solid food to give their gut ample time to adjust.

The introduction of grains in the form of Cerelac or Farex is not healthy for a baby who does not have teeth. It will only go in and come straight out as it cannot really be digested fully. As parents, we can help babies explore new taste through healthy vegetables and Fruits. Slowly introduce them to babies and try to dictate their taste. As and when you introduce vegetables at an early stage, your babies are sure enough not to be fussy eaters.

Saturated Fat is a combination of fatty acids that are broken by the enzyme Lingual Lipase in the mouth. Since the first line breaking up of starch and saturated fats happen in the mouth it is of utmost importance to give time to chew the food properly.


Step 2: The Stomach

After the food is chewed into the mouth, it almost reaches a liquid stage and is now passed into the esophagus through a gate called Cardiac Sphincter to the Stomach. What this gate does is that it allows the food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach and prevents the stomach acid from washing back to the esophagus.

The Stomach’s PH environment is acidic and the gastric glands inside the stomach are made of 2/3rds of water content – Mucous, that protects the stomach. The Stomach releases Pepsinogen and Hydrochloric Acid. Both of these chemical components unite to release the enzyme called Pepsin that breaks down the Protein content of the food.

The role of Hydrochloric Acid or HCL is important here, as it is the central force that aids digestion. As per the Ayurvedic science, the Agni or digestive fire primarily resides in our stomach in the form of HCL as it governs the metabolism process in the stomach. Without a strong acid-base, your stomach will not be efficiently able to break down Proteins. Also, the HCL is an antibacterial and antifungal that removes the free radicals in the food.

If you are suffering from GERD, reflux or Gastroenteritis, this is because the Cardiac Sphincter gateway is weak and all that acid from the stomach is passing back. The Cardiac Sphincter weakens when you stress it much by eating more or eating heavier meals in the night. Also, habits like smoking/alcohol, pregnancy, and certain medication can play a role. 


Step 3: Pancreas, the Main Organ of Digestion

After the food is churned in the stomach and reaches a fully liquid state, it reaches the upper part of the small intestine called the Duodenum. It is an Alkaline environment and the bile enzymes reach from the gallbladder here in order to break down the Unsaturated Fats.

The Pancreas release enzymes called Pancreatic Lipase and Pancreatic Amylase to finalize the break down of unsaturated fats and Starches respectively. It also releases an enzyme Trypsin to finalize the digestion of Proteins. So, if the stomach or the mouth fails to initiate the digestion, the Pancreas takes the onus of breaking them down. This is why the Pancreas is a prime organ for digestion. Ideally, the mouth and stomach should start the breakdown and the Pancreas should only give the final touches.

Step 4: Grand Finale of Digestion

The small intestine is lined with tiny particles called Villi that has a thick turf-like wall. This wall is filled with microbes or Lacto Bacilli. These microbes ensure the final breakdown of all the nutrients including Vitamins, Minerals, and others. They contain Capillary units that aid in the absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream.

Step 5 – Appendix is not a Mistake

Often a misconception about Appendix situated above the Colon is seen in the Medical field. However, it is important as it is the oil can that lubricates the remnants of the food and passes it out to the rectum. It also releases antibacterial fluid to calm down the toxins that can be in those remnants. So, if you stress your Appendix too much, it gets swollen leading tot he doctors to recommend its removal. 

Step 6 – Colon the Last Stop

Last, but not the least the remnants exit out of the colon or the large intestine. Its function is to absorb water out of the food and pass out stools. So, that is why it is important to stay hydrated and practice healthy eating habits to ensure that you pass out all the remnants.

The Journey of Food Through the Gastrointestinal Tract – How to Take Care of your Gut the Natural Way?

The body is designed to heal itself when you give it the right conditions. No amount of medicines or operations will solve the problem in the long term. And, that is why you need to make healthy lifestyle choices. The same applies to the Gut. You can protect your gut and aid a healthy digestion process to contribute to your overall wellbeing.

Following are some pointers to help you take care of the Gut naturally:

1. Eat Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Queen and Dinner like a Pauper

This should be a thumb rule so that you don’t over-exert your digestive system and stress it out. Also, this will ensure that the HCL or Hydrochloric Acid or the Agni in your stomach functions optimally.  Don’t try to cram your meals at the end of the day. The best supper for the night consists of fruits, soups, salads or even a protein drink as they are all digested quickly.

2. Take Meals at Regular Intervals

We have only one stomach and the time it takes to digest is roughly 3 to 4 hours. You need to rest your stomach for at least one hour and that means you need to take your food within 4 to 5-hour intervals and not go overboard. Find out what works for you and plan a schedule for eating accordingly.

For some 4 meals a day, evenly spaced out will also work out. It all depends on how your individual body responds and you need to pick a schedule accordingly. For example, an athlete will want to eat a breakfast early in the morning, followed by a mid-day meal at 10.00, Lunch at 2.00 and Dinner at 7.00. Since they work-out their body to a large extent, this meal plan will work effectively for them. Likewise, determine your meal plan keeping your day-to-day activities in mind.

Also, children always like to snack in between their meals when they feel bored. Introduce healthy snacks that will not fill them up. If you are hungry between meals, it might just be a case of dehydration. Try satiating yourself with water and if you are still hungry, then it’s time to eat.


2. Support the Agni or HCL acid in your Stomach for a Healthy Gut

Refrain from taking antacids if you feel a burning sensation as this will only suppress the acidic environment of the stomach and act against it. Instead, try taking a cup of warm water with lemon before you eat. Try out natural herbs like Ginger, Cayenne Pepper, Dandelion or Milk Thistle to promote the acidic environment to do its work.

In addition to this, don’t take drinks when you are eating food. As this will wash away the enzymes and not wash the food down. As a staple rule, consume water half an hour before eating and half an hour after eating. If you are feeling thirsty after a meal, only have a mouthful of water. This will speed up your overall metabolism.

3. Saturated Fat is not the villain  

Since the breakdown of saturated fat happens from your mouth, saturated fat is not something unhealthy. For example, Coconut is a good food high in saturated fat and also easily digestible. Moreover, ensure to chew your food in the mouth for a quick and proper digestion.

4. Best Foods for Gut Health

Irritants like Meat, Dairy particularly made of A1 milk, Refined Sugars and Alcohol should not be taken as too much can stress the gut. They are like a fuel to the already burning fire of an irritated gut. Also, take probiotics to support your gut flora and microbes. Add more fiber to your diet, especially plant fiber and vegetables. Eat more vegetables loaded with fiber content if you are consuming meat to support the gut. Since the meat is putrefied by the time it reaches the small intestine for digestion, this will overwork your appendix to calm down all the toxins and make it swollen. So, to sweep your gut include more fibers.


5. Best Herbs for the Gut

Another potent herb that soothes the coating of the gut and gives form to the stools is Slippery Elm. This herbs soothe the mucous membranes of the stomach and act as a bandage for a leaky gut sufferer, Crohn’s Disease, conditions of irritable bowel syndrome and gastroenteritis. Other potent herbs are that of the Ayurvedic Triphala and licorice.

5. Proper Hydration is Important

Since your colon absorbs all the water from the food and excretes the wastage as stools,

you should ensure to drink water in order to aid its function. If you are suffering from constipation, you can benefit a great deal by trying natural herbs. Warm Colon cleansing tea made of potent herbs like Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada, Licorice acts like a natural laxative to help you clean out your colon.

Colon is habituated with your daily routine. So, it is important to exercise a daily habit of passing out stools regularly.

6. Proper Position to Excrete

Research proves that the best position to relax your muscles inside the rectum is squatting. No wonder, our yesteryear Indian Toilets adopted that position to pass stools. Therefore, people suffering from hemorrhoids and fistula should use this proper position to open up their colon and clean out the rectum.

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