As much as we like to talk about the benefits of whole foods, there is much more to getting benefits from food than just eating them. Foods are only as good as our body’s ability to break it down and absorb the nutrients that come within the food.

This is where we talk about digestion. Digestion takes food from the point of chewing and applying enzymes and stomach acid in the stomach. It doesn’t stop there as there are enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the gall bladder when it gets into the top area of the small intestine. Food should no longer be food when it leaves the stomach, it should be properly broken down. 

In a health body, food should become tiny molecules that can pass through tight junctions in small intestine to get to our blood and delivered to our cells. A lot can go wrong here if steps like digestion is weak and food is not chemically broken down, or if chewing is not done well enough to break the food into manageable material and so on.

How can we tell what is happening? Pain, bloating, gas, felling full hours after eating are all signs that something is not quite happy in the digestive process. Also, one big way of determining what may be needed is looking at bowel movements. This is an area that most people find awkward to discuss, but I find this information critical to finding a solution to digestive issues and it’s an area I am fascinated with and enjoy discussing. 

I hope some information here will be of help or at least get you to feeling comfortable to getting professional help if you are struggling. I am saddened when clients indicate they have been suffering with years of constipation or diarrhea. Often, they do not seek help due to not being sure what can be done or not feeling able to talk to a professional for help.  It’s just their “normal” - but it is not normal to have pain and not properly formed bowel movements.

This is a big topic, so I plan to give some general information here and then break down some common conditions that can affect this area like Celiac, IBS, IBD, allergies, inflammation, etc. I will provide general suggestions to try food wise to help see if improvements can be made. As always, please make sure to see your doctor or health professional if you have severe issues and need medical attention. My suggestions are in no way medical advice.

By looking at bowel movements, aspects to notice are:

  • Is there anything NOT digested? Can you see certain types of foods still recognizable (corn is common here). Maybe red pepper skins, nuts, etc.  Often this can be a sign of needing to chew more (food should be a paste when you swallow), but it can also be a sign of weak digestion if chewing well but still see food colours and shapes showing up. An easy thing to try right off the bat is chew until the food in your mouth is a paste. This takes a hug toll off your digestive system and can be helpful. 
  • Is there mucous showing up around the bowel movement. This can happen due to irritation in the intestine as the mucous is protective. Too much insoluble fibre, nuts or seeds not chewed well, food that is not fully digested, toxins or chemicals in foods can be irritating, or certain foods can irritate you specifically, such as gluten or complex sugars for some people. Using a food log to notice what foods can trigger mucous is helpful in knowing what to avoid to reduce the irritation. 
  • Using the Bristol Stool Chart, check if the shape and consistency looks “normal”. Your “normal” may not be normal. It should be about a #4 on the chart. Check it out. If too hard or too watery, those each mean something different in what may be going on, and looking at those and other symptoms can be helpful to find ideas on how to improve the digestion process.

Just know that improvements can happen and whole foods are critical to supporting digestion and getting regular bowel movements. Everyone is different and seeing what changes in your diet can help you to get things moving properly is the first step. A food journal is the best way to track foods and how your digestion and bowel movements change with what you are (or aren’t) eating.

Next week, we will review common bowel issues and what some of those symptoms are and what changes can be helpful.

Have a great week!

Lisa Aschenbrenner
Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Join Our E-Letter

Receive Quality Greens Weekly Specials straight to your inbox!