Expanding Your Diet…With Science! (Part 2)

Jun 18, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…


If you haven’t seen it yet, in our last article we talked all about ingredients, what they mean, and what they are each made of.  Now we get to discuss how to break those things down (both literally, and figuratively!), so that we can eat them, digest them, and hopefully enjoy them while we’re at it.

Macro and Micro – Not Just Economics

Macro and Micro are two different ways to look at the same thing – one from the larger view and one from the narrower view.

For our purposes here, we could say that macro and micro are like two other terms we have already discussed elsewhere – mechanical and chemical digestion.  Breaking down an ingredient on a macro level is much like mechanical digestion.  Breaking down an ingredient on a micro level is similar to chemical digestion.

Macro Breakdown – Mechanical Digestion

Let’s talk about breaking something down on a ‘macro’ level.  By macro, I mean on the large scale, or in the bigger picture.  Such as if you took a large chunk of wood and placed it into a wood chipper – it is broken down into much smaller pieces.

But those smaller pieces are identical to the larger piece.  They’re just smaller versions of the original thing – little pieces of dense, hard wood.

You might be able to see where I’m going with this one.  This is incredibly similar to what happens when foods are blended or juiced.  On the macro level, they appear to be broken all the way down, to something that only slightly resembles the original product.  When you throw kale in a juicer, the only resemblance left is the original color.

What has really happened here is that the blades in that blender sliced up the connections between the cell walls in that plant.  The blender takes the place of some of the mechanical digestion that your teeth and stomach would have done to the food that you are eating.

What this didn’t do was slice up the cell wall protecting each of the individual cells.  On the smallest level, or the micro level, this ingredient still looks the same to your digestive tract.  In order to push this ingredient through your body without too many hiccups (like gas, pain, or diarrhea/constipation), your GI tract still needs to break into each cell wall.  And it must break into that same wall to access the nutrients that you wanted from that food.

Micro Breakdown – Chemical Digestion

Breaking something down on the ‘micro’ level is very different than breaking it down on the large scale.  It focuses on the smallest segments, working on a very different level – one that the eye cannot perceive.

When you steam, cook, boil, or otherwise ‘transform’ a food with heat and/or water, the cell walls of the plant are dissolved and broken down.  You may be left with a large piece of food that looks almost identical to the original product, but it will be a soft, broken down version of that ingredient.  This is why the carrot in your soup has a different texture than the one in your salad, and this is also what makes it so much easier to digest.

Breaking down the cell wall on a chemical level also makes it easier for the GI tract to pull the nutrients out of the food that you eat.  It’s almost as though those nutrients are being served up on a platter to the intestines.  Not only is it now easier to be nourished by your food, it is also easier for your digestive tract to push the food along, without causing frustrating symptoms like gas, pain, and diarrhea.

This is also the process that breaks down proteins in meats.  When proteins are broken down, or “denatured”, our bodies can start the process of converting and absorbing them.  And cooked meats, while not only being much more delicious than raw meats, are also primed for the body to grab hold of their nutrients.

There are many other processes that break down ingredients on the micro or chemical level.  For example, fermenting food can truly transform it, such as what happens when milk is fermented into yogurt.  Or when grapes are fermented into wine.  The ingredient changes entirely, in texture, flavor, smell, and…you guessed it, digestibility.

Who Should Do What?

The answer to this question, of course, depends on each person’s situation.  But I can give you some guidance on who might benefit from what, and when.  But first…

No one solution will work for all foods, and sometimes you’ll get the best results from a combination of solutions

Now, here are some concrete points to consider as you try to re-evaluate your diet and manage your health.

For those with Gastroparesis:

*If you’ve tried juicing and blending and haven’t had a great experience, you’re not alone. There are plenty of us with gastroparesis that do not do well with this approach, even though it seems like we should.

*If you have tried steaming or cooking your food and have found that it still doesn’t go down well enough, it is possible that it needs to be steamed further. A nice, light steam of 3-5 minutes might make the food taste better, but sometimes food must be steamed down to the equivalent of mush before it can really be processed easily (not as yummy, but not terrible, either).

*While blending and juicing may make a large amount of food fit into a smaller glass, it is still a large amount of food, and a lot for the body to handle. Be careful not to overwhelm your stomach or intestine with too much concentrated food at once.

*Also, your body can only absorb so many nutrients at once. So juicing up an entire head of kale will not actually provide you with more nutrients than just eating as much as you would get in a standard salad.

*There are different levels of manipulation to consider. For instance, you might not be able to tolerate whole meats, but the idea of blended meat is not appealing.  So what about something in the middle, like sausage or ground turkey?

*Boiling, steaming, sautéing, and pressure cooking are all different ways to manipulate food on a micro level. You’re not crazy if one of these works better for you than another, and it’s worth giving some of them try.

*Sometimes it may be a good idea to use a macro and micro method for one food. For instance, you could boil potatoes, and then mash them. Or you could boil or steam your vegetables (or fruits!) and then blend them into a smoothie.

For those with IBS or Food Intolerances:

*While blending and juicing may make a large amount of food fit into a smaller glass, it is still a large amount of food, and a lot for the body to handle. Be careful not to overwhelm your stomach or intestine with too much concentrated food at once.

*Also, your body can only absorb so many nutrients at once. So juicing up an entire head of kale will not actually provide you with more nutrients than just eating as much as you would get in a standard salad.

*Many food intolerances can be avoided by only eating that ingredient in a certain form. For instance, some people with lactose intolerance do better with fermented dairy products (like yogurt), than fresh products (like milk).

*Blending can make some foods easier on your GI tract, but other foods may be more agreeable when they are processed chemically, such as through steaming or cooking. Much of this comes with experimentation, but it’s important to be open to trying both options.

*Different manipulations can prevent a lot of the issues that our GI tracts can have, including gas, pain, and diarrhea. Think back to how simple it can be to make beans more tolerable (rinsing and boiling in a clean batch of water).  Creative little solutions like this may rescue certain foods and keep them in your diet.

But Most Importantly…

This process is all about getting to know your food ingredients, but it is just as important to get to know your body.  I will not lie about the fact that learning how to manage your diet and your health takes time and patience.  It also takes a commitment to keeping track of what you have tried, and what does and does not work.

But this can also be an enjoyable process, and a way to bring yourself to a healthier diet than the one you had before.  You can now become truly informed about what you are eating, how it is made, and what your body is and is not able to tolerate.  That’s more than most people can say these days, and I didn’t appreciate its value until it was forced upon me.  And if you asked me to list positive things that came from my diagnosis, this would be one of those things.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to re-think your management and plan, take a look at this series of articles

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