The Hot and Quick on Digestion

Picture of brussels sprouts in the microwave

Digestion begins before food enters your stomach and even before it enters your mouth:

  • This initial process is known as the cephalic phase of digestion and it is driven in part by the sight and smell of food.  
  • During this phase, salivation and enzyme production increases, as does acid production in the stomach.

The parasympathetic state, known as the “rest and digest” mode, is also an important component of digestion:

  • During parasympathetic stimulation, blood is directed inward to our digestive tract and muscle contractions along this tract increase, allowing the breakdown and movement of digesting food.
  • A shift into the parasympathetic response requires us to slow down and relax.  

It is true that microwaves have allowed us to prepare food more quickly. However, rushing through our meals and eating just as a means for fuel decreases cephalic phase stimulation, decreases parasympathetic response, and thus decreases our ability to digest optimally. 

Why should we care about optimal digestion?

  • Poor digestion decreases absorption of nutrients, which give our bodies energy to function as well as the building blocks they need to make hormones and neurotransmitters, and to repair tissues such as skin, organs and muscle.
  • Poor digestion can also lead to issues such as acid reflux, gas and bloating.  

Here are some simple steps to optimize your digestion.

  • Try spending more time with food preparation. Cooking meals at home and using the stovetop or oven to reheat leftovers allows adequate time to see and smell the food as it cooks.
  • If you use a microwave to reheat leftovers or cook pre-packaged meals, make sure to slow down during the consumption. Give thanks for the food and focus on the meal while eating, instead of other things such as TV, work, driving, etc.
  • While your food is heating you can help stimulate the digestive process by eating or drinking small amounts of bitter substances such as Underberg Bitters, Angostura Bitters, dandelion greens and apple cider vinegar.

You can discuss microwave use and more personalized options to optimize digestion with your local naturopathic doctor. Make an appointment by calling Bastyr Center for Natural Health at (206) 834-4100.

— Tony Rutledge, ND, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.