Wordsmith, storyteller, article writer and passionate professional, who enjoys creating original pieces that are witty and animated. An experienced freelancer who specialized in the health and nutrition niche, with a soft spot for medical articles addressed at professionals and amateurs alike.
In this section you will find a series of articles related to weight loss, weight gain, high cholesterol, high glucose, diabetes and other metabolic issues.
Those articles contain information that relates to those specific problems, but some of them need a bit of background.
This article is aimed at giving you that background. It’s a simple guide…call it an essay that will teach you how your body works nutrition wise, and why many people are struggling with weight related problems and metabolic conditions.
We will start with the basics – eating.
What happens when we eat?
When we eat, food goes through a series of processes that transform it into nutrients. We rarely think about eating and we often think about food.
We will focus on the eating process now, but later we will circle back to thinking about food, because that is a very important part of the reason for which we gain weight.
Imagine a decadent piece of chocolate cake and think about what you do once you start eating it, after spending a long time fantasizing about its taste.
I am not trying to get you to go buy cake. I am trying to make you more aware about your actions.
Once you start eating you should be chewing your food thoroughly. This will cause it to break down into small fragments and to mix with saliva that has the role of making the food easier to digest.
Ideally, we should chew our food up to 32 times before we swallow. This is an average number. Harder foods need more chews, while softer ones need less.
However, most people don’t even reach 20 chews. When hungry some barely chew at all.
I really think that if you are faced with that cake that I tempted you with, you will not chew every bite 32 times. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, in the comment section below.
In relation to weight gain, we all think about the quantity and quality of the food we eat. But we should also pay special attention to how and why we eat.
While eating without chewing, we don’t break down foods properly and we don’t allow our brain to properly process information. This will give us the sensation of satiety too late, and for this reason we tend to eat more than we need.
Slow vs. fast
Eating should take time. Our fast paced life turned us into fast paced individuals who no longer have the time to enjoy the simple things.
This may very well be one of the reasons behind the obesity pandemic that is happening all over the world.
Studies show that those who eat fast tend to weigh more than those who eat slow.
A meal should take, on average, 20 minutes. The longer you spend eating, and the more you chew your food, the less you will eat.
This happens because the hormones that control and suppress appetite take time to be produced and to reach the brain.
These hormones are called leptin and ghrelin and they are the “hunger” hormones that are influenced by our habits.
You can read more about the hunger hormones in this article that we dedicated to them. They are the ones that torment us, and every villain needs an article. Right?
What happens in the stomach?
Once we swallow our food, it passes through our pharynx and esophagus into our stomach.
Here gastric acid is waiting for it along with digestive enzymes. These have the role of breaking down food even further and to kill any bacteria. It is a highly acidic environment, and those who suffer from reflux definitely know how acidic the gastric juices can really be.
The stomach is lined with muscles that cause it to contract, moving food deeper into the digestive tract to the pyloric valve and into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
In the duodenum, bile and pancreatic juices are released, to meet the food and break it down even further.
In the stomach and the pancreas are the ones that produce ghrelin – a hormone that tells us that we are hungry.
The small intestine – the guy who decides that we need it all
Did you ever go on a trip with friends only to find out that one of them packed their entire house? We all have one friend who does that.
The small intestine is that friend when it comes to nutrients. It lets everyone inside.
Too much fat? No problem, we have fat cells ready to expand to accommodate your diet.
Too much sugar? Who knows when we will have to outrun a predator, we better keep that too.
Most nutrients are absorbed here, along with electrolytes, minerals and vitamins.
However, if something goes wrong in the digestive process, some nutrients won’t be absorbed.
There are a few main issues that are most likely to be encountered.
- Insufficient bile output due to gallbladder stones or other pathologies;
- Insufficient pancreatic enzymes.
Although some of us probably would love to convince their small intestine to stop allowing more nutrients than we need, malabsorption doesn’t work like that.
Digestive issues that affect the small intestine
Insufficient digestive enzymes can cause nutrients to not be absorbed fully. This will reflect in symptoms like:
- Fatty stool that smells bad;
- Irritable bowel syndrome;
- Constipation or diarrhea;
- Abdominal pain.
Malabsorption of fats may lead to not absorbing liposoluble vitamins like vitamin K, D, A and E.
These are very important vitamins and a deficiency in any of them can lead to problems such as:
- Osteoporosis (even in young patients);
- Bad night vision;
- Hair loss;
- Dry skin;
- Hormones imbalances.
For cases when these problems are related to diet and lifestyle, the use of over the counter digestive enzymes can be helpful.
This study shows that symptoms of IBS can be alleviated by digestive enzymes.
However, you should always talk to your doctor about any digestive issues, as these could be hiding much more serious problems that can be treated if they are addressed early.
After most nutrients are absorbed, what is left of your meal travels to the large intestine.
The large intestine
This is a large organ that spreads in almost all areas of the abdomen. Here, water, salts and minerals are absorbed and the rest of your food will be eliminated from the rectum (the last part of the small intestine).
This organ is extremely important, so is its health as many infections and diseases happen here, and many people suffer from constipation.
There are a few very easy actions that we can take to ensure intestinal health:
- Eat fiber rich foods like beans and whole grains;
- Enjoy raw or lightly steamed vegetables that are rich in fiber and digestive enzymes;
- Drink plenty of water;
- Take probiotic supplements that have been shown to promote gut health and a better immune response;
- Eat probiotic rich foods like pickles and yogurts.
The digestive system hosts milliards of bacteria and we couldn’t live without them. This is why it is important to care for them and to help their colony when it’s down.
It was shown that the type of bacteria that colonizes out intestines can influence our weight and how our metabolism works.
The bacteria that live in our intestines are different from individual to individual. Our environment is important too, so people who live in different areas of the world will have different bacteria colonizing their gut.
The colony is influenced by many factors, some are related to genetics and some are directly influenced by our diet and our health.
Those who consume more carbohydrates tend to have an overgrowth of bacteria that consumes starch and glucose. This caused an imbalance and can result in different manifestations like bloating.
The use of antibiotics also has a big impact on our flora. Antibiotics tend to wipe out bacteria, which is a good thing when you have an infection. But you need to make sure that you help your good bacteria survive.
Many women get Candida vaginal candidiasis (yeast infections) and one of the main reasons for which this happens is that the bacteria in their intestines is out of balance.
“The Anti – candida diet” that hasn’t a lot of scientific research to back it up, encourages patients to eat less carbohydrates and sugars, because these “feed the yeast”.
While this isn’t exactly true, eating less carbs will encourage other gut-friendly bacteria to thrive. That bacteria will fight the yeast for you.
When certain foods reach the intestine, bacteria and fungi begin to feast on them. The bad kind of bacteria, along with some yeasts (Candida included), eliminate toxins while breaking down foods.
Those toxins can occasionally lead to intestinal inflammation, or to a high intestinal permeability.
This will translate in symptoms like:
- Exacerbation of existent allergies and intolerances;
- Intestinal pain.
Good bacteria help to break down foods better, so that they are absorbed correctly, helping us to remain in good health.
To promote the development of good bacteria and to minimize the impact of yeast, supplementing with probiotics and coconut oil, was shown to help. [i]
The relation between gut bacteria and weight
Can something that we can’t even see, influence the number we see when we get on a scale?
Evidence suggests that it can, and it can even have an effect on our mood.
Our gut bacteria is strongly influenced by genetics, as the immune system recognizes some of the bacteria as helpful, and allows it to thrive.
However, ingesting certain foods can promote the rapid growth of other bacteria, which will break carbohydrates down faster and more efficient.
When crabs are broken down, they will be absorbed and some of them will be stored as… fat.
The more diverse the gut flora is, the better the chances that it will be well balanced. This is why probiotics and prebiotic fibers(the ones that make your gut good bacteria friendly) should be considered for supplementation when aiming for weight loss.
This doesn’t translate in the fact that the microbiome is the reason behind why some people are obese. But it can certainly facilitate weight gain.
Nutrients, energy and weight gain
It is impossible to talk about weight loss without talking about weight gain. We all need to remember where we started and the journey that brought us to where we are.
Once the nutrients are broken down and absorbed, they are taken by red blood cells to their final destination.
- The cell – where they are transformed in energy or where they are used as building blocks for other cells;
- To storage;
- To different organs to be excreted.
The only nutrients that are used to produce energy, in the order of preference are:
Cells prefer to burn glucose first. It burns fast, with almost no toxins left behind. In our diet it’s abundant, and almost all our cells are able to use it easily.
Protein and fats offer a lot more energy than glucose does, but they are difficult to process and they tend to put a bit more strain on the kidneys.
It is easy to understand that our evolution made us prefer sweet items like ripe fruit, and that now, when we have permanent access to glucose, we will still prefer it.
It comes from carbohydrates such as starch, sugars, but it’s also found in healthy foods.
In order for our cells to absorb glucose, they need insulin which is produced by the pancreas.
The pancreas produces insulin every time we eat something that will be transformed into glucose.
Insulin permeates the wall of the cell to glucose alone. All cells have an outside layer that acts as a shield. This is because they need to stay protected from everything else. But insulin makes the cell-wall accept glucose.
Without this mechanism, cells would be bombarded with glucose, since it is a constant in our blood.
Protein and fats
Both protein and fats can be used to make energy, but at a cost.
Once the cells start burning anything else but glucose, ketones will be released.
This is not a bad thing, as many cells can burn them for energy, including brain cells. But if there is a too high build up of ketones in the blood, the risk of acidosis emerges.
Keto-acidosis is a serious medical condition, which can threaten life if left unattended.
Weight gain happens when we ingest nutrients that we don’t need. During our evolution, we adapted to preserving all the energy that we can. Because of this our body builds reserves of anything that can be transformed into energy.
Fat is the richest source of energy. 1 Pound of fat can offer as much as 3500 calories. This means that without eating anything whatsoever, a single pound of fat could offer energy for more than a day.
Most of the fat deposit isn’t coming from fatty foods. Anything that is not used (glucose from carbs included) will be turned into fat and stored under our skin, on our belly, between our muscles, in our liver and sadly on our arteries too.
We view this process as a very bad thing, but the truth is that it’s designed to save our lives. Less than half a century ago, many people suffered from hunger and starvation, all over the world.
This wasn’t due to poverty alone, like today. The means to produce and sustain the production of food, simply weren’t available.
The evolution and the revolution of food
The earliest evidence of humans walking on two feet comes from around 3 million years ago. Of course, the modern human evolved much later, around 200,000 years ago.
Humans were hunter- gatherers and around 40,000 years ago, fishing appeared. Consuming fish boosted the development of the brain.
This probably happened because all the good fats and due to the fact that the society gained access to a food source that wasn’t as scarce as venison.
Humans ate these foods when they had access to them and they didn’t very often. Life was focused on obtaining food and shelter and people rarely stayed in one place.
Being sedentary would have equaled certain death and a few centuries later, humans had to work the fields and to make sure they store foods for the winter.
Fast forward another couple of centuries and we have the beginning of the industrial revolution which could very well be the main culprit for today’s obesity epidemic.
With the industrial revolution, that started around the late 1700s our society began to produce many items industrially.
Slowly but steadily this translated into processed foods, routines that didn’t work with the circadian rhythm, much less exercise and easier ways to go around.
The increase in body weight wasn’t observed until the 1970s, when high density, caloric foods became available to the general population, along with means to buy cars or move around without much effort.
Today we face many challenges as a species because due to the rapid evolution of technology and industry, we weren’t able to adapt to our new circumstances.
Evolution takes time, and by time I mean thousands of years.
In order to better have an ideal weight, we need to find the balance between what our body is willing to accept and do, and what we have to do to live a fulfilling life in modern society.
Luckily, one of the most important things that the industrial revolution brought us was scientific and medical advancement. This increased our life span and our access to services that can improve the quality of life.
What is wrong with our food?
We can all agree that food is becoming more and more tasty. This doesn’t sound wrong at all, does it?
We should ask ourselves why foods are tastier and why we fail to notice this after eating the same food a few times.
Many producers use additives that are aimed at surprising our brain with taste. These additives sometimes (most times) come in the form of sugar and salt, or the perfect balance between the two.
However, most producers don’t use the best ingredients that provide the best nutrition.
This turns really basic, nutritious foods like bread into a calorie bomb that is void of nutrients.
Even foods as simple as yogurt sometimes contain ridiculous amounts of sugar. And while you might be eating a natural yogurt that will help your gut flora, you will also be ingesting a lot of sugar which will eventually be transformed into fat.
The purpose of this short introduction to nutrition was to help better understand how your body works and why diets seem to fail ever so often.
In this section you will find the most efficient diets and the evidence that supports the, along with information about why certain diets aren’t a good choice.
I encourage you to comment and to suggest new articles that would answer your questions.