Research continually demonstrates the medicinal powers of food and how it can impact how we think, feel and behave. In the modern world with our fast pace lifestyle, we no longer give attention to WHAT and HOW we eat! With hectic schedules and not enough time, we are all too familiar with a working lunch in front of the screen, eating on the go and shovelling down our meal before running to the next meeting. This has become so increasingly common that we have forgotten how to eat, paying no attention to the food we consume, the nutrients it contains and the way in which we digest it.
Digestion begins with something known as the Cephalic phase.
‘Cephalic’ means relating to the head, and the cephalic phase is the first step of digestion, often overlooked by many and is unknown by even more. I would say it is by far the most important action you can take to start to improve your digestion. Ever wondered why we get butterflies when we’re nervous or anxious? There is a large nerve called the vagus nerve acting as a direct highway connecting our gut to our brain.1 When we’re anxious, excited or stressed, signals are sent from our brain to the gut and vice versa!
In this way, selecting, seeing, smelling or feeling the texture of food triggers the body to prepare for digestion.2,3,5,6 The anticipation of food in the brain sends signals to the digestive tract telling it to get ready to go, by releasing appropriate enzymes and hormones needed for proper digestion.4,5 For example, ghrelin (our hunger hormone) is released to increase appetite and insulin to control glucose levels.4,7
Preparation is key
For some of us cooking may seem like a chore, but often we forget that eating healthy nutritious meals doesn’t’ have to be difficult or require too many processes. Try to get involved with the preparation to some extent, even if it’s just chopping some onions or at the very least, standing in the kitchen! Touching, smelling and preparing food will help to stimulate your senses allowing for the cephalic phase to be activated. This enables the effective regulation of digestion, metabolism and nutrient absorption from the food we eat.2,4,8 Head over to www.zarasyednutrition.com for some easy, nutrient dense dishes to try out at home.
Rest and Digest
When stressed, blood and energy is diverted away from the digestive system. Introduce stress reducing activities include yoga, tai chi, meditation, exercise, reading a book, or any activity that you find helps you to unwind. This will give your body the chance to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which will elicit a ‘relaxation response’, allowing us to rest and digest. Now I know it isn’t always possible to practice these activities before every meal, so even taking a few deep breaths is a quick way to help calm the nervous system and stimulate digestive pathways.
And finally, don’t forget to chew, chew and chew! The act of chewing stimulates the release of salivary secretions in the mouth, which act as a fluid and start the digestive process of breaking down carbohydrates and fats. It also signals to the pancreas and liver to start releasing enzymes and bile, which all aid digestion.2,9 Chewing mechanically breaks down your food into smaller particles, allowing more nutrients to be absorbed, as they make their way down your digestive tract.
Furthermore, it will prevent large, undigested particles making their way into your bloodstream and causing an inflammatory response.
I challenge you to eat your next meal in a relaxed environment, away from a phone, computer or tablet, putting your fork down between each mouthful and taking time to savour the texture and flavour of your food.
*****This blog is not intended or implied to be a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Information provided here is general, and not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease or conditions. Please contact your GP or private health consultant, if you have any personal health concerns, or consult a registered nutritional therapist for personalised dietary and lifestyle advice and guidance.
Bonaz, B., Bazin, T. and Pellissier, S. (2018). The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12.
Kershaw, J. and Mattes, R. (2018). Nutrition and taste and smell dysfunction. World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, 4(1), pp.3-10.
Smeets, P., Erkner, A. and De Graaf, C. (2010). Cephalic phase responses and appetite. Nutrition Reviews, 68(11), pp.643-655.
Power, M. and Schulkin, J. (2008). Anticipatory physiological regulation in feeding biology: Cephalic phase responses. Appetite, 50(2-3), pp.194-206.
Katschinski, M. (2000). Nutritional implications of cephalic phase gastrointestinal responses. Appetite, 34(2), pp.189-196.
Mattes, R. (1997). Physiologic Responses to Sensory Stimulation by Food. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 97(4), pp.406-413.
Teff, K. (2000). Nutritional implications of the cephalic-phase reflexes: endocrine responses. Appetite, 34(2), pp.206-213.
Giduck, S., Threatte, R. and Kare, M. (1987). Cephalic Reflexes: Their Role in Digestion and Possible Roles in Absorption and Metabolism. The Journal of Nutrition, 117(7), pp.1191-1196.
Keesman, M., Aarts, H., Vermeent, S., Häfner, M. and Papies, E. (2016). Consumption Simulations Induce Salivation to Food Cues. PLOS ONE, 11(11), p.e0165449.
Zara is our Wimbledon clinic in house nutritionist, she is available for bookings and has an event running on the 27th March In Wimbledon. View Wimbledon Clinic Page Here