Our relationship with food changes all the time. Some of us were picky eaters when we were children and grew up to enjoy all different kinds of foods. Over time you may also discover specific digestive intolerances to substances, such as gluten or dairy. Maybe, you have committed to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. No matter what your dietary restriction, we need to pay attention to our digestive system if we want to enjoy our relationship with food. If our digestive system is not highly functioning, it can create a negative ripple effect to our overall well being.
To discover the health of our digestive system, we must look at our gastric acid levels. Gastric acid is comprised of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride, and its purpose is to aid digestion by breaking down amino acids. It is secreted in three different phases during the digestive process, the cephalic phase, gastric phase and intestinal phase. The first phase (cephalic phase) begins at the anticipation of eating food, this includes looking at or smelling the food before consumption. Thirty percent of gastric acid is produced during this phase. After consumption, the second phase (gastric phase) begins with the stomach growing larger to hold and digest the food that you are consuming. Sixty percent of gastric acid is secreted at this time. The final 10 percent of gastric acid is secreted in the final stage (intestinal phase), when the food has been broken down enough to enter the small intestine to complete the digestive process. This entire process is regulated by the automatic nervous system and several different hormones in the body. If you have no gastric acid and/or extremely low amounts in your system, then you are at a higher risk of infection. If you have too much it can lead to gastric ulcers.
One of the elements of gastric acid, hydrochloric acid (HCL), plays a vital role in the breakdown of amino acids as it initiates the process. If your HCL levels are imbalanced then your entire digestive function can be thrown off because it will not know when to start breaking down the foods you consume, or even how much to break them down. This could lead to large fragments of proteins entering your small intestine in the final phase of digestion, making you extremely uncomfortable and upsetting the entire digestive process.
It is important to understand your bodies HCL levels as the signs for high and low levels can feel similar. For example, both high and low levels may cause you to feel like you are experiencing heartburn or indigestion, so you may try over-the-counter antacids to feel better. If your levels are already low however, this will worsen your digestive discomfort.
- High stress, emotional disturbance, and anxiety
- Nutrient deficient diet, especially Zinc & Vitamin B deficiencies
- Poor food combinations
- Excessive refined sugar intake
- Chronic illness
- Drinking ice water with meals instead of a hot tea
- Certain medications
If you fall into any of these categories, you may want to consider implementing some changes to your diet to help increase HCL Levels. If you would like to discover your HCL levels, you can talk to your doctor, take an at-home HCL test and/or select mineral hair analysis tests will give you the information you are looking for.
To increase HCL levels, the first step would be to improve your diet. HCL levels rely heavily on zinc absorption, so increasing your zinc intake is a great first step. Foods high in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and more. Additionally, correct food combinations will lead to a healthier digestive system. Proteins should be paired with low-starch vegetable and good fats, carbohydrates pair well with vegetables, and soaking meat in acidic solutions are all great combinations. Cutting out processed food and GMO’s as much as possible will also encourage healthy HCL production.
During your meal, be sure to chew your food as much as possible. The smaller the fragments are that go into your stomach, the easier they will be to digest. If you are not chewing your foods it could lead to large fragments of proteins ending up in your small intestine to ultimately not being fully digested by the time it is exiting your body. Similarly, eating too much food, or overeating can overwhelm the digestive system not allowing nutrient absorption or proper digestion of your food. To stimulate HCL production during your meal you should add chloride (aka salt) to your food and/or opt out of drinking ice water with your meal, and instead choose a hot tea or warm lemon water.
Any steps you can take to a healthier digestive system are worth taking. Our relationship with food should not be uncomfortable.