Most of us understand the the basic process of food digestion. We eat something, our body converts it to energy, and then whatever is left over is disposed of. Since it is interesting, let’s quickly recap the details of this digestive process.
The digestive system is a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body (which the body uses for energy, growth, and cell repair). This process begins with the mouth, – more specifically the act of chewing (breaking food into smaller pieces) – essentially breaking it down into a manageable form/size that our body can absorb and use. This food goes down our throats, through the esophagus and into the stomach. The stomach holds the food, mixes the food, grinds the food, secretes enzymes that continue to break it down. It passes from the stomach into the small intestine where the food is further broken down and the nutrients contained in the food are absorbed into the body. From the small intestine, the food is handed over to the large intestine, or the colon where what is left (mainly food debris and bacteria) starts to accumulate and solidify. From there, the food (unused remnants) eventually passes the rest of the way through the body and is discarded.1
The most interesting part of this process to me is the timing. According to the Mayo clinic; after we eat it takes approximately 6-8 hours for food to pass through the stomach and small intestine. Then, it takes another 40 hours to pass through the large intestine and bowels. That’s a total of about 48 hours of transit time from eating to disposal.
Now, that timeline may not seem like a big deal, but think about the the reasons that most of us decide what to eat or what not to eat. If we are honest, the primary driver for most of our eating is how something tastes. Therefore, we base an entire 48-hour digestive process in which our bodies will slowly and methodically break down and pull nutrients from food and give our bodies the energy they need to sustain life on the tiniest period of time that we will actually taste the food. Even in conservative terms, if the process of actually chewing food takes a total of 5 minutes (I’ve never chewed food for that long), that’s only .17% of the process time. That’s less than 1/5th of 1%. But, for reference, if we want to include the entire period that we sit down to eat a meal (let’s say a half-hour), that still only adds up to 1.04% of the digestive process timeline.
If we are basing our food choices solely on how something tastes (good or bad) without any thought to how my body will react to the food, how many nutrients my body will be able to break down and absorb, or that foods potential effect on my body as a whole, we are missing something, in fact, we are missing 99% of something. With this information, we should be able to evaluate our foods overall effect on our bodies before making a choice about eating it or not eating it. Our body may in fact vote to overrule our taste buds quite frequently – if not constantly – because in reality our stomach and intestines have the job of breaking down and absorbing any nutrients found in those M&Ms for 47 hours, not 47 seconds, so it should get a 99% (and overwhelming majority) vote on the matter.
This applies to foods that we do eat (but maybe shouldn’t) and to food that that we don’t eat (but maybe should). After all, how many of us will gladly eat a handful of jelly beans because they taste delicious for 3 minutes, yet don’t eat asparagus2 because it tastes gross for 3 seconds? By doing this, we subject our bodies (and 99% of the digestive process) to the grueling and fruitless attempt of trying to absorb phantom nutrition from jelly beans because we wanted a few seconds of tickling taste buds, or in other words we decide that how we feel right this minute is more important than how we feel for the next 48 hours.
We are constantly making important decisions, yet we fall into the forgetful trap of basing those choices on how we feel during the smallest moment in time (i.e. tasting food), forgetting the affect that choice will have on the much longer (and more important) process (digestion), since that is where the nutrients are absorbed by the body. Then, we complain about our bodies not providing us with ‘energy’ to “run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.”3
We also may fall into the forgetful trap of basing how we feel about a food we are served (trials, difficult times, struggles, emotions, challenges, etc.) during that same small moment of time – considering them to be gross or unwanted because they are not delicious to us in the moment of chewing. While our brains may be saying “this is gross, spit it out” our body and our spirit (the 99%) are likely shouting for joy at the prospect of the long and meticulous opportunity to process some “real” food saying “finally, something we can work with; just wait and see how much nutrition and energy this will give you in the next 48 hours.”
Let us remember that often times – if not all the time – the foods that are the most beneficial to us might taste a bit bland, bitter, or even kind of gross – at least at first. Yet, if we can make it through the 5-minute chewing process, those foods which are nutrient dense and very beneficial, can spend the next 48 hours traveling through our digestive systems giving us valuable energy, vitamins, strength, and life, which in turn start to become and feel delicious to us. Then, we can make a more informed and conscience decision about how we feel, and choose to enjoy the process of selecting and preparing4 and enjoying the food that we know will do us the most good – and we start to understand that food is about much more than our taste buds.
The Lord has been preparing food for a long time.5 He is the master of all master chefs. He prepares food that is highly beneficial for each of us on an individual basis, and we can rest assured that our bodies and sprits are pleading with our brains to get on board with the process of digestion by seeing the food which has been prepared for us, and then choosing to chew on it. That chewing starts the process of digestion and allows the rest of the long process of nutrient absorption to commence. Let us all take a second look at the broccoli and the asparagus on our plates (and in our lives) and realize that 10 seconds of chewing will be well worth the 48 hours of life that it gives. Let us choose to eat the best foods, and be “willing to receive” that which He gives us. “For what doth it profit a man if [food] is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the [food]? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the [food].”6
1 The majority of the information in this paragraph is taken from WebMD.com.
2 I chose asparagus, but you could insert any number of vegetables here that are healthy for our bodies but that may not taste as good as M&Ms.
3 D&C 89:20, Isa. 40:31
4 Although the preparation of food is not addressed in detail here, the process of preparing food (planning, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc.) is very much a part of the overall process, and in all reality should be as much a consideration in our choice as anything else. This can be viewed as adding an additional few hours into the process (lowering the time spent chewing to an even smaller percentage), and raising the overall timeline of digestion and food processing. Here you may ask the question: “If I spend the necessary time planning, preparing, and actually eating the best foods all the time, my whole day would be spent revolving around food and eating.” Yes, it might. It would certainly take a bit more time that it currently does – and perhaps this thought gives added weight to the instructive phrase “the need for constant nourishment” that we hear (and take upon our hearts) in the holiest of all places. Let us see the parallels in food that are continuously all around us. See also D&C 29:34-35 for important context in this post and in our thoughts about food and how it affects us.
5 See JST Matthew 6:27, Psalms 136:25, and D&C 59:18-19
6 D&C 88:32-33
7 The title to this blog post “Sweet to thy taste” is taken from Proverbs 24:13