Nutrition Basics: the -ion words

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Someone reminded me recently that some of the things I take as nutrition-related “common knowledge” are only that for people who have been told the information previously.  Yeah, okay, so that sounds obvious, but sometimes I genuinely forget that other people have chosen to be experts in fields other than nutrition.  I mean, nutrition is the most fascinating subject there is, so why doesn’t everyone study it the way I do?!

Oh, right… because we don’t need a world full of nutrition experts!  We need engineers who develop cool new gadgets, therapists who help us heal past hurts, songwriters who create moving music, teachers who nurture the next generation’s minds, farmers who grow wholesome food, and other experts whose work makes our lives richer, our futures brighter, and the world better.

Why Nutrition Basics Matter

Since each of you brilliant people are focused on achieving the purpose for which you were put on this earth, you don’t have time to scour the internet or library for all relevant nutrition information, even if you believe it is necessary to your well-being.  So, I have an idea…

I am going to spend several writings outlining some basics about nutrition to ensure that we are all on the same page (for example, do you really know what a carbohydrate is?!).  I get that this information isn’t earth shattering.  It probably won’t change your life.  Heck, right now you may not even think you’ll find it interesting.

However, I think you’ll find that knowledge of nutrients, bodily function (yes, I’m going to go there… starting in this post even!), and food-body interactions will make a difference in how you view all nutrition information.  You will increase your understanding and have a basis from which you can assess the accuracy and relevance of (sometimes questionable) nutrition science.  Plus, you’ll be able to reference these articles when you can’t quite remember the basics of nutrition.  And who knows?  Maybe you will find some of it as enthralling as I do.

The -ion Words

One of the most critical (and often overlooked) facts about food is that it comes to us in a state that’s not actually usable by the body.  We must first transform it before we can turn it into energy.  And then, if there is something we can’t use, we have to get rid of it.

As with any word describing action or process, all of the nutrition-related ones end in -ion.  Even “nutrition” itself which means “the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth”!

Here are the -ion words that describe how we get and get rid of food…

  • Ingestion: putting food into your mouth.  Yup, it really is that simple.  So why did I include it?  Well, because under normal circumstances, you don’t get nourishment if you don’t put something in your mouth!
  • Mastication: more commonly known as chewing.  It is the first step of digestion as the teeth begin to tear and grind food into smaller particles.  Without proper chewing, the rest of the digestive process has to work harder to get to the nutrients in the food.
  • Digestion: the process by which you breakdown the complex structure of food into its individual components.  I sometimes compare food to a Lego’s structure.  Each of the types of nutrients is a different color of Lego and they are all held together in the shape of food.  The digestive process breaks the structure apart until each nutrient (ie, Lego) is separated from all the others.  Well, the best it can anyway.  Sometimes those Lego’s are held together with superglue and we don’t have the solvent to get them apart.  (For this situation, see elimination below.)
  • Absorption: the process by which nutrients leave the outside world and get into our bodies, presuming they have been sufficiently digested to pass across the intestinal wall.  (From the point above, the individual Lego’s are the right size and shape to successfully cross the intestinal wall.)  It may sound strange, but even though it seems like the food is inside of you once you swallow, it technically isn’t.  Your digestive system is a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your read end.  Think of a really long, twisty tunnel through a mountain.  Even if you drive your car through the tunnel, you are not technically part of the mountain… you are still outside of it.  It is the same with food.  As long as the food stays in your digestive system (ie, the tunnel), it is never in your body (ie, the mountain).  This is important as it explains why you can eat something, but get no benefit from it.
  • Elimination: the process by which your body gets rid of waste.  There are two main elimination processes related to nutrition: urination and defecation.  Most of what you poop was never absorbed into the body.  It’s food (or whatever else you might put in your mouth) that stayed in the digestive tract (ie, the tunnel) all the way to the end.  There are a few exceptions to this in that the body secretes some substances (like bile) into the intestine for elimination with the feces.  But as a general rule, if it’s in your poop, it was never in your body.  On the other hand, the only way nutrition-related products end up in your urine is if they were absorbed from the digestive tract or put directly into your blood via IV.  Urination is the primary mechanism by which your kidneys filter unusable things out of your blood and get rid of them.

So, there you have it.  A snapshot of how food gets into and leaves your body.  Stay tuned for other basics of nutrition science entries, and details on why your body’s ability to complete each of these processes is a factor in personalizing your own diet.

Oh! And if you want clarification on something, be sure to leave a question in the comments.

Finally, if you know someone who could use some clarification on how the body actually works (like the friend who told you that peeing out vitamins means you never absorbed them), please share this with them because knowledge is powerful.  And we could all use a little more personal power!

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