Nutrition Basics: The “ -ion” Words of How Food Becomes Energy

As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), I’ve spent decades delving into and being fascinated by the intricate world of nutrition science. At the heart of my practice lies a belief in the power of personalized nutrition – a tailored approach that recognizes the unique physiological needs of each person, as well as the importance of integrating this information with an individual’s preferences and lifestyle.

Why Nutrition Basics Matter

Understanding the fundamentals of nutrition lays the groundwork for informed decision-making and empowers you to navigate the vast landscape of dietary advice. Knowledge is power as you work to debunk myths or decipher the impact of specific nutrients on your health.

Because I believe that making choices is easier when we understand why we are making them, I want to outline some basics about nutrition to ensure that you understand what I’m saying when I explain why eating fat does not make you fat or how iodine in your food impacts your thyroid health.

Consider this: everyone processes food differently. From the way we chew to how our bodies digest and absorb nutrients, each step in the journey is influenced by our unique biology. By gaining insight into these processes, you can tailor your nutrition plan to suit your individual needs, enhancing both your physiological well-being and overall quality of life.

My goal is to increase your understanding of how your body works and have a basis from which you can assess the accuracy and relevance to you of (sometimes questionable) nutrition science.  I believe that once you understand these nutrition basics and see how to apply them to your one-of-a-kind body, then you will be truly empowered to optimize your own health. Remember: food is not just fuel—it’s medicine, nourishing both body and soul on the journey to vibrant health.

Exploring the “ -ion” Words

One of the most critical (and often overlooked) facts about food is that it comes to us in a state that is unusable by the body.  Our incredible bodies transform every bite of food and sip of a beverage from the beautiful and delicious thing we ingest to energy that makes life possible.

Let’s embark on a high-level journey through the intricate processes that govern how our bodies interact with food.

Here are the “-ion” words that describe how we use food…

  • Ingestion: The simple act of putting food into your mouth.  Without this crucial first step, you simply cannot be nourished!
  • Mastication: More commonly known as chewing, mastication kickstarts the digestive process as the teeth tear and grind food into smaller particles. Proper chewing sets the stage for optimal chemical digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Deglutition: While the term may sound amusing and I likely will never refer to it in this way again, deglutition is the act of swallowing and an essential step in the transition from mouth to stomach.
  • Digestion: Like disassembling a complex Lego structure, digestion involves breaking down food into its individual components via mechanical and chemical processes and occurs from the mouth to the end of the small intestine
  • Absorption: Once digested, nutrients leave the digestive tract and enter the blood stream by passing through the intestinal wall. I know this sounds 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 bum, similar to a long twisty tunnel through a mountain. The nutrients must be absorbed into the blood stream for them to nourish your body.
  • Assimilation: Once in the bloodstream, nutrients travel throughout the body to be stored or utilized for all biological functions, including growth, repair, maintenance and energy.
  • Metabolism: Although this one doesn’t end in “-ion”, metabolism is the complex process by which the body converts nutrients into energy.
  • Elimination: Last but not least, elimination marks the end of the journey within our bodies as waste products are excreted from the body through urine, feces, and sweat. It’s a crucial mechanism for removing unneeded and toxic substances from the body so that optimal health can be achieved.

So, there you have it.  A snapshot of how food gets into and leaves your body. Understanding these fundamental processes demystifies the inner workings of your body and equips you with the baseline of knowledge you need to make informed dietary choices. Next time you sit down to a meal, I hope you will remember the intricate internal journey that each bite takes as it moves from being pleasure for your taste buds to energy that fuels your life.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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