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The down side to holiday eating

By Glenn Ellis/George Curry Media Columnist
On December 3, 2015

Regulating food consumption during the holiday season from your normal diet will greatly improve your bowel movement.

Holiday eating can wreak havoc on many of your normal routines. Since issues related to excessive food consumption are common during this time of the year, lets revisit a topic that few dare to explore: bowel movements.

There’s a reason that the large intestine is the first organ developed in the fetus. It is the most important and influential organ of the body, and your bowel movement can tell you a lot about your health.

One of the main indications of a good bowel movement is that the stool floats. However, floating stools are both a blessing and a curse.

Floaters may be caused by gas in the stool, resulting from a change in the diet. Perhaps you’ve suddenly started eating more high fiber foods. Undigested fat will also make stools float. This could be an indication that your diet is too high in fat, or there could be a problem with nutrient absorption in your diet. Stools that result from poor food absorption often leave a greasy film on the water and are rather large.

If you’re suffering from constipation, you may produce impacted stools, which will “sink” because of their density and lack of moisture. You need to include more water and fiber, both soluble and insoluble, in your diet to bulk them out and get your digestive system working properly again.

The truth is, a healthy stool is neither a sinker nor a floater; it’s a combination of the two. As long as your bowel motions are soft, fairly bulky and easy to pass with no sign of blood or excessive mucus, everything is well.

The digestive process can vary depending on what is being eaten and the person’s metabolism. For example, fat takes a lot longer to digest than sugars and fiber in the diet speeds up transit time (the amount of time from chewing to bowel movement).

Generally, it can range from 24 to 48 hours for men and slightly longer for women.  Chewing takes 5 to 30 seconds followed by swallowing for up to 10 seconds. The food enters the stomach, where it is churned and broken apart by harsh acids, namely hydrochloric acid. The food can remain in the stomach from 1 to 4 hours after which it empties into the small intestine in a semi liquid form called chyme.  Here is where most of the real digestion takes place.

Most of the nutrients are absorbed from the small intestine into the blood stream.  The chyme’s highly acidic nature is neutralized by the pancreas with bicarbonates and bile from the gallbladder and liver.  This process can take about 3 to 6 hours.

Finally, about 10 hours after you’ve eaten, the mushy paste of undigested food enters the large intestine or colon. Here it may take anywhere between 18 hours to two days before its elimination as feces. Water and certain vitamins are absorbed from the colon, but most of the waste consists of indigestible bits of food, mostly fibers from fruit, vegetables and grains.

For a person in generally good health and eating a healthy diet, the intestinal transit time will be about 12 to 24 hours. The average American will have a transit time of 40 to 45 hours.

Enjoy the season, everyone, and may all your dishes be licked clean.

DISCLAIMER: The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.)

Glenn Ellis is a regular media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. He is the author of “Which Doctor?,” and “Information is the Best Medicine.” For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.

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