How Does the Food We Eat Get Broken Down?

When we eat whole foods, the body has to work to break these foods down into their simplest constituents. Of course, the process begins with chewing, but it also involves the activity of various enzymes, followed by the time spent in the harsh crucible of the stomach where potent hydrochloric acid facilitates the breakdown process. This is followed by the activity of friendly bacteria living in the intestines.

It’s all about absorbing the fundamental constituents of the foods we consume. These constituents ultimately provide us with fuel to burn for energy, in the form of glucose, fructose and fats; and essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Importantly, whole foods also contain phytonutrients — plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Along with water, all of these nutrients are needed to sustain life.

Complex Carbohydrates and Digestion

Whole grains are arguably more healthful than processed grain products. Whole grains take longer to break down in the body, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady, while simultaneously helping avoid sharp spikes — followed by crashes — in blood insulin levels.  Also, whole grains tend to contain higher amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. It’s no wonder that people who subsist on a diet rich in processed foods and simple carbohydrates are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The body is adapted to obtain and break down carbohydrates slowly, because whole foods seldom supply simple carbohydrates. Rather, they contain complex carbs that take considerably longer to reach the blood stream in the form of simple glucose molecules.

“Insoluble” fiber may not sound appetizing, but the natural fiber supplied by whole fruits, grains, vegetables and legumes appears to be crucial for health. Although it’s not considered an essential nutrient, the importance of fiber shouldn’t be overlooked. Of course, fiber plays a fairly well-known role in keeping digestion moving along.

However, fiber is not just about healthy bowel movements. Fiber is an important food source for the collections of communities of friendly bacteria living in the human gut. Together, these living organisms are called the gut microbiome. Research suggests that eating a diet rich in fiber encourages the growth of the most beneficial types of these gut bacteria. That may be more important than we’ve recognized in the past. New and emerging research shows that a healthier gut microbiome is linked to stronger immunity, better mood, and even better weight control, among other benefits.

Soluble and Insoluble Fibers and the Healthy Gut Microbiome 

The starches in processed whole gains are broken down into sugars, which provide the calories we need faster than whole foods. One of the rationales for processing grains is that it’s a good way to extend shelf life. The lipids in wheat bran, for example, are subject to fairly rapid oxidation. That’s why whole grains stored at room temperature go rancid faster than refined grains (flour). To make flour, the lipid-containing outer layers of wheat are removed, leaving the carbohydrate-rich inner kernel, which is then pulverized to make flour.

The public is increasingly aware of the importance of whole foods and natural dietary fiber for optimal health. Of course, they’re willing to vote with their pocketbooks at the grocery store. Accordingly, food manufacturers have responded by offering more products that reflect consumers’ interest in having more healthful options. One way to accomplish the often-competing goals of producing shelf-stable, appealing, yet healthy products is to formulate them by adding some of the constituents of whole grains, in proportions that reflect those encountered in the original, unprocessed whole grain.

Mixing to Mimic Nature

Of course, making these types of “designer” foods involves the use of appropriate industrial mixers to process and/or combine raw materials in the right proportions at the correct stages of production. Whether your manufacturing process involves deagglomeration and delumping, wet milling or high shear mixing, at Quadro we have the right liquid mixing equipment for the job. Quadro’s liquid mixing equipment is also able to assist in the addition of vitamins and minerals to improve the nutrient profile, as well as the dispersion of liquid flavorings, colorants, rheology modifiers or other ingredients. From mayo and dressings, to spreads, frostings, jams, syrups, sauces, gravies and marinades, to fruits blends, ice creams and cocoa — we have the homogenizer, emulsifier or high shear mixer that can help you get the job done right.