Absorption

Now that the food has been processed, it needs to be absorbed by the body, so it can provide us with the energy and nutrients that we need. This occurs mainly in the small intestine, which has small, finger-like structures called villi protruding from the walls. The process of digestion breaks the food up into tiny particles, which are collected by the villi and passed into the bloodstream going to the liver, where the blood is filtered to remove any toxins and the nutrients are processed. Protein, carbohydrate and some fats use this pathway to be absorbed. From the liver, the nutrients are delivered to the organs and cells of the body via the bloodstream, where they are used to assist in the millions of chemical processes and reactions that occur every second within our cells. There are a few important points of note here:

  1. We have around 50-70 trillion cells in our bodies, and every one of them needs a steady supply of nutrients to stay alive, reproduce and communicate with each other. This communication process is vital for our very survival as the body is one huge ecosystem of cells - disturb one part of the ecosystem and the organism (our body) will not function effectively.
  2. The processes of digestion and absorption require energy, vitamins and minerals to take place. Thus, the body will lose nutrients through these processes. If a food contains lots of nutrients, the body ends up with a net gain of energy, vitamins and minerals. However, if we eat foods that don't contain a lot of vitamins and minerals (empty calories), the body will actually have a net loss of nutrients by digesting and absorbing that food, which puts a strain on the body's reserves.
  3. The body does not have reserves, or stores, of all nutrients. For example, carbohydrate stores are limited and protein stores are almost non-existent. When we look at vitamins, the body stores fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D & K), but has no storage facility for water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins, vitamin C & folate) - therefore it is very important that we get a steady supply of water-soluble vitamins.
  4. Vitamins and minerals from natural foods are easily digested and absorbed by the body, but this is not always the case with synthetic forms that we get from tablets. Also, we need to realise that a multi-vitamin/mineral pill contains around 30-40 nutrients, whereas the average natural food can contain between 10,000 and 15,000 nutrients. The cocktail of these nutrients are much more beneficial than consuming synthetic forms of essential vitamins and minerals - there is just no substitute for natural foods!