The Role of Quality Food Oils in Nutrient Absorption
Part 2: from your gut, into the blood
In my last article I discussed what happens when oils pass through your mouth and into your stomach – and how high quality lipids (like extra virgin olive oil) can help to reset your body’s hunger system, stave off cravings and help to regulate blood sugar levels in a moderate diet.
But in the next part of our journey, the digestive system has to be able to break down the food and package it correctly so it can be absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream. This requires the food to be broken down small enough that cells and tiny compartments of the food are open – this is done through mechanical action like chewing, and chemical action – using gastric enzymes and having healthy intestinal flora (which break down substances your body can’t by itself).
The moment you put fat in your mouth, a number of things happen – as mentioned in the last article, fat makes food taste good! As the small amount of lipase enzymes in your saliva break down those lipids, you experience enjoyment from your meal. When you swallow and the fat enters your stomach, it continues to be very slowly broken down, but in reality it is mostly carbohydrates and protein that are broken down in the stomach. In reality the majority of fat digestion occurs in the small intestine.
As fat is released from the stomach into the small intestine, the pancreas will release several stronger types of lipase enzymes to break them down to smaller components (“lipase” literally translates to “cleaving/breaking down lipids”). Despite the breakdown of these lipids, it’s important to note that fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K are still attracted to the long, non-polar chains of the fatty acids and will still cling to them!
Where the magic happens – oils cling to water
At this point, the liver will dump bile into the intestine as well. The bile acts as a detergent to emulsify these fatty acids – detergents have a non-polar end which attracts the fats, and also a polar end which attracts water. In the same way that detergent can grab grease from your dishes, package them into hydrophilic droplets so the oil can be washed away with water, so the fats in our intestine are packaged into small water-loving droplets so they can pass easily through the intestinal wall into our blood stream – and the fat-soluble vitamins hitch a free ride into your body!
Since an average of 95% of dietary fat is absorbed from the small intestine in a healthy individual, then there’s a very good chance that the fat-soluble nutrients you consume with these fats will have a high rate of absorption as well!
The drawbacks to a fat-free diet
If you are eating an essentially fat-free diet, many of the fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients may have a very hard time getting into your body. Your body has a couple of ways to get around this, (for instance, the lipophilic ends of the bile itself may grab onto some vitamins, or the phospholipids that surround every cell may attract some trace vitamins as it gets passed through the intestinal wall), but dietary imbalance can put stress on your body and throw your liver into overdrive, just to absorb the smallest amount of fat-soluble nutrients you need to get by.
A quality oil like extra virgin olive oil is easily digested and absorbed into the body, and the fat-soluble vitamins and supporting minerals can get picked up by the oil to be absorbed into your blood stream with minimal effort, so your body can use its energy towards healing itself and keeping you functioning optimally.
Other intestinal benefits to long-term consumption of ‘clean’ fats
Many people are jumping on the bandwagon for hydrocolonics for a squeaky-clean digestive tract – but having a diet high in quality lipids and fiber can arguably prevent you from needing a ‘wash-out’ at all. When high quality olive oil is consumed in healthy quantities for extended periods of time, any oil that is not absorbed can keep your intestinal wall slick – which keeps your gut clean and functioning regularly, preventing buildup on the intestinal walls so the absorption of nutrients from your food to your intestine can be maximized. It can help stave off intestinal inflammation and inappropriate permeability – which makes sure that you’re absorbing the right things like useful nutrients and keeping out the wrong things like harmful bacteria or parasites. And of course, it makes passing of stools smooth sailing, preventing bleeding or hemorrhoids that develop from straining.
In my next article, we will be discussing the third step in nutrient absorption/assimilation, where the nutrients in the blood stream can be absorbed into all the cells of the body. This requires a healthy liver to process the nutrients, and permeable cells that both send out and respond properly to chemical/ hormonal signals.
Until then, health and happiness!