When you eat something it must be dissolved into liquid form before resorption can take place; that is to say, before nutrients can be transferred from the intestinal area to the blood. If it is not dissolved into small enough components, it passes through, out with the faeces. What remains there can roughly be referred to as fibre. It has its own functions and we need a lot of it, but it is not in our best interest to get essential nutrients driven out with it.
Dissolution begins with chewing, where you mechanically divide the foodstuffs into smaller parts. After that it undergoes chemical and enzymatic treatment in several steps - beginning in the mouth, using enzymes of the saliva.
An important part of digestion is maceration; that is when parts of the food are separated by soaking. Thus essential nutrients can be extracted from indigestible materials. Although the various digestive juices handle most of that, the extraction is affected by components of your food too. For a thing to be extracted, something must be present that dissolves it. A water-soluble nutrient is dissolved by water, a fat-soluble by fat, etc.
Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples. Say that you eat green leaves. Some animals can digest green materials, but their digestive system is different; humans cannot. Yet we can get many nutrients from them through inner maceration - soaking. If the leaves are soaked in water, we extract water-soluble nutrients (e.g. B-vitamins); if they are soaked in fat, we get fat-soluble vitamins & substances (e.g. vitamins A, D or E).
Normally water is no problem, but it is wise to ingest some fat - e.g. oil - along with green leaves (or other almost fat-free food) to assure digestive extraction of fat-soluble nutrients. This is also important for, for instance carrots. The beta carotene is fat soluble, without fat you cannot release it from surrounding fibre tissue. Of course, this is no problem if your meal already includes eggs or fish or anything containing fat. But if it is not, a spoon of extra virgin olive oil or some nuts or seeds, will provide the fat that is needed.
Apart from water and fat, it can be useful to know about two other solvents: acid and alcohol.
Acid dissolves minerals. If we return to the green leaves, we need a presence of acid to extract calcium or iron, for example. While the stomach produces acid by itself (gastric acid), it still can be wise to ingest some acid along with the leaves (or other food).
We can conclude that combining raw vegetables with some oil and vinegar (acid) is not a bad idea! Indeed, every meal, even a vegan meal, should include some little fat and some acid. If the food doesn't contain any acid, you can take a glass of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or diluted apple cider vinegar after the meal. These are acids that promote digestion without causing negative acidification of the body.
Alcohol as a solvent is not essential for normal nutrition, but it can dissolve certain very active substances - for good or bad. It can be, for instance, medically very potent components of herbs, but it can be toxins too. It also dissolves fat.
(Certain otherwise edible mushrooms are dangerous to eat if you drink alcohol at the same time or even several days after eating them. But that is not that the alcohol dissolves or releases the toxin, but a completely different mechanism. The toxin, coprine, occurring in the “Common Ink Cap” (Coprinopsis atramentaria), inhibits an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. What you get is alcohol poisoning. If you don't drink any alcohol, coprine is harmless.)
We have the same problem again when nutrients are transported through the cell membrane, which serves as a door between the blood and the interior of a cell. They have to be liquid or very small, otherwise they stay in the blood vessels. Clotting fats or crystallising minerals cannot get further; remaining in the vascular system (the blood vessels), they create the ground for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure and stroke.
So again, solvents must be present. Omega-3 fatty acids are the ultimate blood fat dissolver. Small amounts of alcohol can also contribute to dissolution of blood fats.
Understanding Dietary Fats Part 1 (of 2)
Understanding Dietary Fats Part 2 (of 2)
Acidity & Acidification Part 1; Degenerative Disease
Acidity & Acidification Part 2; What To Do
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