Mouth-watering, home-cooked meals

The rise of prepared and fast food had a dramatic impact on society. Ready-made food helped women transition into the workplace. Rather than spending an entire day cooking a meal, food could be warmed up quickly in a microwave or oven at the end of a work day. Single portion sizes allowed variety within a family, and accommodated family members with different dinner schedules. Food quickly available at restaurants along the road made it feasible to travel farther from home and it reduced the urgency to make it home on time for dinner. With so much gained in convenience, the change in nutritional content was overlooked.

The trend in fast or packaged food through the 1980s included high sodium contents and lots of additives and preservatives that extended shelf life. As consumers became more aware of the health risks associated with these ingredients, convenience foods changed dramatically. Even the trend in fast food restaurants has responded to the rising health consciousness of consumers. Restaurant chains such as Chipotle, once an affiliate of McDonald’s, focus on simple, healthy ingredients that the consumer can tailor to their own needs. Going a step further, chains such as SweetGreens and B. Good actively seek partnerships with local farms to bring food the shortest distance from the farm to table.[1]

With options improving for the health conscious diner, should there ever be a return to the kitchen?

Something smells good!

Most people think about digestion beginning in the stomach, heading down into the intestine, and off to the bathroom. This is where most food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed, but it misses a major piece of healthy digestion. The first preparation to digest a meal begins at the smell of food.

The sense of smell, also known as the olfactory system, is under-appreciated. Animals rely on their sense of smell to find food, choose a mate and remember their way home. Humans rely much more heavily on visual clues, and even work to reduce scent with the use of soaps, perfumes, disinfectant sprays and other products. Scientists are starting to recognize the importance of smell in humans. In fact, loss of the sense of smell may be one of the first signs of neurological disease, such as MS.[2]

Rest and Digest

The digestive system is one long, coordinated tube. Each section helps get the next section ready to process food as it moves through the body. When there is a perceived threat, the body knows it is not a great time to have a meal or stop at a restroom, so it limits its movement and activity as much as it possibly can.  Butterflies in the stomach that we feel under stress is actually the blood flow to the stomach changing. Blood moves to the muscles to get ready to fight or run away.

The smell of food signals the brain that it is time to rest and digest.[3]  Taking the time to be in the kitchen, chopping and smelling fresh vegetables, slowly roasting root vegetables or meats, or simmering grains allows us to take a break from that endless cycle. Even if the phone is on the counter continuing to stimulate the nervous system, the olfactory system is working on the hypothalamus, the control center of the brain, letting it know that food is nearby. This stimulation releases saliva, which further enhances the taste buds. It also gently relaxes the digestive tract, encouraging movement throughout.

Mouth-watering food

It’s hard to get excited about producing more spit and drool, until you realize how crucial it is for healthy digestion. Saliva contains the first digestive enzymes that work to break food down and begin to extract nutrients from it. It contains amylase, which help digest food, but also helps break down immune complexes that are linked to autoimmune conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Saliva is the first line of defense against bacteria entering the body. With enough saliva, bacteria is killed quickly, before it can enter the digestive tract, bloodstream or gums. In addition to preventing bacterial infections, saliva helps digest food residue and bathe teeth of anything that might lead to tooth decay.

When food is warmed up for 1-2 minutes to piping hot in a microwave, even the most nutrient dense, well prepared meal will not really have enough time to stimulate this process. Without enough saliva, food arrives in the stomach needing more help than the stomach may be able to handle. The stomach will need to produce more digestive enzymes to break food down, which can be the start of larger digestive issues.

Slow food movement

One thing that appeals to health conscious consumers about places like B. Good, where vegetables are abundant and locally grown, is that it is still fairly fast food, with counter service and a focus on take out rather than dining in. This merges the physical need for great nutrient density and the social need to participate in work, home life, and extracurricular activities, but it is still not optimal for fostering digestion.

More people, both women and men, are working from home today. If possible, take that opportunity at least once a week and let your food cook slowly. Having food in the oven or on the stove for an hour or longer fills the house with the smell of cooking, and nourishes both the digestive and nervous systems.



[2] Batur Caglayan HZ, Irkec C, Nazliel B, Akyol Gurses A, Capraz I. Olfactory functioning in early multiple sclerosis: Sniffin’ Sticks Test study. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2016;12:2143-2147. doi:10.2147/NDT.S116195.

[3] Kitamura A, Torii K, Uneyama H, Niijima A. Role played by afferent signals

from olfactory, gustatory and gastrointestinal sensors in regulation of autonomic

nerve activity. Biol Pharm Bull. 2010;33(11):1778-82. Review. PubMed PMID:


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Dr Keri Layton

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