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Nutrition Basics: The Body's Digestive Cycle Explained

Posted by HealthyMuslim on Thursday, October 02, 2008
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All praise is due to Allaah and prayers and salutations be upon His Messenger: To proceed:

Ensuring the body remains at its optimal condition requires an understanding of the foundations and basics of sound nutrition. In this series of articles we are going to cover a range of topics that will allow us to modify our lifestyles and diets to ensure that what we eat is of maximum benefit and at the same time of no harm at all to our bodies. The texts of the Book and the Sunnah require that we practice sound nutrition and as such it is important that we acquire a good basic understanding of this area.

The Body's Natural Digestive Cycle

In order to practice sound nutrition we have to understand that the body's digestive system is broken down into three (roughly) eight-hour cycles in a twenty-four hour period.

  • Digestion of food (appropriation and digestion)
  • Assimilation of food (absorption and use)
  • Elimination (excretion of waste products)

This is a rhythm programmed in the body and all of our consumption of food should be based around an understanding of this rhythm. Unfortunately, this rhythm or cycle can be thrown into confusion by way of bad eating habits, and this in turn can lead - over long periods of time - to chronic illnesses.

Appropriation of Food (12pm - 8pm)

This cycle commences around noon and this is the preferred time of appropriating and digesting food. Prior to this stage, the body is in the elimination cycle and isn't really ready for large amounts of food. During this cycle, if you do not have any food your body feels hunger and craves for food. The body lets us know that it is in need of food. At this stage it is important that you only eat when your body is hungry.

Notice that there is a difference between your body needing food and between you wanting food. Your body will let you know when it needs food. This is totally different to you wanting (but not necessarily needing) food. If you can appreciate this one thing in your eating habits, you will be on your way to much better and healthier living!

Assimilation (8pm - 4am)

The assimilation stage occurs during the night when the body ought to be resting. This allows the assimilation mechanism to get into gear and get on with the process with absolute minimal disruption. As the body is in a horizontal position it is better suited for assimilation compared to the vertical position during the day which is better suited for the passage of food down the digestive tract. In the assimilation stage the intestines extract all the nutrients from what we have digested, so it likes to keep all this food until it has extracted all the nutrients and goodness from it. Ideally you should leave three hours between your last meal and going to sleep.

A properly formulated and combined meal will already be on its way through the intestine for assimilation by the time you go to bed. While you sleep, your body is making use of all of those nutrients, refreshing and replenishing your body and the various systems therein. It replaces and repairs damaged cells and allows the blood and lymphatic system to get the waste material to the "waste collection" points ready for it to be picked up and excreted in the early morning.

In light of the above, it is harmful to the body if you start having heavy meals before going to sleep. Firstly your body is in the horizontal position and so gravity is not working in your favour, and secondly it interferes with the assimilation process and the general replenishment of the body.

Excretion (4am - 12pm)

At around 4am the elimination cycle kicks in and the garbage starts to get removed from the system. In the assimilation process the body has separated out the useful nutrients from the waste, and has rejected all the food that cannot be absorbed and metabolized for further use. Elimination removes the waste matter, whether it is non-metabolized fibrous food or waste products generated by the body. The body has extremely complicated system to get rid of waste using the bowels and urine to excrete all the useless junk the body no longer has any use for. In addition to this, toxins arising as part of the metabolic process are also removed via sweat (underarms), the bowel, urine and glands at the back of the knees, the groin and other areas.

Of the three cycles, the elimination stage is the most abused. This occurs primarily by having large breakfasts that include undesirable foods (from a health point of view) or which are badly combined. This prevents the elimination process from completing properly and over time this leads to waste and toxins building up in the intestine.

It is actually this problem (interfering with the elimination process) that underlies many long term chronic illnesses because the body is now no longer able to efficiently absorb vital nutrients in minerals to replenish the body. Maintaining a healthy and efficient intestine and colon is vital to good and long-lasting health.


Understanding these three stages of appropriation, assimilation and elimination is vital for developing a good daily eating routine that maintains optimal health. Along with knowledge of what constitutes a good balanced diet, by changing your eating habits to fall in line with this information you will see positive changes in the level of your overall health and well-being.

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