Digestion seems to always sit in the shadow, forgotten until it’s an afterthought; always the last option on someone’s to-try list.
Before someone considers making sure their digestion is optimal, they often consider: nutrition, lifestyle, natural foods, all-organic, non-GMO, pasture raised, cage-free, superfoods, antioxidants, among others.
While these are all important concepts—and Kitchen of Life incorporates them all in its lessons—optimal digestion is equally important!
Without optimal digestion we may find ourselves unhealthy despite the healthy choices we try to make when it comes to diet.
Digestion, as most of us are familiar with, is the breakdown of food in our stomach, the release of nutrients into the bloodstream and elimination through the colon. It is a rather simplistic view, however accurate.
What if I told you that believing the body has the sole job of breaking down food, distributing those nutrients to the blood, tissues and organs, and swiftly (or not so swiftly) eliminating the undigested waste would be a grave mistake?
What if you learned that that assumption led to accelerated and premature aging, chronic conditions, allergies, endless colds and flus and possibly disease?
What if I told you those chronic conditions might possibly come from…poor digestion?
What if I told you that there are people out there who do not have food allergies or feel sleepy or sluggish after meals?
What if I also told you those very same people rarely get sick, have stable moods, seem to worry less, have strong immune systems, remember where they left their car keys, where they parked their car and don’t miss appointments.
Do you say genetics? Age?
At Kitchen of Life we believe it is a straightforward concept called optimal digestion.
What really is digestion and how do we optimize it for better health?
First we need to recognize symptoms of poor digestion in order to better understand optimal digestion. We pretty much know that symptoms of poor digestion are: gas and bloating, acid reflux or indigestion, heavy feeling in the stomach, diarrhea, pain and inflammation in the bowel area, constipation and sluggishness—those are some of the more typical side-effects of poor digestion.
Notice that I say a side effect of poor digestion. Another side effect of poor digestion is also poor assimilation of nutrients.
What keeps us strong, healthy, alert and attuned? Nutrients! We can’t get those nutrients if our digestion is poor. How do we know if we have poor digestion? What really causes poor digestion? Well, again, it is a very elementary concept. Some of the main causes of poor digestion are: low stomach acid (that’s correct, not high), acidosis (low body pH, we’ll get to that), stress, excessive use of anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and antidepressants, over-consumption of processed foods (if food is altered in any way it is considered processed), alcohol, heavy animal consumption, not enough water, drinking liquids while eating and smoking.
What are some of the signs you should look for when deciding whether or not I have a weak digestive system (which goes back to what we were saying earlier…it can’t be the body’s sole job; it actually needs some help…from you!)? Some signs of a weak digestive system are: bloating, brain fog, low immunity, allergies, loss of appetite, ulcers, chemical sensitivities, infections like H. pylori and candidiasis (candida), over growth of bad bacteria, nausea, hiccups, sluggishness after meals, gut permeability, inflammatory bowel conditions, being overweight or obese, nutritional deficiencies.
Is there a simple solution to a complex problem?
What can I do? I can’t eat any healthier than I am already eating! Well, yes you can and here is a simple guide to get you strengthening your digestive system (weak digestion) to eliminate poor digestion (poor digestion leads to side effects and chronic conditions listed above).
Enzymes are a complex matter. I spend an entire lesson in my program strictly on enzymes. There are numerous books written about enzymes and an excellent choice to reference would be “Enzyme Nutrition, by Dr. Edward Howell. Keeping it simple for sanity’s sake, we will take a look at enzymes in a rather condensed version here.
Our body, if left on its own, produces pancreatin, which is produced by the pancreas. Dubbed the “head-honcho” of all the digestive enzymes in the body, it can digest carbohydrates, protein and fat! BUT, if we decide to let our pancreas do all of the work our pancreas becomes overburdened, overworked and possibly becomes inflamed and weakened due to stress and other matters. Our never ending access to food, our customary lifestyle of overeating, chronic indigestion and malnutrition (from being overfed and undernourished), our pancreatic function begins a slow decline.
Enzymes are the best-kept secret to the meaningful purpose behind raw and living foods. Living enzymes, those that digest food, are found in plentiful abundance in raw and especially living foods. Enzymes are heat-sensitive, so they are destroyed when placed in temperatures above 115 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the reason for raw. Raw and living foods take the demand off of the pancreas and allow the pancreas to function optimally.
The purpose behind enzymes is this: They are their own digestive agents. They work for themselves. The pancreas isn’t the one responsible for all of the work. Here is a great example…raw milk. We can all relate to milk. Raw milk contains lactase, the enzyme responsible for the digestion of lactose, which is, in essence, a milk sugar. Many adults no longer have this enzyme (something normal not abnormal). Pasteurized milk has been heated, which kills off this enzyme. Raw milk is easier to digest than pasteurized milk because it contains the necessary enzyme for predigestion from its very own lactase.
In using examples of plant based foods, soaked and sprouted beans and legumes contain amylase which digests carbohydrates into glucose; avocados contain lipase which breaks down fats into fatty acids; nuts and seeds contain protease which metabolizes protein into amino acids; and fibrous foods contain cellulase which break down the fibers in raw, plant based foods. When consuming raw foods, we are lightening the load of our pancreas and allowing the body to use more of its metabolic enzymes to do the work of tissue and organ repair, cell production and growth, carrying out immune functions along with cellular, tissue, organ and blood detoxification. The energy saved from digestive rest gets redirected to other functional processes. This is why there is such a heavy emphasis placed in our program on raw and living foods.
Blood pH is greatly affected by what one eats. The human blood likes to remain in a slightly alkaline state of 7.2-7.5. The blood is responsible for the transportation of nutrients, and oxygen, to the cells and organs. If the bloodstream is filled with toxins, the body becomes susceptible to a host of immune disorders and chronic ailments. To keep a diet on the slightly alkaline side will not only allow you to feel healthier, you will be healthier. Unbeknown to many people, even a RAW vegan diet can cause acidosis (yes, it’s true!). Of course we need some clarification here. Yes, a raw diet is healthy but a raw diet heavy in fruit, nuts and seeds can cause the same acidosis as someone eating a Standard American Diet (while the SAD is unhealthy).
Acidosis is the state of a deoxygenated environment where the blood pH is in the 6.2 range. Alkalinity is in the state of an oxygenated environment due in part to: foods rich in chlorophyll (green and purple plants), water with lemon, the consumption of sea vegetables, green juices (consume on an empty stomach for optimal digestion and the best assimilation of nutrients), cultured foods such as kimchi (in moderation), soaked and sprouted hard to digest legumes, sprouts such as alfalfa, buckwheat, pea, sunflower and a delicacy—microgreens (which can be found in grocery stores or at farmer’s markets). Those make a yummy addition to any salad! All of the aforementioned is digestive heaven and a power-packed, nutrient dense diet.
More tips to improve digestion
- Do not drink water 1/2 hour before meals and 1 hour after meals. Water dilutes digestive enzymes. This is when your water is working against you!
- Quit the obvious bad habits.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Hey! Have you heard, “drink your solids; chew your liquids?” In other words stimulate those digestive enzymes that start with the salivary glands in the mouth and chew your food to a pulp and give that pancreas a break!
- Wait to eat 3 hours between each meal. Allow for complete digestion but don’t get too hungry where your blood sugar drops and you begin seeking a “pick-me-up.” How difficult is it to get off that bandwagon?
- Do not overeat! We can assume the obvious here…if you feel full you are full!
- Remove animal products from the diet. They are exceptionally hard to digest because they lack water and fiber. Many animal products are also replete with chemicals.
- Eliminate all processed foods from the diet. Processed foods are major digestive stressors and wreak havoc on the digestive system. They do not contain nutrients!
- Eat slowly and mindfully.
- Eliminate caffeine.
- Eliminate sugar as it acts an immune suppressor.
- Eliminate known allergens until the gut is healed.
- Do a parasite cleanse. There are many effective and mild ones on the market.
- Do a candida cleanse (many people with poor digestive systems also have candida)
- Have a colonic or perform an enema—it’s not as bad as you think!
- Eat mono- meals every now and then. That means eating one food type per meal.
- Give your digestion a rest by fasting one day a week (with supervision from a certified health professional, of course).
A diet that truly optimizes digestion is one that is abundant in water, enzymes, and essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals) that are highly nourishing, cleansing and healing. A raw, vegan alkaline diet meets this criteria! On a raw diet many individuals find that their once weak, damaged body becomes cleaner, healthier, and more efficient at absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste. The result: they feel great and have reduced and/or eliminated many nagging symptoms that they weren’t able to eradicate with a traditional diet or pharmaceutical drugs.
Written by Laura Bushey, MAT, Certified Health Educator and Personal Holistic Chef with Kitchen of Life. To find out more helpful tips find us at: www.facebook.com/kitchenoflifewellness.
ALL INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. THE INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE MEDICAL CARE, DIAGNOSE, TREAT, PREVENT, MITIGATE OR CURE DISEASE. WE BELIEVE IN THE INDIVIDUAL’S INFORMED RIGHT TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN HEALTH CARE METHODS. AS ALWAYS, CONSULT WITH A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY SELF HEALTH PROGRAM.
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