Do you ever feel that lump in your belly after eating a big meal?
You might feel sluggish and tired, and even a bit heavy and bloated… like your food is just a lead ball sitting in the bottom of your gut.
Well, your food is supposed to stay in your stomach for about 45 minutes before moving through to your intestines… however, that rock you’re feeling isn’t natural. That feeling comes from not having enough digestive enzymes present in the stomach to break down your dinner.
Food should give you energy and vitality, NOT make you tired and sluggish.
HOW TO DIGEST YOUR FOOD
Eat, excrete, repeat.
Unfortunately, that’s the extent of what most people know about the single most important activity that every animal on earth engages in every day. But there is so much more to your food and your digestive process than just shoveling food in and letting waste out.
We are not trash compactors… or at least we weren’t designed to be.
In fact, up to 80% of our daily energy expenditure is used on digestion. Food gives our bodies energy—you know, calories are a unit of energy!
Beyond the calorie, food provides the essential building blocks of our bodies and brains—protein, vitamins, nutrients, fat, and glucose are all necessary for proper body function.
Whenever you take a bite, your food goes through a digestive process called catabolism. This is the process by which complex organisms are broken down into their simplest form so that they can be absorbed and assimilated by the body.
The end result of healthy catabolism is that all of the body’s organs, tissues, and systems get the nutrients they need to thrive. Unfortunately, most people living on a modern diet do not produce enough digestive enzymes to completely break down the food we are eating.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T DIGEST?
Since digestion literally kicks off the nourishment process for your entire body, you can imagine that almost everything is effected when you’re not digesting properly. Trust me, constipation is the least of your worries.
1 – Food allergies and sensitivities
Okay, you have to know someone who is allergic to this or that, or who is sensitive to this other thing. It seems like food allergies and sensitivities are exploding… and many people dismiss it as a “fad.” I’m going to tell you that it’s not.
This explosion of food allergies/sensitivities is a result of our poor food culture. By consuming a modern diet comprised mainly of low-quality meat, starches, and processed sugar, our bodies can’t produce the proper enzymes for digestion.
So, bits of this food start to get handed over to the liver. When the liver can’t handle the overload of undigested food, toxic chemicals, and unprocessed bacteria, it simply starts to dump the junk straight into the bloodstream.
Now you have these toxins floating around in the bloodstream, and your immune system response is triggered, causing allergic reactions to various foods and other substances.
By the way, this whole process is called “leaky gut.” Maybe you’ve heard of it?
2 – Low grade chronic inflammation
This is the silent instigator behind so many of our ailments it would make your head spin. Some inflammation is good—it happens when your immune system responds to an intruder or to heal an injury: Think about the puffiness around a healing infected cut.
However, with poor digestion, you can end up with your immune system chronically on, which leads to weakened tissues, swollen joints, and accelerated aging. It makes your body less resilient… and over time, it can lead to diabetes and even cancer.
3 – Oxidative stress
Any kind of stress is bad, but this kind is really, really bad. Oxidative stress can occur when the liver is overworked and can’t keep up with its detoxification load. Then the free radicals start to abound in ridiculous numbers.
What’s a free radical? Good question.
A free radical is any molecule with an unpaired electron. Our bodies actually produce bursts of these free radicals to do things like fight infection. However, when there are more free radicals than needed to do the job, they start grabbing onto other things and essentially grow exponentially.
You might be surprised to know that oxygen is very unstable and becomes a dangerous free radical when left unchecked. Hence the term, “oxidative stress.”
These free radicals are kept in check by antioxidant enzymes (some of which are produced by the liver) and antioxidant nutrients (from fruits, veggies, and herbs).
So, if you’re not eating a healthy veggie-full diet, you’ve created a vicious cycle of low antioxidants and high free radicals that could end up culminating in diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, or irritable bowel syndrome… as well as early aging.
The bad news is: Poor digestion is a big problem. The good news is: It’s reversible. The even better news is: It’s easy to do.
HOW TO DIGEST BETTER
Did your mother always tell you to “chew your food?” Mine did. I actually knew a woman who lived to be 106, and she religiously chewed every bite of food 50 times.
Well, there’s something to chewing your food that’s right on the money—it’s the first step, so the further it gets broken down in your mouth, the less work has to be done by your gut.
But the work doesn’t end there. If you have leaky gut or other symptoms of poor digestion, it’s time to take care of it. Not tomorrow. Not “after the holiday.” Now, because you’re worth it.
1 – Eat fresh veggies
If you were to eat a diet comprised primarily of raw fruits and vegetables, your body would have the necessary raw materials to produce the amount of enzymes required to do its job. I’m talking something like 90% raw, and mostly veggies—cooking and processing strips the enzymes right out of that healthy food.
How many of us actually eat a menu made up of 90% raw veggies every day? (Okay, put your hands down you Raw Foodies.:)
Actually, even on the Wild or Paleo diet, you should be consuming a huge portion of your calories in the form of fresh vegetables. If you don’t seem to be getting enough, try adding a green smoothie or green juice to your morning routine. You can pack over six servings of fresh veggies into one delicious drink!
This will bring your body into balance and start a healthy cycle of digestion and catabolism… which ultimately equals better health, more energy, and a leaner physique.
2 – Spice it up
New research suggests that certain dietary spices can significantly increase the production of pancreatic digestive enzymes!
These common spices include curcumin (better known as turmeric), capsaicin, piperine (better known as black pepper), ginger, fenugreek, mustard, cumin, and asafoetida (better known as Hing).
So, instead of seasoning your food with salt, try spicing it up like this:
- Mexican fajitas: cumin, black pepper, and spicy peppers like habaneros, jalapenos, or even ghost chilies (all with high levels of capsaicin)
- Indian food: turmeric, curry, ginger, Hing, fenugreek, and hot chilies
- Asian stir-fry: fresh ginger, chili sauce, garlic, and ground mustard seed
Don’t hold back. Not only will your food taste amazing, your body will feel energized on its way to better digestion.
3 – Supplement
Last but not least, you can add a digestive enzyme supplement to your daily regime.
Most of your digestive enzymes are produced by your pancreas. But, when your system isn’t working right, your pancreas won’t be able to produce enough enzymes to break your food down properly. These enzymes can also be derived from plant and animal sources.
You’ve probably heard of “lactose intolerance.” That’s the nasty bloaty feeling some people get when they eat a big cup of fro-yo. That’s because these people aren’t producing enough lactase to break down the lactose in dairy. This happens to be an enzyme that isn’t produced in the pancreas—this one’s from the small intestine. Either way, supplementation with a lactase enzyme could help with the digestion of dairy products.
This enzyme helps digest fat and is derived from pigs, cows, plants and fungi. The supplement is often recommended to people suffering from Crohn’s, celiac, and cystic fibrosis… but you should always consult with your doctor before adding a lipase enzyme into your diet.
Derived from the stem and pulp of pineapples, there are many anecdotal studies indicating that supplementation with this enzyme can ease indigestion, reduce inflammation from injury, and reduce arthritic pain. However, Bromelain should not be used by children or pregnant women, and clearance from your doctor is recommended if you are taking any prescription medications.
It’s time to change the way you think about digestion! The process is not “eat, excrete, repeat!” It’s more like, “chew (enjoy), catabolize, nourish.” AND excrete… we can’t get around that one.
So, weather you are having the typical symptoms of poor digestion–like sluggishness and heavy belly, or something more serious– like food allergies, chronic pain, or diabetes, just know that you can have a healthy life again… and it all starts with what you put into your mouth.
Choose wisely, and enjoy every bite!
Platel, K. and Srinivasan, K. (2000), Influence of dietary spices and their active principles on pancreatic digestive enzymes in albino rats. Nahrung, 44: 42–46. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-3803(20000101)44:13.0.CO;2-D
Sharma, Hari, MD. “Free Radicals: A Major Cause of Aging and Disease.” Consumer Health Organization of Canada, March 1995; volume 18, issue 2