I don’t know about you, but it really disturbs me to see the growing prevalence of chronic disease in today’s society. Most Americans − more than 219 million, in fact − are seriously overweight or obese, and many of them suffer from obesity-related disease. Sluggishness, fatigue, irritability, and malnourishment are all-too-common characteristics of modern living. Many people, despite their best efforts at eating healthy and trying to live healthier lives… just aren’t seeing the results they expect.
It’s a dire situation, and one that perhaps you yourself are facing. Maybe you’ve started to pack on a few extra pounds and are wondering to yourself, why isn’t this working? Believe it or not, you can eat the healthiest foods in the world while exercising regularly and still not see positive results if your body isn’t actually digesting the foods you eat. And by “digesting” I’m not talking about popping a few Tums or taking an acid-reducer after a meal.
What Your Food Might Be Missing for Proper Digestion
Every time you eat, your body initiates a very complex process of breaking down and assimilating your food. Or at least it’s supposed to. Unbeknownst to many, this important digestive domino effect often isn’t working as it should. This is why too many folks experience indigestion, acid reflux, flatulence, bloating, and other symptoms of poor digestion after they eat. Even worse is that, over time, these symptoms can turn really ugly − morphing into conditions like Crohn’s disease and even cancer.
In many cases, the missing piece that causes all of this are enzymes. Or more specifically, a lack of digestive enzymes. Enzymes are the energetic catalysts that turn food into usable nutrients, and yet they’re also some of the most delicate components of food − easily destroyed by heating, processing, and pasteurization. Most of the foods that people eat today are grossly deficient in enzymes, which means their bodies are having to work overtime to compensate.
So… what are some solutions? Here are five things you can do that can make a world of difference to your digestive health and make your efforts at eating healthy much more productive.
#1 – Eat More Raw and Fermented Foods
Living foods in their natural, unprocessed state are loaded with enzymes, so this is a good place to start. Incorporating more raw foods into your diet, straight from nature, is a great way to help ensure that your body is getting all of the enzymes it needs to break down food and send it where it needs to go throughout your body. Almost every food that isn’t raw is lacking or completely devoid of enzymes, so think about this every time you grab a snack or prepare a meal.
Cultured and fermented foods are another great source of enzymes. In fermented foods the pre-digestion process has already been kick-started through the introduction of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and helpful acids, which help to naturally generate more enzymes in food. Kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, raw milk, and sourdough are a few examples of nutrient-dense cultured and fermented foods that are rich in enzymes.
#2 – Chew Your Food Thoroughly
Food isn’t the only place where enzymes are found − your body makes them, too. But in order to take full advantage of this digestive enzyme reservoir, you have to know how to effectively tap it. The first step is to thoroughly chew your food every time you eat, as this is how the body jumpstarts the process of turning whole foods into amino acids, fatty acids, cholesterol, simple sugars, and nucleic acids. All of these serve as the “fuel” to keep your body healthy, nourished, and strong.
“Particle size [affects the] bioaccessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed,” says Dr. Richard Mattes, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana. Dr. Mattes presented research at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago that showed that the longer a person chews food, the better able the body is to digest it. “The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body.”
#3 – Avoid Enzyme-Inhibiting Foods
In addition to chewing longer and eating more slowly so your body has a chance to process it all effectively, it’s also important to minimize foods that contain enzyme-inhibiting constituents that actually impede digestion.
So-called “anti-nutrient” enzyme-inhibitors are often ignored in the healthy eating paradigm, but they’re critically important to be aware of − especially if you suffer from gastrointestinal problems. Many processed foods contain enzyme-inhibitors such as chemical preservatives, refined sugar, chemically-processed and treated white flour, and synthetic sweetening agents.
Even foods that many people think of as healthy such as peanuts, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, potatoes, egg whites, and beans are enzyme-inhibiting.
“Anti-nutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in a variety of foods − especially grains, beans, legumes, and nuts − that interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients,” says Dr. Josh Axe. “Anti-nutrients can also be found in plant roots, vegetables, leaves and fruits, although these are at much lower levels and usually have benefits as opposed to mostly harmful effects.”
One way to help rid foods of harmful anti-nutrients is to soak and/or sprout them before eating. Soaking and sprouting helps to unlock the nutrients that are bound up by anti-nutrients and makes them more bioavailable to your body when you eat them. Sprouting is especially essential to maximize the digestibility of nuts and legumes.
#4 – Eat More Enzyme-Rich Foods
While all raw foods have enzymes, some havemore enzymes than others. Since it’s nearly impossible in our modern world to eat a raw food diet all the time, incorporating more of the following high-enzyme foods into your daily routine will help give you that extra “kick” of enzymes to really boost your body’s digestion:
- Pineapples: rich in bromelain, an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer class of enzyme that supports protein digestion
- Avocados: rich in lipase, a nutritive enzyme that supports fat digestion
- Bananas: rich in amylase, which supports carbohydrate digestion, and maltase, which supports sugar digestion
- Apricots: rich in invertase, an enzyme that supports sugar and carbohydrate digestion
- Kiwis: rich in actinidin, a unique enzyme found only in kiwifruit that very effectively breaks down proteins in meat and dairy
#5 – Take a Full-Spectrum Enzyme Supplement
At the end of the day, you can also support your diet with supplemental enzymes. A good, full-spectrum digestive enzyme formula will contain a wide array of digestive enzymes. Some formulas will contain betain HCL (hydrochloric acid) and pepsin as well, which together support optimal levels of stomach acid that works alongside enzymes to process and digest food.
Other key ingredients in a high-quality enzyme supplement include lactase, the enzyme that breaks down milk lactose, as well as all three types of pancreatic enzymes, which include:
- Proteases: help support the breakdown and digestion of proteins
- Lipase: helps support the breakdown and digestion of fats
- Amylase: helps support the breakdown and digestion of starches and carbohydrates
Complementary enzyme co-factor herbs and spices like peppermint, ginger, and amla (gooseberry) are also key features in many high-quality enzyme supplements, as these unique nutrients are known to aid in the digestive process. Medicinal mushrooms like reishi and turkey tail − and especially those that have been fermented to extract even more nutrients compared to their raw form − are also highly-beneficial in supporting maximum enzyme effectiveness and efficiency.