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Digest Your Best
Ahh, the sounds of summer! The sizzling meat on the barbie, the scratching of plastic forks on paper plates, the burps and toots of bloated partygoers… Well, not everything about summer is music to the ears – or to the gut!
Here are some tips to keep your digestive system in harmony as you enjoy barbecue season.
When all goes well, you probably don’t even think about your digestion. But, when it’s out of whack, diarrhea, heartburn and flatulence likely put the damper on your party mood.
Meat is notoriously difficult to digest, which is why you may feel sluggish, sleepy, and a little constipated after a barbecue.
Less obvious signs of digestive weakness include pimples appearing in the mirror or breaking your nails more easily. Left unaddressed, digestive troubles can lead to nutrient deficiencies and their associated health effects.
What's Supposed to Happen
Digestion involves breaking down food both physically through chewing and churning, and chemically, through the use of strong acids as well as digestive enzymes. Enzymes are primarily manufactured in the pancreas, and each different macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) has a dedicated team of enzymes to help with their digestion.
When chewing the first bite of your burger, for example, an enzyme in your saliva called amylase begins digesting carbohydrates like your burger bun. After you swallow, gastric acid works with protease enzymes to digest proteins, like those found in your barbecued meat. Partially digested food then leaves your acidic stomach to enter the alkaline environment of your intestines, where fats are broken down by lipase enzymes. This is a crucial step, because we need fats not only for energy and to support our brains and cell membranes, but also to help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Unfortunately, digestion becomes more difficult as we get older, due, in part, because stomach acid loses its strength with passing years. At the same time, we produce fewer digestive enzymes as we age, which might explain why you can't eat the same way you have in years past. Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to amp up the digestion and absorption of your food.
Set the stage for a gut environment that’s conducive to proper digestion and absorption by creating a healthy intestinal balance. Nourish the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut that help with nutrient absorption and the production of certain vitamins. Eat fermented foods like plain, unsweetened yoghurt, kimchi, or sauerkraut – which would be great on your burger at the party, too! If you’re not a fan of fermented foods, consider taking a probiotic supplement with more than one strain of bacteria to contribute to diversity in your gut.
If you have a dietary intolerance or experience symptoms of poor digestion, try digestive enzyme supplements to boost your nutrient absorption and soothe your digestive tract. Although raw fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that help with their own digestion, these enzymes are destroyed through cooking. Take supplementary enzymes before cooked meals, like those you'll enjoy at the barbecue.
Composing Your Plate
Hopefully, you always leave room for some salad on your party plate! Greens are really important in your meal because they help you absorb the omega-3 fats that are essential for the health of your brain, eyes, and skin. The high fibre content in greens also promotes digestion and regular elimination. Try dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and lettuce along with your burger, to increase your intake of beta carotene and calcium. And since hitting the recommended target of 10 vegetables per day can be a challenge, consider mixing a greens powder with highly nutrient-dense ingredients like spirulina, kelp, and alfalfa to hummus or a veggie dip. Taking care of your digestion now will help you enjoy the parties of the summer and fall’s family get togethers.t
Armand, Fieker, A., & Philpott, J. (2011). Enzyme replacement
therapy for pancreatic insufficiency: present and future.
CEG, 55. http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/ceg.s17634
• Stop drinking 30 minutes before you eat and only take small sips as needed throughout the meal. The extra liquid dilutes your stomach acid, making food harder to digest.
• Take smaller bites of your food.
• Chew well so you can swallow easily.
• Stop eating before you feel full. We tend to overeat in party environments. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Cassie Irwin is a lifelong nutrition junkie and healing foods writer. Visit her blog at thekitchndoctor.com, where food is medicine.