Tarwi (tar-we) is a bean found in the Andes that is soaked for days before you can boil and eat it. If you ate them raw, you’d really have problems with digestion!
Last week I wrote about protein and absorption issues in vegans (as well as other eaters)…
There was a lot of buzz about the article. For the most part, many of you appreciated it and learned that not everything is as it seems (or is spoken) in the health world!
Today, I have a question that addresses the “what next?” questions that we received after publishing these two articles.
Here’s the question from Becky (and countless others!)…
“I’m just wondering if you have any advice / wisdom on foods / supplements to increase absorption of nutrients in the digestive system?”
Thanks for your question, Becky!
Good news is that, yes, I do have advice for you and anyone else who wants to increase absorption.
Here’s where to start…
First off, you need to determine if your digestion is poor. Not many people have a perfectly functioning gut, but some function better than others.
The reason why you want to figure out how everything is working is because you want to be able to identify exactly what will be most effective and work for your own situation.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people buy products they think will work for them without any evidence that they need to take it at all.
So coming from me, I strongly recommend working with a practitioner who can analyze your protein / amino acid levels and maybe even analyze your stool to see what degree of digestion your food has been through and also see if you have any pathogens that have overtaken your tubing.
Next up, the breakdown.
After you identify what’s going on, you then can start to look at the individual parts of the whole system.
The first part to look for absorption is not the small intestines where most of your food crosses into your body. The place to look is actually in the stomach where food is broken down first for maximum assimilation.
If you are not producing enough HCL (hydrochloric acid) or releasing enough digestive enzymes, you will not break down your food properly in your stomach. The biggest issues you will encounter in this case are possible mineral deficiency and possible protein / amino acid deficiency.
The HCL works to break down compounds and release minerals – think muriatic acid on concrete. It also works to denature proteins so they can be more easily broken down by the digestive enzymes.
If you don’t have both of these guys working for you, you could eat the healthiest diet on the planet and still not get the nutrients you need, because your intestines are getting poorly broken down food to work with.
Now let’s talk uptake.
Most of your nutrients – at least from the food you eat – are absorbed in your small and large intestines.
So in order for you to get the nutrition you need, a few things need to be in place.
First up, you need to have food that has started to be broken down effectively in the stomach. This includes proteins and minerals.
Second, you need to have the appropriate amount of bile and other digestive fluids to help emulsify and break down fats.
Third, you need to have a great array of healthy bacteria to continue the digestive process.
Finally, you need to make sure you don’t eat foods (or have infections) that inflame the intestines and allow (or inhibit) the intake of particles that can cause an immune reaction in the body.
So clearly, this isn’t just a take-a-pill-and-be-OK situation.
You must be eating foods that are non-allergenic to your system – wheat, soy, GMO, corn, nuts, and dairy are some of the biggest culprits.
You also need to make sure your gut is populated with strong and natural flora, since this ecosystem helps support the immune system and helps you digest and absorb your food better.
The process of getting this all correct could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, so patience is also very important.
Foods and supplements for digestion?
Sure, there are some that can help.
I think the way to look at it first is to decide if you need HCL or enzymes (or both). This will start the re-feeding of your body if in fact you are deficient.
The next step is to eliminate any foods that I mentioned above that may be causing inflammation in the gut – these are wheat, soy, GMO, corn, nuts, and dairy.
The third step is to use natural means of nutrition to get yourself more nutrients. For minerals, try sea vegetables and green juices. For protein, try algae. For B vitamins, try nutritional yeast.
Be sure to take fermented foods as well. You can make your own, or buy something like Coco-Biotic.
If these don’t seem to give you any relief or better digestion, then move on to more concentrated supplements like protein powders (like Sunwarrior), mineral supplements (like Liquid Light), and a B-Complex.
I like this step-by-step process because it allows you to see what works for you and allows you to stay as close to nature as possible.
Some may find they get relief right away with increased minerals, others may need to take all the supplements and foods to get better.
Whatever way works for you is a success, because it’s the way that worked.
So what do you do?
First, work with a practitioner to identify what’s up with your absorption. I know it’s not the advice that you were looking for, but I’m certain that I’ll have have to repeat this a thousand times before you realize how important it is to have help.
This way, you’ll be able to pinpoint what you need so you don’t waste money and time barking up the wrong tree.
Second, try some of the foods and supplements that will help (again, if you need them) and then reassess in a few weeks or months – depending on the seriousness of your situation.
So to wrap it up…
Yes, you can improve your digestion with foods and supplements – completely natural. This is a great place to start, but understand that without an analysis by a practitioner or through testing, you may never know what your main issue is and may not fully address what it happening before it becomes larger than it is now.
Again, it’s not a popular topic, because you probably want to blaze the trail by yourself (like I have in the past) – but just know that a little help does go a long way.
You can either go at it blind, or with a set of x-ray glasses.
Which one do you prefer?
I want to know your thoughts: What have you done to improve your digestion in the past?
By the way, if you’re interested… I also have a complete digestion program called “The Perfect Digestion Plan” that outlines all these protocols in detail. If you want to read more about this as well as purchase it, here’s where you can go (now in print format too!)…