“You are what you eat” ( … Really?)
Emily Macgregor explores some common beliefs and misnomers
“You are what you eat” – should this adage rightfully be replaced by ‘you are what you absorb’? Because no matter how much fresh nutrient-rich food you consume, you need a good digestive function to make use of it. Poor digestion not only means you miss out of the full benefits of food nutrients, but can lead to or exacerbate inflammation as the immune system reacts to poorly digested particles. This is why treating digestion and food intolerances is very important for all inflammatory disorders including asthma, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. Your age, food intake, food allergies and state of mind all impact your digestive function which requires good hydration and works best in a relaxed state.
How do we know how well our digestion is working? Bloating and heartburn are two giveaway signs that it’s probably under par. The production of hydrochloric acid (Hcl or gastric acid) tends to decline with age. It is the power of acidity in the stomach that kicks of the digestive process, breaking down food and also triggering the next essential phase of digestion in the small intestines – the release of pancreatic enzymes. Also, as we age, the use of antacids to alkalise stomach acid can increase which is actually counter-productive. The problem is more likely is an issue of under acidity that is mistaken for over acidity. Read on!
“I should take antacids for heartburn” – Interestingly, despite the acid symptoms, it is usually lack of acidity rather than over-acidity that actually causes the indigestion, rising acid or the burning discomfort of heartburn. When there is not enough Hcl/stomach acid, food is not broken down as well as it should be and stays in the stomach too long causing partial fermentation. This leads to rising acidic gases which is experienced as reflux, and sometimes bloating. Relief can be found in the short term using antacids, but in the long term the low acidity should be addressed so that digestive function can truly improve.
To support digestion some simple solutions include taking a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar before food, squeezing lemon juice onto food, not drinking water with food (dilutes gastric juices), taking a zinc supplement to boost Hcl production and, very importantly, eating in a relaxed state. In some cases, supplementing with digestive enzymes may be necessary.
“Food will give you all the vitamins and minerals I need” – Well, maybe if you’re a Buddhist monk living on a mountain top! Unless you live on 100% organic food 100% of the time with zero stress, and no exposure to pollution or chemicals, most people could do with supplementation of some sort – at least a good quality multivitamin and antioxidant.
Modern day farming and food handling practices mean that standard ‘non-organic’ food (isn’t it funny that we have a special name for food grown without chemicals!) is nutrient deficient. Soil in Australasia is known to be low in minerals such as selenium and zinc. Food is often picked early and spends long periods in cold storage..
Once our soil-depleted foods have been picked early and stored for long periods they are then processed and refined to within an inch of their premature lives! Add to this picture the common intolerances that people have to some frequently consumed food types like wheat and dairy and it’s not so clear whether the average diet provides enough nutrition for thriving health. Oxidation and inflammatory processes go on quietly beneath the skin, and just because someone is symptom free does not mean that the chemicals they are consuming are not having an effect, because it is more likely that they are.
In my opinion, Supplementation is an absolute MUST – if you want to minimise the damage of normal, everyday living in the 21st century. Look for the highest quality antioxidant you can find and commit to taking it daily. Address any dietary deficiencies or obvious symptoms by aiming to establish what is missing and getting expert advise as to how to improve it.
“Supplement self-diagnosis is dangerous”
Hmmmmm, considering that paracetamol sits quite comfortably on the shelf for anyone to ‘self diagnose’ and purchase, I do find this a little on the over-cautious side. That said, there is much to be gained by a full diagnosis of symptoms and treatment protocol, but self-diagnosis for simple ailments such as taking herbs and Vitamin C for a cold, or magnesium for muscle cramps is mostly quite harmless. The increase in natural supplement self-diagnosis reflects a rise in people taking personal responsibility for their health – and why not? Not long ago westerners had a very submissive attitude and bowed to white-coat superiority. Hats off to people endeavouring to take action and bring their health back into their own hands. Supplement self-diagnosis has no doubt helped thousands with natural relief but also likely saved the nation a lot of money with the prevention and treatment of countless conditions that may have lead to public heathcare expenses footed by the government.
People self-diagnose in different ways – talking to their friends, reading health articles, looking things up on the internet, and through media marketing. The only drawback with this, is that there may be elements that are contributing to a condition that you are not aware of, especially with more complex and chronic conditions. Let’s take the example of arthritis which has an inflammatory aspect to it. You can take a Green Lipped Mussel, Fish or Krill Oil and get good results. However you may be missing part of the picture such as aspects of your diet and digestion that need some attention, which if addresses will then give you further relief and better results. So if the condition has been going on for a while, seek out the advice of a healthcare practitioner.
I recommend seeing a healthcare practitioner such as a naturopath – someone who is trained to look into your unique ‘picture’ – everyone is so individual. Your GP can help assess any clinical nutritional deficiencies however there can be ‘sub clinical’ nutritional requirements that don’t show up in blood tests.
Want good health? Start with a good, varied diet high in raw foods, avoid high amounts of food allergens such as dairy and wheat (believe me, there are many sources of calcium other than milk!). Take care of your digestive tract by slowing down at meal times & not guzzling water with meals. And last but not least, consider supplementation – at the least a high quality multivitamin and an excellent antioxidant as a start point to support your nutritional intake.
Emily Macgregor is a qualified Naturopath.