The Food We Eat

Good Digestive Health Post #5

What we put in our bodies is as important as how our digestive system functions. So obviously, no discussion of things to know about the digestive system would be complete without mentioning the importance of what we eat.

Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body.  That is why it is important to eat organic whole foods and animals that were pasture raised without antibiotics.  But what nourishes some of us, might harm others. I’m sure by now you’ve heard about certain foods that cause an adverse reaction in many people: dairy, gluten, even other grains and nightshade vegetables. But for a small portion of the population, it could be raw vegetables, certain fruits, nuts or shellfish.

A person with a food allergy could have a wide array of reactions: from immediate vomiting to anaphylactic shock or potentially even death.  Others who are allergic might get a rash, or hives or something annoying and even alarming, but not life threatening.

It is much more difficult to pinpoint when someone is intolerant – as opposed to allergic – to a particular food.  There are many new tests that measure food intolerances that have come out in recent years, but some of these tests are unreliable and could give false negatives or positives. Some practitioners use muscle testing to determine what foods are problematic for their patients, but that diagnostic practice can be unreliable.

There are clues that we can use to try to detect a food intolerance.  Overt symptoms such as intestinal gas, abdominal pain or diarrhea might be common for some people and, so long as you are paying attention, you will see the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  A good way to pay attention is to keep a food journal, complete with a section explaining how you felt at several points of the day.  That way, you might see a pattern or patterns between your diet and your wellbeing.

But for some people, the symptoms are not as obvious. Asthma, arthritis, inability to lose weight, depression, anxiety and even neurological disorders might stem from food intolerances.  For one person, taking an irritant out of the diet could turn ill health around immediately while for another, it might take a very long time and include multiple steps.  But if you have not felt well for some time and no pill or medical intervention is helping, looking at your diet will always be a good idea – it is, after all, the least invasive way to treat.  A good rule of thumb is that it takes at least 30 days to rid the body entirely of a food that might be harmful.  So, begin an elimination diet by taking out one food at a time for at least 30-60 days.  But with this approach it is important to know that there can be absolutely no cheating – even a small amount of food that you cannot process or digest can trigger a systemic response.

It is possible that if a person eats an extreme amount of a certain food (eggs, for example) a person can become intolerant to that food.  Sometimes, all it takes is holding off on eating that food for a period of time before reintroducing it at a later date.

In the end, the food we can handle is highly individualized and depends on many factors – genes, personal history with a particular food, the presence of a leaky gut (generally caused by antibiotics), toxicity in the environment, lifelong dietary habits and exposures.  Which is why there is no magic formula for healing from a food intolerance.  The good news is that you have the power to heal yourself – your body knows what to do, it just needs you to do a little detective work to find what you need.

Breaking Down the Importance of Hydrochloric Acid



News flash: Hydrochloric Acid is good for you (in the right amounts).  Old fashioned American eating habits were in sync with this fact – but our current habits are not.


Picture a couple out for a night on the town in the 1920s:


*They peruse the drink menu and order cocktails prepared with bitters;

*They’ll nibble garnishes of celery and olives and perhaps they’ll eat spinach with their meal;

*They sit down for dinner and the waiter brings glasses of water – the rims adorned with lemon wedges;


Perhaps you do not associate these foods with good digestion or  HCl, but in many cultures and over many generations, people who know food and drink, know that HCl is necessary for proper digestion.  And, they know that certain foods, such as lemon, apple cider vinegar and bitters, can help stimulate your body’s natural production of HCl.


Now, you might not know if you are low in HCl production, so what might give you a clue?

*You experience heartburn or gas;

*You sometimes see food particles in your stool (sorry, not as much fun as talking about cocktails);

*You are bloated, constipated or have indigestion.


In proper digestion, when food (mixed with saliva) enters your stomach, HCl and other gastric juice is secreted and breaks down proteins into peptides.  Peptides are smaller strings of amino acids, vital nutrients which the body can use.  If proteins are not broken down, the immune system might perceive those proteins to be foreign invaders and launch an autoimmune response – the result can be inflammation, food sensitivities or disease. The presence of entire proteins instead of broken down amino acids may lead to food allergies, to anaphylaxis shock, to other symptoms typical of an allergy, such as sneezing, breathing difficulties, skin rashes, headaches, nausea, or even, in severe cases, death. And these problems result from just a very small amount of food proteins which don’t belong there.


HCl also is the first line of attack against any pathogenic microorganism or bacteria, parasite, yeast or viruses. When HCl is secreted, it is almost pure acid and necessary to create a balanced pH in the stomach.  At that point, the enzyme pepsin digests these microorganisms and they become food for the existing gut microbes.  When the pH is out of balance, these organisms can thrive and create havoc – a common problem is Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori), which can increase the risk of gastric cancer.


Approximately 90% of Americans produce too little HCl.  This is due to our culture and our food.  When we eat too quickly, we do not stimulate enough HCl production. Also, the standard American diet no longer incorporates HCl stimulators like bitters and vinegar– which used to be staples in our cuisine. 


So how do we boost our HCl production to appropriate elevels?  Eating apple cider vinegar or bitters helps a lot.  Lemon and Manuka honey are also very effective.  Celery, spinach, chard and kale all have dietary fibers and stimulate HCl.  If these foods do not help your HCl production, there are food supplements that can help, notably digestive enzymes and Betaine HCl – but do not begin here and make sure to consult a provider before diving in.  In the case of HCl stimulation, if you can do it naturally and without supplementation, you are less likely to need these aids long term. 

We Are What We Drink: Water For Good Digestion


 They say that water is life. 

Indeed, 70% of the Earth is covered by water.  55-65% of an adult’s body is made of water (the number is even higher for infants and children), the human brain is 75% water.

So it’s no wonder that human beings, on average, cannot go more than 3 days without water.  We literally are what we drink.

Experts have said for years that people should drink 64 ounces of water each day – and for good reason. Water is vital.  It delivers oxygen to our cells, which gives our cells energy. It enables our cells to distribute essential nutrients within our bodies. It removes waste products like toxins that our organs reject.  Water helps to lubricate joints and provide oxygen for easier breathing.  It regulates our body temperatures so we don’t overheat.  It enables normal electrical properties in our cells (including neurotransmitters) and empowers natural healing in the body. That is why so many health issues result from dehydration; without water, our organs cannot properly function.  This is especially true for the gallbladder, pancreas and stomach, the three main organs involved in digestion. Indeed, signs of dehydration range from seemingly benign food cravings to weight gain, heartburn, constipation and even ulcerative colitis.

But knowing when to drink water can be almost as important for digestion as knowing how much to drink.  Drinking copious amounts of water, or any fluid, during meals is not good for good digestive health.  Water can dilute your stomach acid to the point that it cannot properly break down your food, and as a result, large particles of food end up in places the body cannot recognize.  This can cause a whole host of issues such as leaky gut, reflux and even an autoimmune response.

So, how do you know if you are dehydrated?

For starters, if you’re thirsty or your fingers are pruning, you are already dehydrated.  So you must get ahead of dehydration and drink at least 8 glasses (of 8 ounces) of water daily.  But remember, you want the water to reach your cells – you don’t want it go to right through you (as in, drink a glass of water, urinate 10 minutes later).  If you are having a retention issue it might be because you are low on electrolytes or minerals.  You can drink your water with a dash of good sea salt or high quality electrolytes. You can also dress up your water like you’re at the spa, or use the following foods to help you reach your daily dose.


Fruits and Vegetables with High Water Content:

Watermelon, Strawberries








Pineapple, cranberries, oranges, raspberries


Apricot, Blueberries, Plums


Apples, Pears


Cherries, Grapes


Cucumber, lettuce


Zucchini, Radish, Celery




Green cabbage


Cauliflower, Eggplant, Red Cabbage, Peppers, Spinach





So, the next time you’re irritable, moody, depressed, anxious or have a headache, ask yourself: “How much water have I had to drink today?”