Perspectives on what makes up a good diet change, and I think that’s both good and bad. It’s good in a sense that there’s less fear about including quality fats in the diet. For example, I’m often asked about coconut oil—and it’s definitely a good dietary fat, so be sure you include it. On the other hand, there’s still a lot of confusion about what a good diet is because there are literally thousands of “diets” out there.
While no one diet works for everyone—people have differing nutritional needs—I do know that there are dietary principles that everyone should follow. Chief among those is consuming healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates—because those are the macronutrients we all need. That basic advice is pretty well known, but I like to take it a step further. Since I am a board-certified gastroenterologist, I often focus on diets that are best for digestion, so If you want great digestion, I recommend the following:
Avoid processed foods altogether—they make your body work harder and they are often devoid of key nutrients. Eat healthy proteins from sources like organically raised, grassfed cattle or sheep and wild-caught fish like salmon or tuna. Consume healthy fats, including coconuts, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. Limit your carbs to those found in sprouted whole grains, low-starch veggies and low-sugar fruits.
Every bodily cell, tissue, and organ depends on nutrient absorption and assimilation of food through healthy digestion—therefore, you need to be intentional and choose your food wisely. For me—and the patients I see on a daily basis—that means finding foods that are rich in probiotics, enzymes and fiber.
Probiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which greatly supports healthy digestion, absorption of minerals, synthesis of vitamins, production of B vitamins and certain enzymes, immune health—and much more. When there are not enough of these good bacteria called probiotics, the result is often felt negatively in the gut’s digestive process and in overall health.
Eating enzyme-packed raw food or sprouted food is another way to ensure great digestion. Enzymes are found naturally in raw, uncooked foods and most raw foods contain the very enzymes your body needs to digest that food. You require an array of enzymes, too, because different enzymes are necessary for full digestion. That makes enzymes an essential part of the digestive process, which, by the way, takes up more of your body’s energy than you might think—about 80%. So eat plenty of raw fermented foods, fresh, raw organic vegetables and fruits (like papayas and pineapple), raw sprouted grains, raw seeds and nuts, avocados, sprouts, and unpasteurized dairy products.
Cultured dairy foods are packed with probiotics and enzymes. A diet good for digestive health should include plenty of cultured dairy products like yogurt, kefir, hard cheeses, cultured cream and cottage cheese—from goats, cows, and sheep. Likewise, cultured and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, pickled carrots, beets or cucumbers also supply probiotics and enzymes, including enzymes that break down food and increase digestibility.
Finally, don’t forget fiber. Include foods like fresh raw vegetables and fruits, whole sprouted grains, nuts and seeds. Fiber creates a hospitable environment for friendly bacteria (but you also need enough of these good bacteria for maximum fiber benefits) and serves to normalize transit time—the time it takes food to pass through the digestive tract. Fiber also helps move foods’ nutrients through the digestive system so that your body can be properly nourished. That’s a pretty important role, too, because different areas of the digestive tract absorb different, essential nutrients.
Great foods with probiotics, enzymes and fiber lead to great digestion—and when your gut is functioning well, then you are too. Among other things, a healthy gut acts as a barrier to a sometimes threatening external environment and is the gatekeeper for life-sustaining nutrients. Additionally, the digestive system is home to up to 75% of your immune system cells, making it the first line of defense for your overall health.
Simply put, your digestive system is your body’s source of growth, repair and energy, so feed it what it needs.
With extensive expertise and experience in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Brasco is a valued medical consultant for Garden of Life in the area of digestive health.