It’s not what you eat, but what you digest that counts

What you eat is only half the battle in getting the needed nutrition to your millions of cells that rely on that nourishment for everyday functioning. Despite a well-balanced diet, if, for whatever reason you are having trouble digesting your food, you may actually be malnourished.

Eating and assimilating the nutrition from the food are two different things. For this reason, doing what one can to aid the digestive process, such soaking or sprouting grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in order to eliminate the nutrition inhibitors, is a good idea.

Digestive enzymes are needed in order to initiate the break-down of the food particles – proteases for protein, amylases for carbohydrate, and lipases for fats. These enzymes are present in raw foods, and our saliva contains amylase, so digestion actually begins in the mouth with the chewing of the food.

By thoroughly mixing the food with saliva, and chewing the food until liquid, digestion is greatly aided. Cooking food above 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius) destroys the enzymes in the food, so now your pancreas must manufacture those enzymes in order to help the digestive process.

Eating a diet of exclusively cooked food puts a huge strain on the pancreas, which may lower resistance to stress. It is for this reason that avoiding pasteurized anything is a good idea, as by definition, pasteurization heats the food to the point where everything that was alive in the food is now dead.

These days, most store-bought juices, most dairy (all dairy in Canada except for some cheese), and even most jars of vegetables are pasteurized, so check labels and buy unpasteurized when possible.

Do not over-cook your food. Lightly steam vegetables and take it off the heat before the colour changes from bright to dull. Eat pasture-fed, non-medicated red meat as rare as you can tolerate it. Chicken, pork and store-bought ground beef should however, be cooked through.

In order to improve digestion and assimilation, we need to eat more foods that are rich in enzymes. Adding raw foods to each meal helps, as well as consuming fermented foods.

Lacto-fermentation was one of the methods used to preserve food before refrigeration, and the fermentation process greatly increases those valuable enzymes needed for digestion, as well as increases the vitamins in the food.

Basically, the sugars in the food are converted to lactic acid by the sugar-eating bacteria or lactobacilli. Consuming fermented vegetables, dairy, grains and meat also promotes healthy flora in the intestine, which also aids in the assimilation of the food.

Many common foods are fermented, such as cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, whey, saurkraut, pickles, pickled ginger that comes with sushi, miso, kefir, corned beef, and marinated fish. Fermenting is easy to do, and the results are delicious.

Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook has a whole chapter on fermenting vegetables, as well as many other recipes for fermenting dairy and grain.

To start you off, here is a fabulous recipe for breakfast porridgefrom Judy Chambers, RNCP, CPT of Dynamic by Nature, who helps people regain their health through her Living Whole Foods system.

Related Tips:
Drink your food!
Maintain your bone mass by preparing grains, nuts and seeds properly

Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary; Nourishing Traditions, Revised 2nd Edition NewTrends Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 2001.

Chambers, Judy, personal communication, online


  1. Jan O'Leary said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 6:04 pm

    I am a celiac, and the question on my mind is………..wouldn’t it appear that people with this disease would be more prone to Vitamin B12 innsufficiency due to our severe digestive problems and not being able to absorb our food properly ?

  2. Vreni said,

    May 25, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

    Hi Jan,

    It is possible you may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, but I presume you are living gluten free. If so, your gut may heal well enough to do fine with B12, as B12 comes from meat sources.

    I would suggest that the next time you see your doctor, you ask to have your B12 (and vitamin D) levels tested. That way you will know if supplementation is warranted.

    Hope that helps!

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