Home / Eat Well / Optimizing Digestion with Fermented Foods

Optimizing Digestion with Fermented Foods

by Raya Ioffe

We commonly hear the expression, “You are what you eat,” but perhaps even more important to consider is, “What your body can do with what you eat.” This refers to how well the digestive organs are functioning.

The digestive system’s job is to change food into a form that allows absorption of life-sustaining nutrients into the bloodstream. The inability to absorb those nutrients may contribute to a wide range of illnesses. Common indicators of poor digestion are constipation, gas, bloating, heartburn and acid reflux.

There are ideal conditions under which each of the digestive operations are performed. For example, the saliva pH ideally should be between 6.4 and 6.8 for salivary amylase to work on breaking down carbohydrates in the mouth. The stomach, on the other hand, should be highly acidic. In order for digestive enzymes such as pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin to become active and break down large protein molecules into smaller peptides, the pH in the stomach has to be between 1 and 3.

Once we begin to think about, smell or eat food, stomach cells begin to secrete gastric juices comprised of hydrochloric acid (HCl). If there is not adequate acid, the enzymes don’t get turned on and can’t do their job of snipping large proteins into smaller constituents. Instead of our bodies being able to utilize the amino acids from the breakdown of the proteins, the consumed proteins sit around undigested and putrefy to become food for bacteria and yeast. Gas is one of the byproducts of this process and can be one of the reasons people feel bloated, gassy or uncomfortable after a meal.

Another essential function of acid in the stomach is for immune/defense support. The acid helps kill parasites or transient bacteria found on our food, so that they don’t get past the stomach and situate themselves in the gastrointestinal system.

We can control the elements that increase stomach acidity and therefore improve the function of the stomach. These factors include adding a high-quality salt which will add the Cl (for HCL) and trace minerals; optimizing vitamin D levels (either sun or supplementation); exercise; removing sugars and processed foods; adding local biodynamic foods and veggies; and supplementing with probiotic foods, apple cider vinegar, lemon and lime juice.

There are many delicious ways to get apple cider vinegar and citrus juices into our diet. Salad dressings are an easy way to do that. There are many variations possible, and experimenting in the kitchen is a fun way to help our digestion and overall health. Fermented pickles, for example, are full of enzymes that aid digestion. They are also a good source of lactic acid, which improves digestion and helps alkalinize the body overall.

The brine produced by fermentation of vegetables is sour, delicious and should not be discarded. It is teeming with the beneficial bacteria that have transformed the raw veggies into wonderful cultured veggies. As the veggies are eaten, the brine may be drunk as a tonic, added to salad dressings, used in mixed drinks or as a marinade for meat. Bon appetite.

Raya Ioffe, LMT, RYT,owner of Raya Wellness, in Latham, is a certified holistic health coach who specializes in digestive health. For more information about her seasonal liver and colon cleanse program, call 518-229-3033. Also visit RayaWellness.com.

This article appeared in the October 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. Click to read more.