Bloating and Indigestion

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Digestion Helping Techniques

Different foods (proteins, carbs, fruit etc.) need different enzymes to be digested properly, for example the enzymes that digest protein foods (meat, fish, eggs) only work in acidic conditions and when we eat protein our stomach produces hydrochloric acid so the protein digesting enzymes can break down the protein into its building blocks the amino acids, we then absorb the amino acids in the small intestines and reassemble them into human proteins. The enzymes that break down starch or carbohydrate foods (potatoes, bread, cereals/grains, rice etc.) on the other hand need alkaline conditions to break down the carbohydrates into simple absorbable sugars. 
 
The problem is if you mix acid and alkali together in the stomach at the same time they neutralise each other so when you eat protein and starch together at the same time it presents power digestion with a problem; if the stomach produces acid to digests protein it will stop the enzymes that digest carbohydrates from working resulting in incomplete digestion of the carbohydrates, conversely if the stomach does not produce hydrochloric acid because it has judged the meal to contain predominantly carbohydrates then the protein part of the meal will be incompletely digested.  To further compound this problem some people naturally under-produce hydrochloric acid in the first place.
 
When incompletely or half-digested proteins and carbohydrates pass through the intestines they can cause bloating, indigestion, intestinal gas as the intestinal bacteria ferment the half-digested foods and if the gut wall is too permeable or leaky the half-digested food molecules can pass through the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream whereupon they can provoke the immune system and produce food sensitivity type reactions; if you also have a leaky blood-brain barrier you may experience brain-fog as well.
 
When we eat a meal containing carbohydrates and proteins the stomach will have to choose and prioritise between digesting the carbohydrates or the protein; usually the stomach will favour the protein because in the wild protein foods were harder to get a hold of. Animals mostly only eat one food at a time because that’s all that’s available, even hunter-gather humans tend to only eat one food at a time, when hunter-gatherers kill an antelope they don’t keep it in their fridge/freezer to have later with new potatoes, asparagus and a truffle dressing, they just eat meat and on days when no meat is available they live off foraged plant foods.
 
There is however a way to eat protein and carbohydrates together at the same meal and still adequately digests them.
 

Digestion Tip # 1
Eat your Protein First and your Carbohydrate Last for better digestion

There’s a popular food combining diet system some of you may have already heard of called the "Hay System", where one never eats protein and starch at the same meal, separating them by several hours.  You have to know who Mr Hay was before you can understand his recommendations, Mr Hay was a very large meat eating American who ate big meals and enormous steaks. He ate such large portions of meat that there really was not enough room left in his stomach for the stomach to separate all layer the protein from carbohydrates and so he wrongly thought you couldn't eat protein and starch within hours of each other. 
 
Although the Hay food combining system avoids the conflict between protein and carbohydrate digestion it’s not necessary and not necessarily the healthiest way to eat.
 
A practical and effective solution is to eat the proteins and carbohydrates in the meal in a specific order or sequence, all you have to do is simply eat all the protein off your plate first before you eat any of the carbohydrates and this provides enough separation between the food to significantly increase your digestion.
 
The stomach is smart and is designed to avoid mixing the foods that entered it first that had been sitting in the digestive enzymes from the beginning of the meal with the foods that entered the stomach last and have only just begun the digestion process so it will tend to keep these foods layered and separated.
 
It’s actually surprisingly easy to eat in this way, for example if you were eating a chicken biryani consisting of chicken, rice, vegetable all mixed up together all you would have to do is pick out all the bits of chicken first, don't worry if a few grains of rice are stuck to it, eat this first and then eat the rice and vegetables.  If you want to test if this system is making a difference try eating a meal backwards, i.e. it only carbohydrate first and then the concentrated protein last and see how it feels.
 
Vegetarians should eat the beans, lentils, tofu etc. first, then the carbohydrates; vegetarian proteins are however much easier to digest so one can usually get away with mixing them with the carbohydrates more than concentrated proteins such as meat. 
 
Root vegetables including potatoes, yams, carrots, beetroots, parsnips etc. are starchy carbohydrate foods and are to be eaten last; all other vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, kale, red peppers et cetera are neutral i.e. they are neither concentrated protein or carbohydrate and can be mixed with either ether the protein all the carbohydrate portion of a meal, personally I hold the vegetables back to the end because the protein usually tastes good on its own but plain carbohydrate can be boring.
 
If you cannot separate them completely then just do it as much as you can.
 

Digestion Tip # 2
Don’t Drink with Meals

As already mentioned the enzymes that digest protein only work in acidic conditions and to activate them our stomach produces hydrochloric acid, when you drink liquids with meals it dilutes the stomach acid inhibiting the protein digesting enzymes; the result is slower and less complete digestion which can cause bloating and if you have a leaky gut you may get food sensitivity reactions.
 
It takes about 30 minutes for fluids to leave the stomach so you can drink as much as you like up to half an hour before a meal to get the stomach 30 minutes to absorb the water before eating. Actually it’s a good idea to have a big drink 30 to 40 minutes before starting a meal because the process of digestion actually requires a lot of fluids and functioned better when we are well hydrated.
 
A light meal will be retained in the stomach for up to 2 hours and a full meal for 2 ½ to 3 hours and ideally we would not drink any fluids during that time or at least during the first 90 minutes or so; this does actually mean that if we eat every three hours we only get half our windows in which to properly hydrate.
 
As always there are some exceptions, red wine when taken in moderation actually help digestion as do some herbal tea blends specifically made to help digestion like "After Meal Tea".  Although these drinks stimulate digestion they still dilute your stomach juices so don't have too much.
 

Digestion Tip # 3
Don’t Eat Fruit after Meals

Fruit needs very little time in the stomach, an orange may only need 15-20 minutes in the stomach before moving on to the small intestine, hard fruits such as apples are slower but still only require 30-40 minutes in the stomach.  So fruit should be eaten first before a meat, otherwise it sits on top of the rest of the meal for a couple of hours a in the stomach while the rest of the meal is digested.
 
The sugary and fibrous nature of fruit means it will often begin to ferment with yeast and bacteria when it is retained too long in the stomach creating indigestion. 
 
Having a fruit salad for desert is asking for trouble, firstly the quantity of fruit consumed will be excessive and secondly by mixing different fruits together that have different transit times further complicates the digestive process. When we combine fruit we should only combine fruit with a similar consistency for example you can have apples and pears together because they’re both hard or oranges with kiwi fruits are relatively similar or mixed together different types of berries but we should not for example eat oranges and apples together.
 
The some reason cooked or stewed fruit does not seem to produce fermentation, perhaps the cooking process kills off yeast naturally present within the fruit so you can for example have a baked apple after a meal as a desert. As I’ve explained elsewhere however there is something inherently unhealthy with fruit and that is that it contains a lot of the food sugar called fructose which produces toxic AGEs (advanced glycation end products) See: High Blood Sugar Damage
 
Melon, bananas and plantain are exceptions.  Bananas and plantain are starchy foods and are generally well tolerated as a desert.  Melon needs unique digestive processes and should be digested alone.  So do not mix melon into a fruit salad, or eat it with anything else.  Have your melon 25+ minutes before you eat, it will be digested and leave the stomach before you start the main course.
 

Putting It All Together

For perfect digestions eat in the following sequence:
1/ Thoroughly hydrate your body by drinking plenty fluids before eating and leave a 30 minute gap between drinking and starting to eat.
2/ If you’re going to eat fruit also eat the fruit 30 to 40 minutes before meals and if you going to combine fruit keep it simple, only mix a few fruits of similar consistency and don’t mix melon with anything.
3/ Eat the protein part of your meal first and the carbohydrate part of your meal last, non-starchy vegetables can be eaten at any point.
4/ Chew each mouthful of food thoroughly.
5/ Wait 2 to 2 ½ hours after eating before drinking any great quantity of fluids, if you going to drink it all choose red wine, digestions promoting herbal teas and small coffees such as espressos.
 

Digestive Aids

Betaine HCl

If you’re someone that under produces hydrochloric acid will find the above techniques very helpful but for extra assistance we can buy hydrochloric acid in the form of the feed supplement called Betaine HCl and top up our stomachs hydrochloric acid. Actually as we age our stomachs tend to produce less hydrochloric acid and this supplement can become even more useful.
 
You can use betaine HCl just occasionally to help you get through big meals such as Christmas dinner or when you’re having a steak dinner, or if your production of stomach acid is particularly low you can could use betaine HCl on a regular basis.
 

Digestive Enzymes

You can also buy and experiment with digestive enzyme supplements. Some preparations are contain more protein digesting enzymes whilst other preparations focus more on enzymes that digest carbohydrates and others fats; the way to work out which one works best for you is to simply by a range of products and experiment.
 

Digestive Bitters

You can buy herbal remedies called digestive bitters or sometimes Swedish digestive bitters that stimulates the production of enzymes. They’re available in both capsule and liquid form and can be surprisingly effective although I have to warn you that the liquid varieties can have an extremely bitter and unpleasant taste.
 

Bacteria Flora

We now know that the bacterial colony living in our intestines actually contributes to the digestive process or at least it does when it’s a healthy colony. If you suffer from bloating in addition to the above you should kill off the friendly bacteria and repopulate your intestines with friendly bacteria and yeasts, see:  Colon Cleansing and The Gut Brain Axis/Mental and Digestive Health
 
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Hi my name is Peter Smith I specialise in treating and coaching people how to live well with mental health problems, digestive health problems/IBS, sleep problems and type II diabetes using natural therapies.
I used these techniques to overcome and live well with my own bipolar disorder and IBS. I've been in practice as a natural medicine practitioner since 1988.
 

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