There are a lot of buzzwords swirling around digestion and it can feel a little overwhelming at first to navigate. Are probiotics and prebiotics the same thing? Is fibre really that important? What are these digestive juices I keep hearing about? Let’s find out…
Our bodies are full of bacteria and yeasts, some good, some bad and some neutral. Probiotics are the good guys, live microorganisms that, when consumed, help balance your gut flora – and of course, aid digestion. Many people choose to supplement probiotics but they are also found naturally in fermented foods including some yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. You can download your own probiotic food guide here!
Fiber is an important part of every diet and essential to keeping our digestive system clean. It is a part of plant-based foods that our bodies cannot digest, so instead of being broken down into sugar molecules, it passes through our bodies. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar, as well as help food pass through the digestive system and prevent constipation.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that actually feed the probiotics. Providing prebiotics for your probiotics helps your digestive system function properly. They are found naturally in many foods, including bananas, asparagus, onions, leeks, barley and rye, so you’re probably eating them already!
There are many “digestive juices” that help the digestive process – starting with saliva! Saliva not only moistens food to help it move down the esophagus but it also contains a digestive enzyme that begins breaking down carbohydrates. Gastric acid or “stomach acid” is produced in our stomach lining and helps break down protein. Further down the line, carbohydrates, fats and proteins are broken down in the small intestine by juices produced by the pancreas. The liver produces “bile”, which is stored in the gallbladder between meals, and then secreted into the small intestine to emulsify fats.
Digestive enzymes exist in the digestive juices and help break down our food into smaller particles so our bodies can use the nutrients. You can supplement digestive enzymes with meals, but there are also foods that naturally contain them, including pineapple, papaya, honey, bananas and sauerkraut.
When should I support my digestive system?
We should always be supporting our digestive system! Now that doesn’t mean everyone needs to go out and buy supplements immediately but eating consciously and preventing illness is a win-win situation for everyone. That being said, experiencing fatigue or discomfort after meals, gas, bloating or belching are all hints that your body may need some extra help – try these tips!
As you can see, the digestive system is complicated and relies on a lot of different functions to operate properly. It is also easy to appreciate why it is so easy for your digestive system to go off kilter and need extra support. This is why it is so important to supply your body with whole foods that will fill your gut with the probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes that it needs.