Monday, December 29, 2014

How to improve your digestive health

A healthy digestive system is fundamental to a healthy body. Optimal digestion is the foundation of optimal energy. Digestion allows the body to get the nutrients and energy it needs from the food.  The digestive system is basically a tube of 25 and 30 feet long running through the body from mouth to anus. The digestive tract and the accessory organs of digestion make up the digestive system. The organs of the digestive system include the oral cavity (mouth), oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum and anus. The accessory organs of digestion include the salivary glands, teeth, liver, gall bladder and pancreas. Over a lifetime no less than 100 tons of food passes along the digestive tract and 300,000 litres of digestive juices are produced by the body to break it down. Digestive juices flow from the walls of the stomach and small intestines, pancreas and gall bladder. Enzymes, bile and bacteria break down the food.
Facts on digestion
Digestion is a function of an organ system which involves a series of processes.  There are 5 processes that are involved with digestion: eating, breaking down food into simpler chemical compounds, absorption, assimilation and elimination of waste. Digestive organs can become disturbed for a multiplicity of reasons: poor diet, irregular eating habits, physical and mental strain, viral or bacterial or fungal or parasitic infections, allergies, toxicity and drugs. Digestive discomfort can express in many forms: stomach pain, bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and foul smelling gas.
More than 80 million Americans live with and suffer from chronic digestive problems. It is estimated that 4 million Americans have constipation and 60 million Americans have acid reflux. Approximately 12 million people in the United States suffer from food allergy. One-third to one –half of all populations have digestive illness. It is estimated that 25 to 50% of all digestion- related ailments can be prevented and / or modified by proper eating, exercise, natural medicines and lifestyle modifications.


The digestive system comprises a group of organs that break down food and absorb the nutrients used by the body for fuel. The digestive system begins with the mouth and extends through the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine, ending with the rectum and anus. The most important roles of digestive system include ingestion, propulsion, mechanical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption and defecation. Gastroenterology is a branch of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.
Digestion refers to the breakdown of food into smaller molecules that can be absorbed and assimilated by the body. The process of digestion occurs as the food you eat travels through the digestive tract. The food is kept moving by muscular action called peristalis. The main work of our digestive system is processing the food we eat to obtain energy and nutrients.
Good digestive health is the ability to break down, absorb and use nutrients and to eliminate waste products from foods and beverages in a way that optimizes one’s health and vitality.

Importance of the digestive system

The digestive system represents not only the physical ‘engine’ of the body, but also the center of emotions and the seat of subconscious.  Two-thirds of our immune system is located in and around our digestive system. According to Dr. Michael Gershon in his book The second Brain (1998), all of the neurotransmitters that are found in the brain are also found in the digestive system –hence the term ‘second brain.’ The digestive system actually has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) and over 95% of serotonin is made in the gut (Gershon 1998). The enteric nervous system functions without the direction from the brain. The activity of the digestive system is regulated by the rich network of nerves found in the enteric nervous system (ENS).

Factors in good digestion

The factors that promote good digestion include timing, manner or eating, quantity of food, condition of the food, quality of the food and appropriateness of the food to your body.
·         Timing – when you eat;
·         Manner – how you eat;
·         Quantity – how much you eat;
·         Condition of the food –raw, cooked, warm or cold;
·         Quality of the food – fresh, clean and pure;
·         Appropriateness of the food – whether the food is compatible with your digestive capacity and relevant to your nutritional requirements.

Four R's gut healing program

Digestive problems are part and parcel of our life. There is a 4-R’s program with the following steps: Remove, Replace, Re-introduce and repair. In the first step, remove the things that are causing the problem such as bacteria, parasite, Candida or yeast overgrowth and potential food allergens and toxins. Then replace the diet with healthy food, dietary fiber and pure water for regular elimination. In the third step, re-introduce the gut with dietary probiotics or supplementary enzymes. Lastly repair the gut lining, so food and germs do not get through to the blood stream and cause a bad reaction called ‘leaky gut syndrome.’  It is reported that leaky gut syndrome is thought to cause all kinds of problems from food allergies to irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

Herbal and nutritional healing of digestive disorders

Traditional Chinese medications use concoctions of kiwifruit as  a tonic to find relief from indigestion. Kiwifruits have substantial amounts of prebiotics, phenolics, dietary fibers and vegetarian digestive enzymes. Chamomile is an all –around stomach soother. Bitter herbs like dandelion can help improve digestion. Bitter herbs are great helpers for optimal digestion. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root may reduce heartburn, acid reflux and gastritis. Licorice protects the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract against the damaging effects of stomach acid. This effect can be very helpful for those with heartburn. Slippery elm is another herb that acts as a barrier against stomach acid which again is important for those with heartburn. Aloe vera reduces mucosal inflammation, prevents acid reflex and improves gut healing. The herb milk thistle may be a useful supplement in the case of constipation caused by a lethargic liver. Digestive enzymes found in tropical fruits such as bromelain from pineapple (which reduces tissue irritation) and papain from papayas (which soothes the stomach) can provide help in digesting proteins as well. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhea. A healthy complement of intestinal flora (the digestive bacteria acidophilus, bifidus and lactobacillus) is essential to good digestive health. Dietary fibers help promote regular defecation and prevent constipation. Fiber –rich foods include berries, greens, beans, apples, pears, oats and flaxseeds. The daily recommended intake of dietary fibers is 20 to 35 grams per day.  Lubricant foods and herbs help the stool move through the digestive tract called demulcents. The demulcents include okra, flaxseed, oats, kelp, cactus, natto, toasted seasame oil,olive oil, acacia and chia seeds.

Digestive level of foods

Some foods are harder to digest than others. Proteins are the hardest to digest. Protein digestion requires an acid medium (hydrochloric acid) and the enzyme pepsin for its digestion. Starch digestion requires an alkaline medium and the enzyme ptyalin for its digestion. Starchy foods are easier to digest. The non-starchy vegetables are very easy to digest. The easiest food of all to digest is fruits.

Food combining for better digestion

Do not combine protein foods with acidic foods or fats or starch foods or sugars. Do not combine two concentrated protein foods at the same meal. Do not combine starches with sugars or starch foods with acidic foods. Eat one concentrated starch food at a meal. Do not eat acid fruits with proteins. Do not combine sweet fruits with proteins, starches or acid fruits. Acid fruits may be used with sub-acid fruits and sub-acid fruits may be used with sweet fruits. Combine fruits only with lettuce and celery. Salads combine very well with proteins or starches. Do not consume melons with any other foods.

Foods for healthy digestion

A healthy diet consists of a good balance of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates), prebiotics and probiotics, essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.  A healthy diet is one that helps to maintain or improve health by providing appropriate amounts of nutrients. Super foods for healthy digestion include yogurt, high fiber whole grain bread, rice, whole grain cereals, tofu, miso, tempeh, dandelion green, sunflower seeds, sea vegetables, flaxseed oil, papayas, garlic and sage leaves. Our food choices play a significant role in the quality of our digestion.

Tips to improve your digestive health

1. Eat a balanced and varied diet with fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. Eat four to six light meals per day. Eat more foods containing complex carbohydrates and fiber. Avoid over eating, only eat as much as you need.
2. Take small bites; Eat slowly and mindfully. Don’t eat before bed and walk after each meal.
3. Eat right type of fats and eat foods containing complete proteins, but in moderation.
4. Get enough fluids.
5. Give up caffeine; eliminate alcohol and nicotine.
6. Exercise is crucial to good bowel health.
7. Reduce depression and anxiety.
8. Listen to your body; be cautious about constipation, gas or upset stomach – it’s a sign you need to make changes in your dietary habits.
                           The digestive impulse is the life of your stomach

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Health benefits of edible seaweeds

Oceans cover approximately 71 percent of the earth’s surface (362 million square km) and contain 95 percent of the habitat space on the planet. The ocean is the richest reservoir of both living and non-living resources. The marine environment comprises approximately half of the total global biodiversity. Seaweeds are one of the constituents of natural resources globally used for human welfare. Seaweed is the common term used to refer large marine algae growing in the shallow waters along the ocean shores. There are about 8000 species of seaweeds along the world’s coastal lines. In general seaweeds inhabit about 2% of the sea floor. Ecologically seaweed account for food and shelter for marine life.
Seaweeds are used as human food, livestock feed and fertilizer for land crops in many countries. More than 160 species of sea vegetables commonly known as seaweeds are consumed throughout the world.  Seaweeds can be consumed directly as raw, dried or cooked. Seaweeds are eaten for their food value, flavours, colours and textures and are typically combined with other types of food. Edible seaweeds include Porphyra (Nori), Rodymenia (Dulse), Laminaria(Kombu), undaria (Wakame) and Ulva (sea lettuce). Edible seaweeds have been shown to be high in essential pigments, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, proteins and phytochemicals as well as healthy dietary fibers and fats.

Worldwide consumption of seaweeds

Seaweed is consumed in many traditional European societies, in Iceland and western Norway, the Atlantic coast of France, northern and western Ireland, Wales and some coastal parts of South West England as well as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Traditionally, sea vegetables have been more commonly eaten in Asian cultures. In many countries in Asia notably in China, Japan, Korea and Indonesia, seaweed products are important dietary resources, which constitute a substantial part of the total food intake (staple food). In  Philippines, Burma and Vietnam several species of seaweeds are eaten as a salad or in one form or another. The most commonly consumed seaweeds which grow in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are alaria, arame, hijiiki, nori, dulse and several kinds of kelp. Porphyra sp. which is commercially known as nori or laver is most widely consumed among edible red seaweed worldwide (Watanable  et al 1999). Nori is commonly eaten by the Japanese. The brown seaweed Sargassum (Gulfweed, sea holly) is used in soups and soy sauce. 

Definition of seaweeds

Edible seaweeds are algae that can be eaten and used in the preparation of food. It Typically contains high amounts of fiber  and they contain a complete protein. They may belong to one of several groups of multicellular algae: the red algae, green algae and brown algae (ref:

Kinds of seaweeds

Seaweeds are plants, though less complex ones than land plants. Without roots or intricate tissues, seaweed must absorb nutrients from the sea water. To survive, they form root-like parts to attach themselves to rocks or other stable items. Seaweeds are mainly classified into 3 major classes based on their pigmentation namely brown, red and green algae which are referred to as phaeophyceae, Rhodophyceae and Chlorophyceae respectively (Khan et al. 2010). Three basic classes of pigments found in marine algae are chlorophylls, carotenoids and phycoerythrin.  Green seaweeds such as sea lettuce mainly contain chlorophyll. Red seaweeds which include dulse, laver,nori, agar and Irish moss have red pigment, phycoerythrin. Brown seaweeds such as kelp, kombu, alaria, arame, wakame , seapalm and hiijiki depend on brown pigments from other carotenoid

Proximate composition of seaweeds

Seaweeds are high in ash (37-46%) and dietary fibers (25-40%) and low in lipid content (0.29-1.11%) on dry weight basis. The protein content of many seaweeds ranges between 4 and 25% of the dry weight. Generally the protein content of brown algae is low (3-15% of dry weight) compared with that of green (10-26% of dry weight) and red algae (35-47% of dry weight) (Fitzgerald et al. 2011). The lipids present in seaweeds are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular EPA and to a lesser extent DHA, which are important to human health. Seaweeds contain 33-62% total fibers on a dry weight basis. The sulphated polysaccharides present in red and brown algae act as dietary fibers. The major seaweed colloids include agar, algin, carrageenan, and related colloids. These phycocolloids are materials such as gelatine, pectin and starch that have the property of forming gels. Algin is produced from brown seaweeds, while agar and carrageenan are from red algae. The phycocolloids are used as thickeners, humectants, coagulants, bulking agents, flocculation agents and in the preparation of antibiotic carriers. Agar finds much use in bakery products, confectionary making and in puddings, creams and jellied products. Seaweed powders generally contain 10 to 30% minerals, 20 to 45% proteins and up to 40% soluble fibers.

Popular edible seaweeds

The red seaweed, Nori is rich in iodine and iron and quite high in protein. It is also a good source of vitamins C and A, potassium, magnesium and riboflavin (B2) and it is low in fat. Another red seaweed, Dulse is highly nutritious containing protein (10 to 20%), magnesium, iron and B-carotene. Carrageenan and agar are extracted routinely from red algae. Irish moss is rich in retinol and minerals. It is widely used in all sorts of food products because it has emulsifying and jelling properties. The green seaweed, Wakame contains fucoxanthin, calcium, iron, natural sodium and vitamin C.  The brown seaweeds include such familiar forms as rock seaweeds, kelps and sargassum. The brown seaweeds are major sources of iodine. In addition to iodine, the brown seaweed kelp (Kombu) also provides iron, magnesium and  folate (vitamin B9). Kelp is used to be the main source for preventing goitre and treating thyroid conditions.  Sea lettuce and sugar kelp are the two seaweeds popularly eaten by humans. Seaweeds represent one of the most nutritious plant foods. In Asian culture, seaweeds have always been of particular interest as food sources. Seaweeds are ones that can be used in a whole range of ways: as salads, in soups, for sushi, in deserts, in bread, as snacks and in candy or as herbs and flavour enhancers. Seaweeds are most commonly used in soups, as salad garnishes and as a seasoning (in flake forms). Seaweeds are available in health food stores in dried, powder, flake and granular forms.

Health benefits of seaweeds

Edible seaweeds are ideal sources of chemical compounds for improving health and well-being of humans.  Several bioactive substances with antimicrobial and cytotoxic activities have reported from seaweeds. Tumour reductions, inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, free radical scavenging and significant antioxidant activity have been exhibited by red and brown seaweeds. The sulphated polysaccharides found in some of the brown seaweeds are being explored as antiviral agents and as aids in preventing blood clots. Sodium alginate found in brown seaweeds has the ability to protect the surface membranes of stomach and intestine. It acts as a haemostatic agent and has tried in the treatment of esophagitis and urolithiasis.  Fucoidan, a polysaccharide found in brown algae has shown promising antiviral, immunomodulating and antibacterial activities. Fucoidan also inhibits the angiogenesis and proliferation of human cancer cells. Phlorotannins (polyphenols) from brown algae have been shown to possess multiple physiological activities such as antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties. Taurine is an amino acid present in high concentration in red algae. Taurine acts as an antioxidant and reduces serum lipids thereby prevents atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Calcium phosphate in seaweeds helps to reduce osteoporosis by nourishing the bones.  The high content of potassium in seaweed is good for the heart and kidneys. Seaweed nourishes the membranes, making it good for nervous disorders, skin conditions, colds and constipation. The chromium content in seaweeds helps to control blood sugar levels. In general seaweed intake may strengthen the immune system, reduce cholesterol and improve metabolism and digestion. Consumption of seaweed is helpful in combating fatigue caused by slow thyroid activity. Seaweed intake support thyroid function. Dietary intake of brown algae is effective for curing goitre because of their iodine content.
                    Seaweeds are excellent sources of  minerals.