Why eating healthy foods may not help your digestion

Even as someone with digestive challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed the food in Eastern Europe. Healthy options were surprisingly easy to find in restaurants. That is not to say that I chose the healthy option all that often. What does "healthy" even mean anyway?

I live in California, or perhaps more accurately Kale-ifornia. In health-conscious places in certain parts of this area, you can't walk 5 minutes without stumbling over a kale salad or smoothie. If you live in a less kale-crazed area, kale is a tough green leafy veggie with lots of nutrients. It is also very difficult to digest it raw. Plants naturally have cellulose, fibers that our bodies cannot digest (but our good gut bacteria can!). Fiber generally means food things for digestion, especially bowel movements. But why make your digestion work so hard? Raw vegetables like kale are all challenging to digest, even for those of us for whom digesting the pile of chili-cheese fries at the sports stadium is no problem. I quite honestly don't really know many people like that.

But what about if you eat your healthy kale salad with lemon-tahini-garlic dressing and are doubled over in pain for hours? Or if you have some yogurt and end up with a massive headache. Or if you break out in a terrible rash from eating some gluten or nightshade veggies. Beyond food sensitivities, toxic pesticides on your vegetables, or hidden food additives like folic acid, why might you feel so terrible after eating something so "healthy"? Because the foods you are eating may not be in a digestible form for you. If the kale salad was lightly cooked and well massaged with oil and lemon, perhaps you might feel a bit better. Or maybe if you had pickled cabbage instead of raw cabbage you might be able to get some more nutrients out of your meal without so much struggle.

And of course your mood while eating also plays into your digestion in a BIG way. Have you noticed that you might not be hungry or even get nauseous when you are nervous or emotional? That is because our bodies need us to be in a "rest and digest" state in order to properly take in all the nutrients from our meals. I am looking at you, person eating your meal very quickly while reading this informative article on your electronic device! But I do it too. More often than I would like to admit.

So back to the kale salad thing. Do you know how many kale salads I saw in Eastern Europe? ZERO. I am sure they are there somewhere, but not like here in Kale-ifornia. Instead, I saw vegetables always readily available at breakfast time. And things like preserves and bread where often homemade and home grown. Not in any sort of flashy, look how special we are sort of way. It is just how things are done. Even the meats would come from the family-owned butcher shop or farm run by the restaurant owners.

Our relationship with food is complex. We have fears about gaining weight, which stem from unrealistic white Euro-centric standards of beauty, among other things. We do not want to be perceived as "unhealthy". We use food as a security blanket when we feel emotional. We do not necessarily know natural or traditional ways of growing or preparing foods. A dish that may be seen as healthy may not actually be the best thing for you and your body. I encourage you to explore this more for yourself, consider ways of making things easier on your digestive system, something as simple as cooking your veggies more instead of eating them raw. Your belly, your nervous system and ultimately your whole body will thank you.

Should you need help with any of these types of wellness issues, send me a message and we can schedule a time for a free consult about what you want to achieve and how I can help.

Lauren is a perinatal nurse, birth doula and herbal consultant specializing in transformational emotional support in pregnancy, parenting, and during other periods of personal growth. She supports people through one on one coaching, classes, and online resources to create a support system through the use of herbs and body based techniques.