Making the choice to switch to a plant-based diet (or better yet, a plant-based diet emphasizing whole foods) is one of the best health choices anyone can make, or even aspire to transition into. Just the concept of eating more plants in place of animals is a remarkable way to enhance your longevity, optimize your taste buds to crave healthier foods, balance your mood and hormones, and increase your chances at preventing disease with every single bite. Or, maybe you’ve made the choice to do so for your budget, the environment, and the animals that a plant-based diet benefits. Whatever the case, know that you’ve made the right choice and are likely to experience more health benefits than you ever imagined such as cancer prevention, blood sugar benefits, digestion improvements, and even a more energetic and happier mood thanks to all the nutrient-dense properties a plant-based diet has.
But let’s be honest — not everything is rainbows and sunshine when you make the switch, even if you’re completely stoked about the diet and are witnessing several health benefits. Many people who transition into a plant-based diet go through a detox period. Not your typical detox diet where you skip out on meals or just drink juice all week, detoxing from animal-based products is a real issue that you need to be aware of. It can include headaches, digestion changes, and even feelings of sadness as you learn to let go of old traditions surrounding meals with meat, dairy, eggs or poultry and get used to the concept of eating different foods than you might be used to.
Many people assume these are signs their body doesn’t deal with a plant-based diet well, but this is always true. Detox is a real issue that most people go through; it can last a week, a month, and for some people it can occur off and on every few months for a couple days as the body continues to clean itself out from old toxins, hormones, mercury, pesticides, bacteria, and other harmful things found in most all animal-based foods.
Many people don’t realize how much they’re emotionally tied to certain foods. For instance, if one of your most favorite memories is sitting down and enjoy chicken or beef burgers at the table with your parents as a kid, or having a plate of mom or grandma’s bacon and eggs on Saturday mornings makes you just smile with warmth and good emotions, the idea of not eating these dishes anymore can be a little depressing. But realize that you’re not attached to the food; you’re attached to the memory around the food that enhances the strength of that emotion.
Physiologically speaking, your body’s hormones also change when you quit eating animal products and many people’s bodies are more sensitive than others. As hormones change and stabilize, realize that emotional changes are normal. One unique thing to point out is that a plant-based diet can be very mind-clearing due to the way it sweeps out excess hormones from animal-based foods in the body. As it does this, the body can go through almost a shock emotionally and physically. If you are experiencing emotional changes, know that it’s completely normal, and don’t be afraid. See some tips for transitioning away from your favorite traditional meals, and explore How Your Food Choices Affect Your Hormones to learn more about the physiological changes that happen when you quit eating animal proteins.
As your body cleanses itself from many sources of harmful animal protein stored in your cells, keep in mind that your liver, digestive system, kidneys, and lymph system are in major “cleaning house” mode. Be aware of this and know that because they’re sweeping all that out without you eating any more of those foods to slow the detox down, you’ll likely be a little (or a lot) more tired than usual, may experienced increased bathroom time (which is a good thing!), and may even have headaches. It feels a little like the flu and can be exhausting in the beginning if your diet was especially toxic before. These are all signs your body is cleaning itself; be patient and wait things out, they do get better!
Be sure you eat a very clean diet with very little processed foods during this time if possible. This will better allow your body to do its job so you can feel your best much more quickly. Remember, the cleaner the food you give your body, the better it can use food to detoxify and supply you with nutrients for fuel. Greens, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and their milks and butters, complex carbs from gluten-free grains and root vegetables, beans, legumes, along with healthy fats like olives, coconut, nuts, and avocado are all great choices. Be sure you take in adequate protein from seeds, greens, many grains, and keep in mind that all greens and vegetables have protein too. See some digestion troubleshooting tips here if you have some especially uncomfortable issues going on.
As your body cleans house, it may expel some of those toxins from your organs and cells through your skin. This is normal, but not always fun to deal with when you’re showing up for a big meeting or presentation at work or going on an important date! However, keep in mind this is usually short-lived and typically goes away in a week so long as you’re not eating a food you’re allergic to (such as gluten, soy, nuts which are many of the most common).
Eat a variety of foods high in vitamin C which will clear your skin and speed up detoxification even further. Vitamin C rich foods include broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, spinach, kale, apples, pineapple, papaya, sweet potatoes, and peppers. Also be sure to eat foods rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), which clears the skin and promotes a healthy glow; it also supports your immune system which will help you during the transition. Vitamin A rich foods include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, carrots, spinach, kale, turnip and collard greens, Swiss chard, spirulina, and goji berries.
Lastly, don’t forget your healthy omega-3 fats; these fats promote healing to the skin and inner organs, reduce inflammation, stabilize your blood sugar (which will also benefit your skin), and they’re also great for the mind to improve emotional health. Omega-3 rich plant-based foods include walnuts, chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocados, and acai fruit. Be sure you also wash your skin with a natural cleanser and for those that use makeup, wash it with something free of chemicals such as coconut oil.
When it comes to changing up your meals, there are so many ways you can learn to replace animal-based proteins with plant-based foods. Open your mind to the concept of getting to choose between limitless amounts of produce, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, legumes, and fruits. Then come up with all types of combinations that best suit your needs and taste buds’ desires. Check out our FAQ section in our Plant-Based Nutrition Guide to see how to transition more easily; you’ll also get plenty of information you need about nutrients your body needs.
Always keep in mind that your body needs adequate sleep, with no less than eight hours a night. Your body detoxifies, heals, and repairs as you rest; let it do its job and you’ll also feel much better the next day. Be sure to maintain a regular exercise routine and try detoxifying activities like yoga and hot baths. Spend time in nature, with friends laughing and communicating (which most of us don’t do enough of), and have fun in the kitchen! All of these things keep our bodies healthy even though we often seem to forget about them.
Remember, detox is temporary, but a positive healthy change can be life-altering.
It’s usually around this time of year that people stop to think about their health goals. Not only is the new year right around the corner, but with turkey and pumpkin pie followed by eggnog and gingerbread men, many people are left feeling a bit guilty about letting their healthy habits slide over the past few weeks.
And while health goals commonly have to do with weight loss, your health is also about integrating self-care into your life, staying on top of your mental health, and getting adequate sleep. Maintaining optimal health isn’t only good for your well-being, it also affects your ability to achieve your other goals. By becoming the best version of yourself, you will be setting yourself up for success in everything you do.
Don't forget to sign up for The Alchemy to Detox www.candisandalden.com/the-alchemy-of-detox
I watched this amazing video by Evan Carmichael this morning about expanding their consciousness. Please watch it.
If you are ready to take the next steps in expanding your mind and are truly ready to up-level your get out free e-guide on mind expansion at https://www.candisandalden.com/mind-expansion/
The Use of Digestive Enzymes in Specific Digestive Disorders
As a companion piece to our Q&A with M. Mamadou, PhD, in the September 2013 NMJ Supplement, we asked Dr Mamadou to outline some specific digestive disorders that can benefit from the use of supplemental digestive enzymes. Read the full Q&A here.
Supplemental digestive enzymes can be very helpful in alleviating digestive disorders. Some specific conditions in which supplemental digestive enzymes can be used include the following.
This condition refers to the inability of the pancreas to produce enough digestive enzymes to help break down the foods in the intestine. Sometimes, the pancreas may produce the enzymes, but those enzymes are destroyed for various reasons before they perform their function.
The end result in cases of pancreatic insufficiency is malabsorption, diarrhea, high susceptibility to diseases, and other serious health conditions. Thus, under such conditions, the normal therapy is to have the patient take enzymes. The enzymes currently used are mostly enzymes derived from porcine pancreas. Although that practice has worked, there is trend to use supplemental enzymes derived from plants or fungal fermentations. The advantages of these enzymes is that they are stable to the acid in the stomach and do not require any additional ingredients to protect them from the acid as do the porcine enzymes. Furthermore, many people and their healthcare providers use fungal enzymes due to some recent animal disease concerns associated with enzymes derived from animals.
When lactose is not digested in the small intestine, it causes diarrhea and flatulence. Lactase is the enzyme responsible for breaking lactose down. Although everyone has this enzyme as a baby, some people lose it as they stop breastfeeding and as they grow older. For people who lack lactase, drinking or eating any milk product containing lactose results in serious discomfort. This condition of discomfort associated with the lack of the enzyme lactase is called lactose intolerance. Supplemental digestive enzyme products containing effective lactase enzyme can remedy the conditions associated with lactose intolerance.
Casein and Gluten Intolerance
Casein and gluten are 2 major proteins derived respectively from milk and wheat. Some people cannot tolerate casein and/or gluten in their foods. The consumption of these food items creates major health issues, ranging from inflammation to neurobiological disorders. In fact, these 2 proteins are the focus of major research in neurobiological disorders, such as autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and others. Studies have found that in some people, casein and gluten are partially digested. Some of the resulting fragments from this partial digestion are called peptides and act as opioids and are thus termed opioid-like peptides. As the name implies, they act on the brain centers as opioids do, thus creating various mood and behavior issues. As milk and wheat components are found in many food items, the inability to digest them and the consequent health challenges constitute a major concern for patients and their parents. It should be noted that most patients experience the symptoms as kids in terms of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and ADD.
Many studies have documented the association of these opioid-like peptides derived from casein and from gluten to conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. As a consequence, efforts have been made to incorporate supplemental proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins such as casein and gluten in people with autism and other neurobiological disorders associated with digestive impairment.
In the natural and integrative medicine sector, I have seen many practitioners and even parents adopting enzymes to help in the treatment. Some well-conducted studies have documented the use of enzymes in these cases. Thus, this is another area of application of supplemental enzymes to correct a gastrointestinal disorder that directly or indirectly impact the brain function and overall quality of life.
Although casein and gluten have been extensively studied in relation to their opioid-like peptides, other proteins may also be culprits if not properly hydrolyzed in the gut. This is one of the reasons that including supplemental digestive enzymes could help prevent or reduce the risks of digestive and other health challenges originating from the gut.
Supplemental digestive enzymes could help prevent or reduce the risks of digestive and other health challenges originating from the gut.
An allergy is by definition an immune reaction elicited by a foreign protein in contact with the body’s immune system. The gut's sophisticated immune system, along with digestive enzymes, helps suppress any allergen-inducing capability contained in the food proteins we consume. However, in cases of insufficient digestive enzyme function in the gut, some proteins can induce an immune reaction that could be very severe. As a result, many people avoid foods that they are allergic to. Sometimes, people may not be aware of the culprit food until after consumption. Supplemental digestive enzymes high in proteases are very helpful in controlling food allergies. As a result, many people go back and eat the foods they were allergic to. The fact is that as long as a protein is completely broken down as in digestion, it loses its capacity to induce any allergic or immunogenic reaction.
This condition results from the body’s inability to hydrolyze wheat proteins. As a result, there is an immune reaction that leads to inflammation and injury to the intestinal cells. This condition should not be confused with the gluten intolerance described above that has been associated with neurobiological disorders such as autism. Celiac disease destroys the intestinal cells and thus impairs the functionality of the brush border enzymes, as well as the ability of the cells to perform their absorptive function. Introducing supplemental digestive enzymes containing highly active proteases and peptidases may help with the condition.
The digestive system receives many bacteria through the foods and beverages we consume. Some of these bacteria are pathogenic or potentially pathogenic. In the stomach, the acid helps kill some of these bacteria; this is another reason that acid in the stomach is good and has a preventative role.
Recently, some researchers have shown that enzymes taken under specific conditions can help prevent infection by bacteria. Many bacteria use some molecules to attach themselves to the surface of a cell before they penetrate the cell and take over its metabolism, thus infecting the cell. These researchers have found that by using enzymes to prevent attachment of the bacteria, they were able to stop infectivity by some pathogenic intestinal bacteria. This is an example of enzyme-controlling bacteria that could induce serious digestive infectious diseases. More research needs to be done in this area to determine the various formulations and conditions under which enzymes could effectively control microbial infection, considering the fact that various bacteria have various infectivity mechanisms.
The colon is like a reservoir or fermentation tank that receives all foods not digested and absorbed in the small intestine. The health of the colon is a function of the taxonomy of the probiotics and their ecological balance, as well as the nutrients they receive. The nutrients received by the probiotics depend largely on the digestive and absorption processes in the small intestine. Thus, besides maintaining good flora in the large intestine, it is important to maintain good digestive function by supplementing with enzymes.
If too much food is not digested and absorbed in the upper small intestine, not only will the body be undernourished, but the organisms in the large intestine could be overwhelmed, and the gut bacteria balance could shift toward the deleterious organisms. Moreover, the composition of undigested foods that reach the large intestine could play an important role in disturbing the ecological balance in the colon.
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About the Author
M. Mamadou, PhD, is the chief science officer of Phytomedic Labs. He earned his doctorate from the University of Cincinnati and has been actively involved in enzyme-based formulations for health and wellness. His present research activities focus on isolating new phytochemicals and enzymes for dietary supplements. He has taught and conducted research at several universities and has provided consulting and research services for many health and nutrition companies, including EnzymeScience, Inc, a key sponsor of the Natural Medicine Journal.