Do you experience challenges in digesting fats?
Have you consumed low-fat food products for periods of time and/or modern, industrially-produced fats such as vegetable oils (canola, soy, or corn).
Or, perhaps you have began to incorporate real, traditional fats back into your die after a period of avoidancet, and are experiencing challenges with digestion.
There are various reasons cited by those who believe they cannot or don’t want to eat meat or animal foods, including:
- They don’t want to consume animal foods since doing so requires the death and suffering of an animal
- Meat production is harmful to our environment
- The body is not designed to digest animal foods
Whatever the reason, if you are experiencing challenges digesting fats, I’d like to offer some explanations as to why this could be happening.
Holistic animal food production can alter the nutritional profile and bio-availability of the food produced. The source of animal food can make all the difference as to how your body uses and receives it. In this article, I’ll provide a general discussion of why sourcing of the animal fat you consume is of great significance to health and well-being.
My personal story
Growing up in the 1970s, my family didn’t typically go out of our way to avoid real fats, but I did consume a fair amount of industrial fats since those products were so ubiquitous. Back then, I didn’t have any connection to how my food was produced nor realize how important the source of my food was, and ate what my parents bought and prepared.
Although we ate animal foods including meat, butter, cheese, and milk, many of the meals my mother prepared included modern, industrial fats. This was especially true as time went on and my parents purchased more and more processed foods. For the most part, my dietary choices consisted of products from the Standard American Diet. I also began drinking alcohol heavily in my teens, as well as consumed a lot of sweets. I carried those habits well into my adult years.
I experienced digestive and other health issues for years including chronic alternating diarrhea and constipation, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, depression, anxiety, insomnia, frequent colds, flus, and infections, and food sensitivities, but didn’t recognize those as being connected to what I ate. Neither did any of the doctors I saw for those ailments.
When I was 30 and discovered I was pregnant, I stopped drinking alcohol, but didn’t understand the importance of eating to support my and my developing baby’s body. During the 7th month of my pregnancy, I was admitted to the hospital with severe pain in my right lower abdominal quandrant, and discovered I was going into labor. My son was born prematurely at 31 weeks, and it wasn’t until days later that doctors discovered I had suffered a ruptured appendix. Seven months later, I was convinced by a different doctor to have my gallbladder removed as I had been experiencing severe gallbladder pain during that entire span of time since just after the birth of my son.
As time went on, I began to understand that the way I had eaten all those years had made my body sick. As I started implementing changes to what I ate and being more mindful about where my food came from, the symptoms I’d experienced for years began to disappear. Read my account of how I eliminated insomnia, panic, and anxiety with GAPS. Although GAPS may not be a resolution for everyone, it helped me a great deal.
Are our bodies not designed to consume animal foods?
In the 1930s, Dr. Weston A. Price noticed that patients in his dental practice in the U.S. were experiencing notable tooth decay, dental crowding, and various forms of degenerative disease. He believed that the condition of the teeth were a reflection of the picture of overall health.
He had read accounts made by anthropologists and explorers in literature about native people with beautiful, straight white teeth, and wanted to understand what types of diets were consumed by these populations. For a decade, he and his wife traveled to some of these remote locations where indigenous people still consumed traditional diets to discover what imparted to them such robust health.
Dr. Price expected to find that these truly healthy populations consumed plant-based diets. But, he was surprised to learn the opposite: all healthy populations he visited which were virtually free from disease consumed some type of animal fat. In addition, they consumed in some cases up to TEN times the amount of fat-soluble vitamins sourced from animal foods: A, D, E, and K2, as modern, industrialized populations, as confirmed by laboratory analysis.
One example of animal fats consumed by a traditional population which Dr. Price observed and recorded:
Dr. Price went to the Loetschen Valley located in Swizterland, where one of the most consumed foods was raw milk. This food was believed by health officials to be the culprit of the tuberculosis epidemic spreading throughout the rest of Switzerland and the world. And yet, a main portion of the diets of these healthy, robust people consisted of raw dairy foods: milk, cheese, butter and cream … from herds of goats and cattle grazing on green pastures situated beneath melting glaciers.
He also noted that the Loetschen Valley villagers consumed meat about once a week, but used the whole animal including the organ meats, and also made soup from bones.
For more details about Dr. Price’s research into traditional diets and their profound effects on human health, I recommend Nutrition and Physical Degeneration via Amazon affiliation, his groundbreaking book showing the discoveries he made in his travels around the world to 14 countries during a decade of time.
Why animal fats can be challenging to digest
In modern life, we have been exposed to a great deal of toxins and pollutants in the food supply and environment. This comes as a result of the modernization and industrialized nature of how we live and produce products we consume and rely on each and every day.
We have a shortage of real food and a plethora of products posing as real food available on the consumer market. After many years of exposure to and consumption of these substances, our immune systems and digestive tracts become sluggish and sick.
In some cases, we are no longer able to consume even real, healthy foods without experiencing unpleasant symptoms including bloating, abdominal cramping, gas, nausea, and even constipation or diarrhea (or a combination of the two), food allergies and sensitivities. These are all signs of immune compromise and digestive distress. The substances we consume, put on our bodies, and expose ourselves to have an effect on our digestive tracts and immune systems.
In Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride M.D.’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, she lists the top 10 influences which damage our immunity, and subsequently, digestive function:
- Refined sugar and products containing it including soft drinks, desserts, and many other processed foods.
- Processed carbohydrates
- Chemically-altered and artificial fat including margarine, shortening, vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn, and others), and any foods prepared with these fats.
- Lack of high-quality protein from meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, and nuts and seeds. High quality means from pastured and organic sources, without chemicals, toxins, high heat processing and pasteurization/homogenization, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically-altered material.
- Exposure to man-made chemicals: cleaning and washing chemicals, personal care products, paints, fire retardants, petrochemicals, pesticides, and others.
- Exposure to man-made radiation: electronic screens (TV, computers, gaming consoles), mobile phones, high-power electricity lines, nuclear stations and nuclear wastes.
- Drugs, antibiotics, steroids, antidepressants, painkillers, anti-cancer medication, anti-viral drugs, etc.
- Lack of fresh air and activity.
- Lack of exposure to sunlight.
- Lack of exposure to common microbes in the environment. Living in a too sterilized environment is strongly associated with compromised immunity. Our immune systems need constant stimulation from the microbes in our environment.
Because the majority of our immune systems reside within the digestive tract, these factors can adversely affect both systems to a significant extent. Diet has a profound impact on our digestion and overall health, but there are many other sources of stress and toxicity to our bodies, as Dr. McBride emphasizes. It’s no wonder our population is experiencing high numbers of chronic disease and digestive and immune-related issues.
How do traditional fats support overall health?
- Support cell membranes and integrity
- Critical for bone and teeth health. To absorb calcium, we need at least 50% of our dietary fat intake to be saturated
- Lower our risk of heart disease including the support of the heart during stress
- Protect the liver from the effects of toxins in our environment and diet
- Are immune-system supporting
- Necessary for the absorption of essential fatty acids
- Provide beneficial microbial properties which can protect the digestive tract against harmful microorganisms that cause disease and illness
For more information, visit The Weston A. Price Foundation and read The Skinny On Fats.
What symptoms will I experience if I am having trouble digesting fats or other foods?
If you experience issues digesting fats, you may have also experienced some of these:
- Chronic bloating or gas
- Dry skin
- Light colored stools
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Chronic fatigue or malaise
- Pain radiating under the right side of the sternum (location of the gallbladder) or other abdominal pain
- Gallstones or liver stones and sluggish gallbladder
- Weight loss or inability to gain weight
Ways to ease back into consuming traditional fats and aids for a healthy digestive tract
- Eliminate modern, industrial fats including corn, soybean, cottonseed canola and other highly processed oils
- Prepare and consume daily: homemade broths, stocks, and slow-cooked on low heat meats, poultry, and fish including traditional fats such as those accompanying the animal food such as lard, tallow, butter or ghee if dairy tolerant, or other fats from chicken and other poultry, duck, goose, or game meats
- Ensure a calm environment when eating
- Consider supplementing digestive enzymes, ox bile, Swedish bitters (see recommendations below)
- Use herbs to stimulate bile production including turnip and mustard and dandelion greens, milk thistle or dandelion tea, daikon or black radish (recommended: fermented preparation such as kimchi)
- Include fermented foods and beverages in your diet such as homemade sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables, beet kvass, kombucha, dairy or water kefir, and yogurt if able to tolerate dairy (raw is recommended if available). Pasteurized dairy can cause or contribute to digestive and auto-immune disorders
- Consider a healing protocol such as GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet), AIP (Autoimmune Protocol), or other healing method to address digestive disorders and heal the gut
Dr. Thomas Cowan M.D. recommends consuming fats with meat and poultry. You may be surprised to learn that fats actually aid in the digestion of animal proteins and are a necessary component for proper assimilation of the nutrients in fats.
Read more about Dr. Cowan’s recommendations here, and also from his book The Fourfold Path to Healing, recommended via Amazon affiliation.
I have used and personally recommend Nature Works Swedish bitters.
Dr. Cowan maintains that when faithfully using these aids and foods, it is rare that a person cannot find a type of animal food they can tolerate.
Read more about making the transition from the SAD Diet to real food from Dr. Cowan in his article Adjusting to Traditional Foods.
How does taking ox bile help?
Our bodies store bile in the gallbladder, which is produced by the liver, to be excreted during meals to digest fats. If you have had gallbladder challenges, the flow of bile can become obstructed due to the presence of stones which build up from poor diet and lifestyle choices, stress, and exposure to toxins.
If you have had your gallbladder removed, the bile flow becomes constant since there is no longer a vessel in which to store bile. This constant dripping into the small intestine can cause diarrhea and other symptoms. When taken with meals, ox bile helps to stimulate the production of bile and aids in the digestion of fats.
How can digestive enzymes make a difference?
Poor diet and lifestyle habits, along with stress can take their toll on our digestive tracts. Low stomach acid production, low-grade chronic inflammation in the body, and exposure to chemicals can cause or exacerbate digestive issues. Eating a clean diet with real, traditional foods is very helpful in healing digestive tract issues and strengthening the immune system. But sometimes we are in such a state of deficit we need more support.
This can be especially true if you’ve had organs removed such as the gallbladder or appendix. The gallbladder stores bile as discussed above, but the appendix is also important too. Scientists from Duke University discovered that contrary to modern medical thinking about the appendix being a disposable organ, we need this organ to store beneficial bacteria. When we are exposed to pathogens, the digestive tract is placed under duress to drive out harmful bacteria by using its beneficial bacteria. The appendix aids the body in re-populating the gut with beneficial bacteria during these kinds of events.
I take and recommend Enzyme Formulations digestive enzymes that are recommended by a naturopathic doctor, and must be obtained by a practitioner. These have been developed by a chiropractor and combine plant enzymes and herbs to work together for various purposes in the body. These are some of the best enzymes I’ve ever used, and are essential for me since I no longer have a gallbladder.
I also take a probiotic supplement offered by this company called Formula #17. This powdered probiotic is highly effective in providing beneficial bacteria, and my family can rely on it if we ever have nausea or stomach distress (which is extremely rare) to provide very fast relief if needed.